The medicinal use of clary sage dates back to the age of Rome and Greece. Officially named Salvia sclarea, it was used for eye conditions, to clear (clarify) the eyes, potentially with the mucilaginous seeds. In 1653, Dante Culpeper's work Complete Herbal described clary sage as such:
“The seed put into the eyes clears them from motes, and such like things gotten within the lids to offend them, as also clears them from white and red spots on them. The mucilage of the seed made with water, and applied to tumours, or swellings, disperses and takes them away; as also draws forth splinters, thorns, or other things gotten into the flesh. The leaves used with vinegar, either by itself, or with a little honey, doth help boils, felons, and the hot inflammation that are gathered by their pains, if applied before it be grown too great… The juice of the herb put into ale or beer, and drank, brings down women's courses, and expels the after-birth.” (1)
Centuries later, we still use clary sage oil in similar ways, particularly for its anti-inflammatory benefits and role in women's health.
What is Clary Sage?
Primarily originating from the Mediterranean region, clary sage is a Salvia variant, which you may know from your ornamental perennial garden or from its cousin sage, which is used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Salvia are part of the larger Lamiaceae distinction, the mint family, which is full of fragrant plants rich in essential oil and healing qualities.
Clary sage is used in both herb and essential oil form, and even the seeds have nutritional value. As with any herb or essential oil, where clary sage is grown, how and when it is harvested, and the parts of the plant used all play a part in the quality and components. (2)
Covered in spikes of flowers, fragrant, and grown as a perennial, it's little wonder that the ancients found use for this favorite family of herbs!
Composition of Clary Sage
Clary sage essential oil is derived from the flowering tops and contains many components known for their anti-inflammatory and calming benefits, including linalool (a major component of lavender essential oil), linalyl acetate (excellent for anti-inflammatory benefits on skin), and a component called sclareol. The method of extraction may affect the components found in the essential oil, so always be aware of your source before using an oil therapeutically. (3)
Aside from anti-inflammatory abilities, clary sage is also known to be relaxing and antidepressant, antifungal, and antimicrobial. It is also an excellent antioxidant source, with a large portion of its composition coming from caryophyllene oxide, a powerful antioxidant that may even be implicated in fighting the effects of aging and prolonging life! (4, 5)
Another component, sclareol, has shown some promising things in lab tests. Over the last couple of decades but as recently as this year (2015), studies have emerged that analyze sclareol's effect on cancer cells. With the caveat that these benefits occurred within the confines of lab cultures and dose adjustments, sclareol may have an impact on the way that cancer cells proliferate, and they could help to induce apoptosis (cancer cell death). (6, 7)
While this does not tell us how much potential sclareol has to directly treat cancer – and it's exciting to think about where that could go one day! – it is a common thread that we see in many antioxidant-rich essential oils. This is especially interesting for clary sage, because some claim that it is “estrogenic” due to the sclareol content and should be avoided by estrogen-dominent cancer patients. This, of course, is a myth and I discuss the reasons why at the end of this report.
3 Clary Sage Oil Uses
Really, you can't go wrong with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. There are a few uses that stand out as particularly effective for clary sage, though, with plenty of research to back them up.
1. Antimicrobial skin protection — In 2015, researchers in Poland published results of their search for effective treatments for antibiotic resistant bacteria. When applied to resistant strains of the Staphylococcus bacteria, clary sage was able to kill the bacteria, where other antibiotics failed. (8)
Earlier, in 2012, a blend of essential oils was tested against Staphylococcus bacteria, as well as E. coli and the pervasive Candida fungus. A blend of lavender, clary sage, and ylang ylang was found to be synergistically effective against all three. (9)
2. Stress Relief — Aromatherapy is linked with relaxation and stress-relief in many of our minds, even before we become familiar with essential oils. I know that's all I knew of them at first! But certain oils are more effective than others, and clary stage stands out. In fact, when a group of essential oils were tested for antidepressant abilities, clary sage showed far and away the most potential, indicating it as a potential stand-alone treatment thanks to dopamine regulation. (10)
3 Women's Health — Clary sage is most commonly known as an herb and essential oil for women's health issues, exhibiting benefits in all phases of life. Young women dealing with menstrual pain have found relief, even moreso than what acetaminophen could provide. (11) Women with dysmenorrhea found similar relief. (12)
In childbirth, where pain is often exacerbated by anxiety and stress, clary sage and chamomile exhibit strong pain relieving results in a safe, easily administered manner. In fact, when a midwifery practice implemented the use of these oils both topically in a carrier oil and via diffusion, the use of pain relieving opioids begain to decrease significantly. (13)
Finally, as women reach menopausal years, the use of antidepressants begins to increase dramatically. Clary sage may help to ease this stressful transition of life, reducing cortisol levels and exhibiting and antidepressant-like effect (14)
For maximum effects, try blending clary sage with oils that have similar properties, like lavender and chamomile.
Is Clary Sage Oil Estrogenic?
The simple answer is, “No.”
There is a myth floating around the cyber word that, because clary sage contains sclareol, it mimics the steroid estrogen, but this is simply a poor understanding of the science of phytochemicals. Chemist Robert Pappas, PhD explains it best: (15)
- “First of all sclareol is actually a very minute component of the essential oil of clary sage despite some authors claiming that sclareol is present in clary sage oil at 1.6-7.0%, an utterly ridiculous claim. Almost all steam distilled clary sage oils on the market (I would say 99.9% of them) have less than 0.5% sclareol content….
- “Secondly, if we look at the structure of sclareol…we will see that it actually has very little in common with the structure of any of the estrogen molecules…Sclareol is not a steroid but what would have to be termed a diterpene diol, not even remotely close to the necessary steroidal backbone.”
- “Sclareol is not a steroidal estrogen, does not mimic the function of any estrogen molecules, does not stimulate estrogen production (why would it?), and would not appear to have any mechanism by which it can “balance hormones” at least not by a pathway that has anything to do with estrogens… I am not saying that it’s impossible that clary sage can have some of the effects that have been claimed, but just be aware that its not really possible that the oil can mimic estrogens or that the oil contains estrogen like molecules.”
In regards to estrogenic breast cancer, essential oil expert Robert Tisserand mimics Pappas' assertion, “Sclareol does have an interesting anticancer activity, including in vitro action against human breast cancer MCF-7 cells (Dimas et al 2006). An isomer, 13-epi-sclareol, which is also present in clary sage oil, inhibits the growth of breast and uterine cancers in vitro, and was slightly more potent than Tamoxifen, but was not toxic to normal cells (Sashidhara et al 2007). This suggests the possibility that sclareol might actually inhibit estrogen, and might after all have some capacity to interact with estrogen receptor sites. What we do know is that sclareol will not give you breast cancer.” (16)
Safety & Drug Interactions
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When it comes to drug interactions and contraindications, there are literally textbooks devoted to the study of essential oil safety and, as a trained researcher and doctor, I think it’s important to note that there is virtually no research out there discussing how essential oils interact with drugs in long-term human clinical trials. This means that essential oil safety is still a wild frontier in the science community and no one really knows (for certain) how essential oils will interact with drugs or your body.
Nonetheless, properly diluting your essential oils is fundamental to safety and effectiveness because they are highly concentrated plant compounds. To help you along your journey, I have a created an easy-to-use dilution guide that you can download for FREE to make sure that all of your topical applications are safe and effective for the entire family.
CLICK HERE to download my free Essential Oils Dilution Chart!
As with as medicine and natural therapies, this is only a guide and be sure to discontinue use if any adverse reactions occur and consult your physician immediately.