Also known as Blue Sage, Wild Sage, Wilde Salie and Bloublomsalie.
Salvia africana is a decorative, aromatic shrub with medicinal properties. Keep it neat and pruned and it will reward you with flowers almost all year round.
It is a soft, greyish, hairy, much-branched shrub up to 2 m tall. The leaves are greenish on the upper surface, covered with grey hairs and dotted with glands on the lower surface, strongly aromatic, simple, opposite, obovate (egg-shaped but broader towards the tip) and sometimes toothed.
Flowers are produced from midwinter to midsummer (June to January) peaking in spring to early summer (Aug.-Dec.), in whorls, crowded at the tips of the stems. The corolla is two-lipped, the lips roughly equal in length; the upper lip is blue to bluish-purple or pinkish and hooded; the lower one is usually white in the center with darker spots, and is turned down at the edge, giving the impression of a gaping mouth.
The style is long, slender and curved, and sticks out beyond the hooded upper lip. The stamens are strangely shaped. The filament of each stamen is attached to one side of the lower part of the corolla tube. A cross-piece that is hinged so that it can move up and down is attached at the top end of the filament. This cross-piece carries the anther at one end and a ‘pedal’ at the other.
The ‘pedal’ is in fact the other half of the anther, transformed into a structure that a visiting bee has to press on as it probes for nectar, causing the hinged anther to move down and deposit pollen on the back of the bee. The calyx is funnel-shaped, dotted with glands and covered in long, silky grey hairs, green with pinkish purple tips. It persists long after the flower has dropped and enlarges at the fruiting stage, becoming thin, light and papery by the time the seeds are mature.
The fruit consists of four 1-seeded, small, rounded nutlets that are formed at the base of the flower, inside the calyx. They remain attached at the base of the calyx after the flower drops, falling out when mature.
Salvia africana is found on sandy slopes and flats from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape to the Cape Peninsula and Caledon in the Western Cape. It grows in fynbos.
Salvia africana is pollinated by bees and the flower is adapted to assist in pollination-see the description above to recap the structure of the flower. The bottom petal is a platform for the bee to land on. As it probes for nectar, it presses against the ‘pedal’, which causes the hinged anthers to move down and deposit pollen on the back of the bee, while the curved stigma collects pollen that it has already picked up from other flowers it visited previously.
Many African salvias, including Salvia africana have long been used by the people of Africa as medicinal plants and to flavor food. A remedy made by mixing S. africana tea with Epsom salts and lemon juice was used by the early settlers in South Africa to treat stomach troubles, including colic, diarrhea, flatulence, heartburn, gripes and indigestion.
It was also given to cows after calving to help in the expulsion of the placenta. The Khoisan people used S. africana to treat coughs, colds and women’s ailments. The leaves, mixed with those of Ballota africana (kattekruie) were also used to treat fevers and measles.
Margaret Roberts recipe for sage tea is to pour one cup of boiling water over one tablespoon of fresh leaves, allow to draw for 5 minutes, sweeten with honey and add a slice of lemon for taste. To ease a cough, including whooping cough, sip a little frequently. To treat colds, flu and chest ailments and for painful or excessive menstruation, drink half a cup four times a day.
The tea is also an excellent gargle for sore throats and night coughing. Even chewing a fresh leaf will ease a sore throat and help restore a lost voice. This tea can also be used externally as a mildly antiseptic wash. A stronger brew using one tablespoon of fresh leaves chopped into one tablespoon of honey and two tablespoons of lemon juice makes a soothing cough mixture for a persistent cough: take one tablespoon every half hour until the cough eases.