The Venerable Sage

The common garden sage is a respected herb of long standing. It is associated with wisdom and longevity, and could even be considered the inspiration for Star Trek’s Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper.” For that is the nature of a sage plant.

But let’s not confuse garden sage – Salvia officinalis – with the wild sagebrush of the American west, Artemisia tridentata. While they’re both called sage in English, they are completely different species. Sagebrush leaves are fairly thin and toothy at the leaf tip. Adding to the confusion are several other species of wild Salvias growing out west, especially in California.

As for our official sage of the garden and herbal apothecary, we see that the word Salvia is related to the Latin salvus, meaning “safe”. This nurturing herb offers remedy for body, mind and also spirit.

A simple cup of sage tea gives gentle relief for mild anxiety, the occasional “down” feeling, PMS, and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Sage tea can be used as a gargle for sore throat and laryngitis, and as a mouthwash for thrush – do not sweeten. Nursing mothers use sage tea to dry up breast milk when weaning her baby. However, you should avoid sage tea if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure.

Also, if you feel your depression has become chronic or severe, do not hesitate to speak to another person you consider venerable and wise, that is, sage, who can guide you to healthy options, because there is no reason to have to work it out alone.

To make sage tea, place 1 rounded teaspoon sage leaf (fresh or dried) in a teapot, pour in 1 pint boiling water, and steep for about 10 minutes; strain into cup and serve lightly sweetened if desired.

The natural volatile oils in sage leaf are antiseptic and kill bacteria and fungus. A strong tea can be used to make a household wash water for counters, doorknobs, and so on where little kids may not have washed their hands.

Never use sage essential oil on the skin without properly diluting in a carrier oil first, and NEVER take it internally. Essential oils have many clinical, therapeutic and even industrial uses, but taking them internally is a big leap from using them as aromatherapy or mopping floors or wiping down the house when everyone has a cold. If you’re using sage essential oil for cleaning, wear gloves.

An easy recipe for a fragrant aftershave or bath splash goes like this: Take a combination of fresh or dried sage and lavender leaves, and fill a 1-pint jar half full with them. Next, pour in prepared witch hazel lotion and fill the jar. Cover with parchment or plastic, then the lid. Infuse for 2 weeks before using. Label and date the contents, including the phrase Do Not Drink!

We love sage in the kitchen, it flavors many of our favorite dishes. Breakfast sausage wouldn’t be the same without a hearty pinch of rubbed sage in the seasoning blend. And some people just wouldn’t be happy without sage-y bread stuffing in a roast turkey. Sage is delicious and appropriate with rich foods such as pork and poultry. It is fabulous tossed onto a pan of oven-roasted root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots and rutabagas. You can even use a sturdy branch as a basting brush for grilled foods. Here is a recipe for a savory herb blend to toss into a simmering pot of beans, yielding a little over 2 cups.

Greens for Beans Seasoning Blend – combine all ingredients in a bowl, using your hands to mix thoroughly. Use 1 tablespoon seasoning blend for each 2 cups dry beans (which of course must be washed and soaked overnight before cooking). This seasoning blend would also make a good starter for vegetable broth, with the addition of mushrooms.

  • ½ cup each kelp or dulse flakes, and dried nettles

  • 2 tablespoons each garlic granules, marjoram, oregano, sage and savory

  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger root.

Venerable Garden Sage is just one of hundreds of varieties of ornamental plants bearing the name Salvia. Their square stems reveal their relation to other members of the mint family; all mints have square stems but, elementary, not all square-stemmed plants are mints. Salvia flowers are spire-like, giving vertical dimension to annual plantings, and red a common flower color. There are also deep burgundies, white and creamy colors, pinks and even blues. They are often planted en masse to a very striking effect.

Garden sage is a woody perennial that stays green into late fall, and is one of the first herbs to turn green again in the spring. It can grow quite large, perhaps 2-3 feet high as well as wide, if grown in a happy location. Even garden sage comes in several varieties, including purple, golden, variegated, wide-leaved, bumpy leaved, large and small, but plain old sage is the longest-lived and most dependable. It sends out long spikes of lavender-colored flowers which are very charming when cut and placed in tiny bottles, new or old. I have a sage plant that is well over 20 years old, although it is not as vigorous as it used to be. Garden Sage is easy to start from seed, and look quite sage-y even as a seedling.

Biennial Clary Sage, S. sclarea, is deeply and complexly fragrant, with strangely unique flowers. This herb has been used with elderflower to flavor wine. Annual Clary Sage, S. viridis, is also a beautiful addition to the garden, with its pink and purple spikes of shell-like flowers.

