Small Flowered Sage Salvia plebeia 荔枝草 (li zhi cao)
Many of you know about our series, Bio-Regional Herbalism. Since our last newsletter we have had several great webinars on Bio-Regional Herbalism including Eric Yarnell, Nicole Telkes, and Patricia Kyritsi Howell. So, to honor those excellent webinars, I thought I would write a small piece about a regional herb I use here in Beijing. It is pictured above. Its botanical name is Salvia plebeia and would probably be known as Small Flowered Sage, if it had a common English name. The Chinese name is 荔枝草 Li Zhi Cao. The first two characters is the name for Lichi fruit, but it is unclear why this is a name for an completely unrelated plant; the third character is simply the character for “grass” or “herb.’ It does have other names such as 水羊耳 shui yang er (water goat ear), 过冬青 guo dong qing (“clear after winter”), 天明精 tian ming jing (“heaven’s bright essence”), 凤眼草 feng yan cao (pheonix eye herb), and others.
The plant grows throughout most of China as well as much of Asia, growing from tropical to temperate environments. I am just learning about this plant from my project, the Autumn Reine Learning Garden. We are practicing a modified form of permaculture there and as such have let the weeds, more or less, grow to cover the soil and start the healing process. Along with many other plants I started to see this plant emerge. I easily recognized what I thought was a sage, and once it bloomed I was eager to key it out.
The information I have on it so far is that it is considered bitter, acrid, and cool, although sources range from very cold to warm, and one, not surprisingly says it is aromatic, which it definitely….it is a sage after all.
For the sake of brevity I will just list the functions and indications listed in the Great Dictionary of Chinese Medicinals (中药大辞典).
Functions: Clears heat and resolves toxin, cools the blood and scatters [blood] stasis, frees water and disperses swelling.
Indications: exterior attacks with heat effusion [fever], painful and swollen throat, lung heat with cough, coughing blood, spitting blood, blood in the urine, flooding and leaking [excessive menstruation], bleeding sores, kidney inflammation with water swelling, white turbidity, malaria, toxic abscesses and sores, itchy eczema, injury do to external trauma, snake and insect bites.
Dosage: 9-30g in decoction, 15-60g when used fresh, also fresh juice is used. Also used externally as a poultice and fresh juice application.
I don’t have a lot available, but, of course, I made some tincture. The herb has a clear sage scent that is similar to many other sages I have smelled, but doesn’t stick out as being particularly like any of them. It is slightly citrus, with a bit of an edge, and a deep woody/earthy finish. I wouldn’t say it is as aromatic as a good garden sage, white sage, or black sage, but never the less it seems obviously to be useful in medicine. I am also going to make a little vinegar with it an explore cooking with it.
I have only employed it once so far for my son who frequently complains of a sore throat (he likes to yell a lot and doesn’t drink as much water as he should, but then he is 13 yo, so what do you expect). He also said he had a bit of a headache. I gave him 3 droppers of the fresh plant tincture in a bit of water, and he reported 30 minutes later that the headache was gone and the sore throat was 70-80% better. Not bad for a first run!