Notes from a Hedge Witch

Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a familiar kitchen garden plant, though its native habitat is the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Like Rosemary, it is a valuable evergreen herb : plants with volatile oils are especially potent when used fresh. Sage is a very valuable remedy for ‘winter ailments’. It was introduced into England in the C16th when it was universally drunk as a daily tea, and widely used in cooking, especially in wine, cheese and eaten with bread. Many types of sage have been used as substitutes for tea, the Chinese having been said to prefer Sage tea to their own native product.

The name of the genus, Salvia, is derived from the Latin salvere (to be well, to be saved, in reference to the healing powers of the plant). Aromatic and antiseptic, its oval, woolly leaves can be made into a tea which is refreshing and beneficial for a wide range of ailments, including fevers, coughs, colds, sore throats, digestive problems, and for the nervous system, lifting the spirits. A steaming bowl of sage tea can be used as an inhalation for upper respiratory congestion. Bake sea salt and sage leaves together, grind to a fine powder to use as a tooth cleaner. Externally sage is an excellent hair tonic (use as a final rinse or as a substitute for shampoos), especially good for dandruff. Around the home it repels moths and rodents – hang sachets of dried sage in cupboards, refreshing with the essential oil as required. A simple gargle with sage tea is a remedy for a sore throat, or make a mix with elderflowers, sage tops, 1 tsp honey and ½ tsp almond oil, adding 2 drops of clove essential oil, mix well and gargle frequently (Levy’s recipe). For a cold, drink borage and sage tea with honey. Many other sages are used traditionally, including wood sage and clary sage ( ‘clary’ derives from ‘clear eye’ – it is used to treat the eyes) .I’ve found that a poultice of sage is one of the best treatments for insect bites & stings, including the Blandford fly bite. Chop a handful of sage leaves, mix with a little boiling water, wrap the mash in muslin and apply to the affected part as hot as possible (whilst taking care not to burn yourself). Wrap in a towel and leave on for 20 mins. You can also add lavender oil or myrrh tincture into this mix. Levy describes using fallen sage leaves with goat manure and wood, ash as a potent fertiliser, especially for vines and corn ( a traditional Mexican ‘recipe’).

One of the more familiar herbs in the materia medica of western herbalists is the Rose. Revered for its beauty and scent, as well as its other qualities, the hips are valued for treating wintery ailments. I have been making spiced rosehip cordial for many years (recipe below). This has decongestant properties, and is helpful for coughs, colds and sore throats, as well as being tasty added to puddings! All types of rosehips can be used – Rosa rugosa is especially fleshy and easy to harvest. You can also blend in (or use instead) elderberries, hawthorn berries, blackcurrants, raspberries or blackberries if you have them, as all are rich in vitamin C and have bioflavonoids, encourage sweating (diaphoretic, so help in fevers), stimulate circulation and have antimicrobial properties, as well as toning the mucous membranes, thus helping with URT problems. These vitamins and other compounds support and boost our immune systems and aid the integrity of joints and nerves, as well as the absorption of iron from our diet. An army of volunteers were mobilised during WWII to collect those medicinal plants that were designated as ‘essential’. Rosehips and conkers topped the list in terms of mass collected. 500 tons of nutrient rich rosehips were collected in 1943 ( see ‘Britain’s Green Allies, Medicinal Plants in Wartime’ by P. Ayres), as the home grown supply of vegetables and blackcurrants were insufficient to supply the vit C needs of the population.

Spiced Rosehip Cordial

  • 900g rosehips (chopped roughly and simmered with enough water to make

  • 600ml syrup)

  • 100ml orange juice

  • 6 tablespoons of runny honey

  • 10 cloves

  • 5 slices of ginger

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Cover the rosehips with enough water to cover them well, bring to the boil and simmer with lid on for 20 mins. Pour through a sieve lined with 2 layers of muslin (to remove the small irritant hairs in the hips) into a clean pan : add honey and spices to it. Heat and stir gently for 5 mins. Add orange juice. Drink warm or cool and reheat to drink as required. (It won’t keep longer than a day or two).


A tasty tea using warming spices. This helps poor circulation, colds, and aids digestion (bloating, gas, low appetite), exhilarates the taste buds and invigorates the mind. The warming nature of ginger, black pepper and cinnamon enhance circulation, sending blood to the brain, making one feel awake and alert.

  • 30g fresh grated ginger

  • 7 black peppercorns

  • 4cm cinnamon stick

  • 5 cloves

  • 15 cardamoms

  • 1 tsp orange peel

  • 600ml water

3 tsp black tea (such as Darjeeling) Put all the spice ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for 10 mins. Add the black tea and infuse for a few mins. Then strain, add milk and sweeten with honey to taste.

Written for The Hedge, Autumn 2018.