Salvia argentea or Silver Sage is similar in form and habit to the biennial Clary, with a large rosette of fuzzy silvery leaves the first year, with the flowering stalk appearing the second year. Both are worth the wait. The plant called White Sage or Bee Sage, S. apiana, is used in bundles as a smudging herb; I have had mediocre success germinating this species, but the plants are very fragrant when you can manage it.

Pineapple sage, S. elegans, is a tall, beautiful edible ornamental with bright red flowers and usually variegated pointed leaves. It really does smell like pineapple and can be used sparingly in relishes and cheese dishes. It is sometimes added to grape jam for an unusual herbal flair. Hummingbirds love this plant!

Even a young sage plant looks wise. Planting one in a permanent setting, perhaps near a sundial, a toad cottage, or your favorite garden gnome, will entice you to spend more time outside, perhaps setting up a nice chair nearby and waiting for our Venerable One to share some of it’s quiet strength with you, helping you to slow down in this increasingly fast-moving world. Get off the merry-go-round and plant some sage!

© 2018 Doreen Shababy

This article is excerpted and adapted from my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary, published in  2010 by Llewellyn Publications.


Gathering – a poem


With mortar & pestle we grind resin

with lavender


          & the peel of oranges

a thoughtful steady motion

channels open as aroma sifts through fingers

We burn candles dipped by hand

witness clarity in the dancing flame

& close our eyes to find stars on our belt

incense smoke to purify

we meditate & meet

we are the circle that surrounds us

Inside, She greets us

with open hands

          scented loaves

          & runes

She teaches us with what we seek

and touches us with knowing

© 2018 Doreen Shababy

Biting Off her Own Wing


the Angel succumbs

to the flightless endurance

of separation,

leaving behind

not only all the old games

and fancies

but also the so many

wonderful delicious

pantomimes of religion and war.

Marauding mobs of so-calleds

spit language and decoration

and devise assaulting rituals

to practice on the psyches of peers

who do not fly the same direction,

while they themselves

deteriorate in closet self-admonishment.

Feathers still stuck to her lips,

the Angel coughs and spews

the beauty and terror

of her own power

and finds embedded in her own soul

the rhythm and rush

of wings incarnate

still beating


© Doreen Shababy 2017

Meet Linda Raedisch, Architect of Alvenholm

I recently had the opportunity to ask author Linda Raedisch some questions about her most recent book THE PRINCESS IN THE MOUND – A Visitor’s Guide to Alvenholm Castle. As you will see, she is as lively as her “fiction”.

Raedisch’s most recent book


But first, you will want to know about her books of non-fiction, both from Llewellyn Publications:

NIGHT OF THE WITCHES – Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night, which Llewellyn Publications calls a “charming, impeccably researched book” about the lost traditions of this auspicious night.


THE OLD MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS – Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year, which is a “spooky sleigh ride” deep in the heart of the winter wonderland.

Author Linda Raedisch


Linda is also the author of dozens of articles in Llewelln’s annuals, the Herbal Almanac, Sabbats Almanac, and the Witch’s Companion.


Gripsholm Castle in Sweden, one of the inspirations for Alvenholm

Here is our interview, which we conducted via email, my questions and her answers.

  1. Tell me a little about the places you’ve visited that helped form the composite for Alvenholm Castle.

My Mom’s side of the family comes from far northern Germany, which is practically Scandinavia.  In fact, at times it has been.  My aunt and uncle live in Daenisch Nienhof (which translates roughly as “Danish New Farm”) which is located in the Daenischer Wohld which is part of the larger area of Schwedeneck, “Sweden Corner.”  So over the centuries, it has been part of several different kingdoms, duchies, and what-have-you.  The native language is not German but Platt or “Low German” which is closer to English and Dutch. There’s a lot of history and a lot of old houses to traipse through.

When we go down to the beach (it’s on the Baltic) we walk past a Baroque manor house that you can’t go into because it’s been made into condos.  So, of course, that’s the house I started to wonder about.  Also, my uncle once pointed out a field to me near his house.  A witch was burned there in the 1600’s.  That was the inspiration for the character of Anke Erker, but I gave Anke a happy ending.  And Anke;s husband, Witchety Willi, is my response to the Black Peter controversy.  Black Peter is a comical Dutch Christmas figure who’s traditionally represented by a white person in blackface.  Imagine growing up Black in the Netherlands and having to see that every year!  Witchety Willi, on the other hand, was a successful entrepreneur, and many Alvenholmers can trace their lines back to him.     

