Clary sage (Salvia sclarea L.) is a biennial or short-lived perennial member of the mint family. The oil of Clary sage has an odor similar to ambergris and is used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, aromatherapy, and as a flavoring, especially for muscatel wines. The plant also has medicinal uses.
Clary sage forms a rosette of large, velvety leaves the first year. The stalks of pink to white flowers produced the second year may be up to 5 ft tall. Fall sown plants will bloom the next year, after vernalization. The plant is adapted to a dry climate and produces more oil under low fertility and moisture. Oil yields of 0.15% (fresh weight basis) were reported from plants growing on poor ground at high altitudes, while yields of only 0.07% were obtained from plants on rich soil (1).
The plant is harvested during late bloom, when the seeds are at the milky stage. Most of the oil is in the flowering stalk, so the plant should be cut to include the inflorescence and only the top few pairs of leaves. The plant material is distilled fresh, and should be distilled immediately to avoid volatilization of the oil. Oil content is lowest from noon to 3:00 pm, so Clary sage should be harvested in the evening or morning hours (2). The oil is rich in linalyl acetate (45-87%) with sclareol, linalool, nerol, betapinene, alpha- and beta-thujone, borneol, and a small amount of mircene and camphor (2).
Clary sage is well adapted to the climate of western Montana. Yield and quality of plants grown at the WARC was high, and the plants were free of pests and diseases. The crop was established from transplants in this trial, but fall direct seeding may also be done. A plant with 5-7 rosette leaves is more resistant to winter injury than are smaller seedlings (2).
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