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Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)

Native use of Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) in California

Mahuna Tribe

The Mahuna tribe in Southern California used this plant for the cure of deep dry coughs of long standing, which have settled in the bronchial tubes. This does not mean coughs of two or three weeks of duration, but those which have existed from 4 to 6 months and which have reached a chronic, dangerous stage. The infusion was made full strength and given to the patients in small doses, hot (never cold!) during daytime and one extra big dose before retiring. (from the Botanical Lore of he California Indians by John Bruno Romero)


Chumash Use

Soaking in a handful of crushed black sage leaves and stems in a warm bath relieves pain in the feet and lower legs. A warm foot bath of a strong infusion of black sage will relieve pain in the back, neck and head. (Cecilia Garcia, Chumash Medicine Woman)

Black sage is used as a topical preparation to relieve minor to moderate pain. The plant is added to water or sea water. The preparation is placed in sun light for several hours to make a sun tea. Patients soak their feet in the sun tea until pain relief occurs, usually 20 min or so. This traditional preparation is used by patients suffering from arthritis pain, over exertion pain and cramping, headaches, bursitis, minor back pain and other pain.

Salvia mellifera contains 54 monoterpenoids that are slightly water soluble, can cross the skin and inhibit pain by inactivating TRP channels. Monoterpenoids have octanol water partition coefficients ranging from 2 for alcohols to 5 for hydrocarbons. This means they are present in water at concentrations ranging from a few ppm to several thousand ppm. Most drugs have octanol water partition coefficients in the range of −0.5 to 4.0. The plant also contains diterpenoids such as rosmanol and carnosic acid that are analgesic and anti-inflammatory agents. Rosmanol is slightly water soluble. Carnosic acid is partly water soluble. These lipophilic molecules may be able to cross the skin and provide pain relief. (Dr James Adams)

Kumeyaay and Black sage

Delfina Cuero, a Kumeyaay or Southern Diegueno Indian, made the following comments about S. mellifera in her autobiography. “We used it for medicine. The leaves and stems could be used fresh or dried. They were boiled and the water used for bathing when a person ached due to flu, rheumatism and arthritis.” (Shipek)

An interesting fact about Salvia mellifera

Black sage is susceptible to air pollution damage from sulfur dioxide and ozone. In some areas of southern California, it is used as a biological monitor of air pollution.


  • Control of pain with topical plant medicines, James David Adams Jr., Xiaogang Wang
  • Healing with medicinal plants, Garcia & Adams (p. 181)
  • Romero, John Bruno 1954 The Botanical Lore of the California Indians. New York. Vantage Press, Inc. (p. 21)
  • Delfina Cuero: Her Autobiography – An Account of Her Last Years and Her Ethnobotanic Contributions
  • Palliative Care Among Chumash People, James D. Adams, Jr and Cecilia Garcia








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