One of the houses we can and do always go into is Schloss Gottorf (Gottorf Castle) which was designed by architect Nicodemus Tessin who also designed a lot of grand homes in Sweden.  In the book, he’s “recast” as “Theophilus Nessin.”  Alvenholm is a lot like Gottorf, but much much smaller and much more run down.  Also, much more haunted!

Image result for Gottorf castle
inside Gottorf Castle in Sweden


  1. What about the people? Are they based on curators and craftspeople you’ve met? The names are a real mouthful sometimes!

Some of the names in the book are family names, slightly altered, some are taken from place names in the area.  My great grandmother Magdalene was one of thirteen children, 12 girls and one boy.  They were partly the inspiration for Juniperus and Aina Nissenborg’s thirteen daughters in the book.

I’ve long been obsessed by craft and by materials.  I don’t want to be bored with dates!  I want to know how things were made and what they were made of.  There’s more history in a chair or a carved wooden headboard than there is in a textbook.

Also, my sister Marlene was a decorative painter and a world-class gilder.  I started writing the stories that became Princess about six months after she died.  It was a way of both channeling my grief and celebrating her craft.  My illustrator, Ursula Raedisch (who’s also my daughter!) inherited all her gilding tools and materials and she’s doing some beautiful work with gold leaf on glass.


  1. As “A Visitor’s Guide”, your book has no storyline. That being said, you built characters with personalities, and settings with spirit of place – literally. Tell me about your background and life studies that inspired the richness of Alvenholm. What are you into?

I’m an autodidact.  I have only “some college,” as they put it on surveys.  I’m always obsessed with something and, like Neil Gaiman tells us, you have to trust your obsessions!  After my sister died, I bought the old classic, The Art of the Painted Finish for Furniture and Decoration by Isobel O’Neil.  Why?  I don’t know, because I can’t actually do any of the things my sister did; that takes years of training.  But the book is magical.  You open to any page and it’s pure poetry.  Here, let’s try it!  Page 192: “Certain mediums used for antiquing painted areas are discussed here again when they may be used effectively on leaf: in accordance with the manner of coloring, it is possible to gray, yellow, or blacken silver, and to brown gold.”  See?  The idea of spending hours, if not days, painting one thing to look like another thing, well, it’s just fascinating.  And there’s a lot of that going on inside Alvenholm Castle.

I also have a whole shelf of Swedish Castle books.  They’re really coffee table books but I treat them as cover to cover reads.  In France, if you wanted mahagony, you got mahagony; if you wanted marble, you got marble, but up north all they really had was pine.  So they had to fake it.


Paper cuttings by Elva Wichtelborg
  1. I want to know more about your experience with self-publishing.

After doing a lot of research, I decided to publish with Amazon Create Space.  You can pay for content and copy editing but I decided to go it alone.  I had several people read earlier drafts, including my mom who’s pretty nit-picky!

I’m not good digitally, and as far as getting the book up, I was stretched to the limits of my scanty computer skills. But there’s always someone at create space to answer questions, even if it takes a day or two for them to get back to you with an answer.  At Llewellyn, as you know, we work with the same editor all through a project, but at amazon it’s a diffferent person every time,  Still, I’d do it again.  

Because I had already written my back cover copy – – the back cover is part of the fantasy – – I didn’t buy the Marketing Essentials package.  Now I’m having trouble getting the book in people’s faces.  If you search my books on my amazon, Princess comes up on about page 6, after all the Llewellyn annuals I’ve contributed to,  I think I’ve sold more copies at craft fairs at my “Soap, Book & Candle” table (Get it? Get it?  Not everybody gets it!) than I have on amazon.


  1.   You have a very puckish sense of humor. If we could sit at a table together and time travel, where would we go and what would we drink?

“Puckish.”  I like that!  Okay, so this is honestly the first thing that popped into my head: We’d travel back to China in the neighborhood of 3000 BC.  We’re drinking green tea but we’re not sitting down; we’re strolling through a garden with the legendary first empress who supposedly invented silk.  As we walk under the mulberry trees, we watch to see if a silkworm’s cocoon really does drop down into her tea cup and unravel.  And, most importantly, does she still drink the tea?

Does she still drink the tea?


  1. Can we look forward to future tours to other fascinating times and places?

Yes, I think you’re going to have to look forward to more haunted houses and cupboards from me.  The last phrase in Princess is “so there is no way to know.”  But since I wrote that, I’ve discovered more about Olga Ravenlow, and now I know.  And remember her older sister, Eugenia?  Turns out she married into the Mistelborg family, and there’s something very spooky going on in their apple orchard. . . 


