The herb known as the clary is botanically named - Salvia sclarea, which means the clary sage. The plant is familiar to many herbalists. Clary sage can be grown as a biennial or a perennial plant. The striking herbaceous plant has a long history of being used in the preparation of many herbal remedies. Traditionally, the clary sage was well known for its essential oils. These herbal oils extracted from the clary were extensively used in many Mediterranean cultures since before the Christ's birth. The beneficial properties of these essential clary oils were commented on by early medical men including the Greek naturalist Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Pliny - the essential oils were one of the main remedies used in the ancient world. Clary sage is an indigenous plant of the Mediterranean region and grows in the wild throughout the northern Mediterranean region. Wild populations of the plant can also be found in some areas along the North African and central Asian coastline. In France, the common name for the clary herb is toute-bonne or sauge sclarée. Clary is known as sclarea in Italy. The Spanish call it hierba de los ojos. While clary is the British name for the herb. A hardy plant, the clary sage needs very little water or attention for growth, it also easy adapts to temperatures below 0°F or -18°C in areas where it grows in the wild. Clary sage is now naturalized in central Europe and other countries.
The clary sage blooms early in the summer. The plant develops very fast and grows fully in a year from a seedling to a plant that can reach 3 to 4 ft - 1 to 1.3 m in length when blooming. The clary has square shaped stems that are covered all over with fine hairs - the stem also bears embedded oil globules containing the essential oil. The clary has dissimilar shaped leaves, the leaf sizes vary from one ft or thirty cm in length at the bottom of the herb, to leaves that are less than half that size at the top of the plant. Leaves may be sessile or they may possess a short petiole when they are growing at the very top of the plant. Length of the each petiole varies as well. The lamina of the leaves is rugose and covered with fine short hairs - the surface also contains the oil globules. The lamina has a grassy green color on the top surface, while the underside of the leaf is marked off by creamy white veins running along the surface. The edges of all the leaves are serrated or toothed like a saw. Clary bears striking flowers when in bloom, these flowers number between two and six in each vertical on the plant and they are borne on large and colorful floral bracts that have a pale mauve to lilac floral or white to pink coloration along with pink markings on the margins. Clary flowers have a lilac or pale blue corolla, which is about an inch or 2.5 cm across. The floral lips are held wide open and resemble a scythe in shape. Sometimes, a clary variety that bears white flowers and white floral bracts tinged with pink are also seen in the wild. This variety or cultivar is known to gardeners as the 'Turkestanica' variety, and this form of the plant grows true from the seeds.
Clary sage required good exposure to full sunlight for maximum growth, it also grows well in soils low in nutrients and which are rapidly drained - the clary can survive with very little water in the wild. Plants which are watered weekly in a border will flourish. Whenever, the flowers on the plants begin to look shabby and tan colored at the edges, cut the flowering stems a little - this will encourage perennial vigor and new growth in the plants. One good reason for cutting and pruning the plant is that seed production is stopped and the spectacle of large numbers germinating seedlings at the base of mature plants can be avoided. Plants may still live for only a while, even with all these prudent practices in place, therefore, the solution is to always have a few young plants developing in the garden to replace the death of mature plants. Seeds are the best way to propagate such plants in the garden and in herbaria.
Due to the powerful and penetrating aroma of the essential oils, the clary sage flowers are not considered suitable for display as cut flowers. The strong essential oils are still commonly used in the manufacture of many kinds of perfumes as well as to impart a muscatel flavor to wines, vermouths, and liqueurs during the distillation process. The beneficial healing properties that are attributed to the herb are partially connected to the presence of these oils in the plant - the seeds are another source of the healing properties of these herbs. One common traditional remedy made from the seeds of the clary sage is to use them to treat eye complaints; these produce thick mucilage and are beneficial in treating many ophthalmic conditions. The placing of clary seed poultice is believed to help eliminate impurities from the eyes. The traditional use of the herb in treating eye problems can be seen in the species name in Latin “sclarea” - which carries the connotation of clear and bright when translated.
Many gardeners considered the clary sage to be one of the most striking of border plants. It mixes well with other plants and grown in a seed bed along with other common early summer blooming garden plants like roses and foxgloves, as well as Canterbury bells, hollyhocks, delphiniums and pinks, with herbs like dill, fennel and larkspur, and with love-in-a-mist - the plant can give the common seed bed both height and color for nearly a month in gardens. If measure such as trimming the discolored inflorescences on each plant is undertaken carefully - clary sage can be expected to bloom for even longer periods well into the summer. During the early fall, when the days turn warm and nights cool, clary plants may sometimes give new floral blooms - this is quite a common occurrence in places with mellow climates.
Aerial parts, seeds, essential oil.
The remedies made from the clary posses an antispasmodic action. This aromatic herb is primarily employed these days to treat all kinds of digestive problems including excess abdominal gas and chronic indigestion problems. The herbal remedy made from the clary is also a noted general tonic. Herbalists consider the clary to have a calming effect as it helps relieve problems like menstrual pain and pre-menstrual complaints in women. The clary stimulates and boosts the actions of the female hormone estrogen, due to this effect, the clary sage is considered to be most effective in treating women with low levels of this hormone. Remedies made from the clary are therefore considered to be an effective and valuable herbal remedy for the treatment of complaints connected with menopause, especially symptoms such as hot flashes among others.
Irritating foreign matter in the eyes was traditionally treated by washing the eyes with a solution made from the seeds of the clary. Stomach problems are relieved by drinking an herbal infusion of the clary leaves probably helps upset stomachs, the clary seed is used in this way by many modern herbal healers. However, the ability of the clary seeds to relieve kidney complaints is not supported by any clinical evidence even though herbalists say it affects kidneys in a beneficial manner. The essential aromatic oil is the primary reason for the fame and reputation of the herb. The essential oil of the clary is extensively employed in the manufacture of all kinds of perfumes, soaps, and cosmetic products. There are also culinary uses for the clary, and some add clary to the omelets and soup dishes.
Habitat and cultivation
The clary sage grows in the wild in southern Europe and the Middle East. The herb is indigenous to the Mediterranean region. However, the clary sage is cultivated in France and Russia these days - primarily for the essential oil used in perfumery and cosmetics. The usually time for harvesting the clary is in the summer, only second year plants are normally collected for processing.
The ideal site to grow clary sage is in sites that are well lighted and have well drained light to sandy soils. A hardy plant, the clary sage can thrives on most soils that are not too wet or water logged. Frost and winter wetness can often kill off mature plants - being a dry area plant; the clary does not tolerate excessive moisture. The plant is remarkably hardy to cold conditions, tolerating -20°c weather at times. The clary is grown both as a biennial as well as a short lived perennial herb. Once air fried the flowers of the clary can be used as everlasting flowers in indoor floral displays. The clary is well known to gardeners and is considered to be an ornamental plant. As it is strongly aromatic, in some areas it is cultivated mainly for its essential oil. The oils from different varieties have different names, and are used in different types of perfumery products. The essential oils can easily diffuse out of the plant if the leaves are slightly bruised, they release a deliciously penetrating and refreshing aroma - similar to the smell of fresh grapefruit according to some people. Bees find the clary flowers attractive and apiarists grow these flowers as a source of nectar and pollen. Due to their strong pungent aroma, the members of this plant genus are almost never troubled by browsing deer in the wild.
The clary is propagated mainly by sowing seeds. In cultivation, the seeds are sown in situ as soon as spring arrives. The other alternative is to sow seeds in August or September, to allow the seedlings to over winter - this often results in the growth of larger plants. Clary thinnings can also be transplanted to different sites. Stored clary seeds can maintain viability for three years at a stretch.