  1. This is your opportunity to shamelessly self-promote your work and whatever it is you do that you want my multitude of readers to know.

I guess I just want to tell everybody to stay tuned.  I’m working on a third book for Llewellyn, due out late 2019, I think.  And I have lots more indie fantasies planned.  None of them take place at Alvenholm, but they are in the same universe.  The best way to stay tuned is via my facebook page, so send me a friend request.

Ursula Raedisch is still drawing and gilding away.  She seems to be in a Venetian phase right now.  You can see her work at



Thank you, Linda, for this deeper look into who you are and what makes you tick. I love reading about folklore and old traditions, and your work makes these studies very interesting and fun.

Also available in French;

This one is also available in Czech!



Dill – it’s not just for Pickles, you know!

This common garden herb is used for both its seed and its fragrant leaf. Everyone is familiar with the dill pickle, which is usually a cucumber left whole or cut into spears, chunks, or slices, and flavored with salt, dill, spices, and sometimes vinegar and garlic. And even though a pickle can be anything from a string bean to a peach, the long, crunchy cucumber spears will inevitably be flavored with dill seed.

fragrant dill seed


In cook’s jargon, pickling is actually a process of fermenting food in a salty brine, or immersing in vinegar for a quick pickle. What we commonly call “pickles” are technically pickled cucumbers. You can even pickle lumber, such as for paneling or flooring, with calcium carbonate or lime.

If you haven’t tried fresh dill weed, as the leaf is often called, you are in for a real treat. This lovely herb is used extensively in Scandinavian, Russian, and Eastern European cooking, and also in many Greek dishes. And while the leaf may look delicate, it adds a lot of flavor.

Deviled eggs and smoked salmon with dill

Use fresh dill weed with eggs, either as an edible garnish or as a small amount minced into the dish itself. It is the quintessential flavoring for a steaming bowl of new potatoes; simply sprinkle it on fresh, or dollop with a generous amount of dill weed blended with soft butter. You can use this butter to season all types of fresh vegetables as well as fish. Try sipping a cold glass of buttermilk or kefir flavored with a pinch of fresh dill – very refreshing.

New potatoes seasoned with dill

Chewing on dill seed is said to be a remedy for hiccups. The word dill comes from the Norwegian dylla, meaning “to lull”, and indeed, a mild tea made from the seeds is a good remedy for baby’s colic and is said to help bring on mother’s milk.

Dill Seed Tea – Boil 1 pint (2 cups) water, remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon dill seed, then cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve warm, up to 2 cups a day for mother and 2 small spoonfuls every hour for baby. You can also gently warm the seeds in milk for baby.

The lulling quality of dill must be one of the reasons why it is often used in sleep pillows – you know, those cute little pillows stuffed with magical herbs that you tuck under your regular pillow to lull you to sleep. I love how folklore and utility often go hand in hand.

Sleep pillow with herbs

The essential oil of dill has been shown to have antifungal and antibacterial potential, while the alcohol extract shows anti-oxidant properties; mass spectrometer studies resulted in the identification of 35 compounds responsible for the potency of this common garden herb.

It’s easy to grow dill. If you have the garden space, you can successively plant every two weeks starting in May until the end of June for fresh dill all summer. Dill likes full sun and loamy soil, and moderate watering. Snip fresh leaves throughout the summer to keep them growing, but let some stems grow into seed heads too.  Dill is a tall plant, from 2 to 3 feet, and prolific, so take that into consideration. Otherwise, find one of the more compact varieties to grow in a container. Fernleaf and Teddy are favorite container varieties, while Bouquet is the most common garden type.

Dill flower going to seed

Be sure to save some seed for planting Anethum graveolens next year: before they are fully ripe, cut the stem at least a foot below the seed head, and tie several stems into a bunch to hang and dry in a dark, airy place, perhaps with a loose paper bag around them to catch any errant seed. Dill makes a good companion plant for cole crops – cabbage, broccoli, and so on – while growing dill with carrots, parsnips or other plants of the Apiaceae or celery family (to which dill belongs) is discouraged.

If you find that you have extra dill fronds or flowering heads, you can use them in floral arrangements; they are quite beautiful.

Dill in a floral arrangement

[This article is an excerpted and revised version of “D is for Dill”, which is found in my book, THE WILD & WEEDY APOTHECARY.  You can purchase a signed copy of my book directly from me for $25 ppd. US only.  Please leave a comment if you want me to contact you.]