Clary, Common

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Clary, Common

Botanical Name: Salvia sclarea (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae

Synonyms: Clarry. Orvale. Toute-bonne. Clear Eye. See Bright. Eyebright.
Parts Used: The herb and leaves, both fresh and dry.
Habitat: Middle Europe.

Common Clary, like the Garden Sage, is not a native of Great Britain, having first been introduced into English cultivation in the year 1562. It is a native of Syria Italy, southern France and Switzerland, but will thrive here upon almost any soil that is not too wet, though it will rot frequently upon moist ground in the winter.

Gerard, in 1597, describes and figures several varieties of Clary, under the names of Horminum and Gallitricum. He describes it as growing 'in divers barren places almost in every country, especially in the fields of Holborne neare unto Grayes Inne . . . and at the end of Chelsea.' It must have become acclimatized very quickly if it was found 'in divers barren places' before the close of the sixteenth century, less than forty years after its introduction into the country.

Salmon, in 1710, in The English Herbal, gives a number of varieties of the Garden Clary, which he calls Horminum Hortense, in distinction to Horminum Sylvestre, the Wild Clary, subdividing it into the Common Clary (H. commune), the True Garden Clary of Dioscorides (H. sativum verum Dioscorides), the Yellow Clary (Calus Jovis), and the Small or German Clary (H. humile Germanicum or Gallitricum alterum Gerardi). It is interesting to note that this last variety, being termed Gerardi, indicates that Gerard classified this species when it was first brought over from the Continent, evidently taking great pains to trace its history, giving in his Herball its Greek name and its various Latin ones. That Clary was known in ancient times is shown by the second variety, the True Garden Clarv being termed Dioscoridis.

Description: The Common Garden Clary is a biennial plant, its square, brownish stems growing 2 to 3 feet high, hairy and with few branches. The leaves are arranged in pairs, almost stalkless, and are almost as large as the hand, oblong and heart-shaped, wrinkled, irregularly toothed at the margins and covered with velvety hairs. The flowers are in a long, loose, terminal spike, on which they are set in whorls. The lipped corollas, similar to the Garden Sage, but smaller, are of a pale blue or white. The flowers are interspersed with large coloured, membraneous bracts, longer than the spiny calyx. Both corollas and bracts are generally variegated with pale purple and yellowish-white. The seeds are blackish brown, 'contained in long toothed husks,' as an old writer describes the calyx. The whole plant possesses a very strong, aromatic scent, somewhat resembling that of Tolu, while the taste is also aromatic, warm and slightly bitter.

History: According to Ettmueller, this herb was first brought into use by the wine merchants of Germany, who employed it as an adulterant, infusing it with Elder flowers, and then adding the liquid to the Rhenish wine, which converted it into a Muscatel. It is still called in Germany Muskateller Salbei (Muscatel Sage).

Waller (1822) states it was also employed in this country as a substitute for Hops, for sophisticating beer, communicating considerable bitterness and intoxicating property, which produced an effect of insane exhilaration of spirits, succeeded by severe headache. Lobel says: 'Some brewers of Ale and Beere doe put it into their drinke to make it more heady, fit to please drunkards, who thereby, according to their several dispositions, become either dead drunke, or foolish drunke, or madde drunke.' In some parts of the country, a wine has been made from the herb in flower, boiled with sugar, which has a flavour not unlike Frontiniac.

Though employed in ancient times and in the Middle Ages for its curative properties, it seems to have fallen into disuse as a medicinal plant, though revived to a certain extent towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The English name Clary originates in the Latin specific name sclarea, a word derived from clarus (clear). This name Clary was gradually modified into 'Clear Eye,' one of the popular names and generally explained from the fact that the seeds have been employed for clearing the sight, being so mucilaginous that a decoction from them placed in the eye would 'clear' it from any small foreign body, the presence of which might have caused irritation.

Although the Garden Clary has much fallen into disuse as a medicine, there is a big trade done in it now, mainly in France, for the extraction of its oil as a perfume fixer, and there is undoubtedly a big future ahead for it for this purpose, not only on the Continent, but also in this country.

Uses: The leaves are used to adulterate digitalis. The dried root and the seeds were formerly used in domestic medicine.

Cultivation: Clary is propagated by seed, which should be sown in the spring. When fit to move, the seedlings should be transplanted to an open piece of ground, a foot apart each way, if required in large quantities. After the plants have taken root, they will require no further care but to be kept free of weeds. The winter and spring following, the leaves will be in perfection. As the plant is a biennial only, dying off the second summer, after it has ripened its seeds, there should be young plants annually raised for use.

Constituents: Salvia Sclarea yields an oil with a highly aromatic odour, resembling that of ambergris. It is known commercially as Clary Oil, or Muscatel Sage, and is largely used as a fixer of perfumes. Pinene, cineol, and linalol have been isolated from this oil.

French Oil of Clary has a specific gravity of 0.895 to 0.930, and is soluble in two volumes of 80 per cent. alcohol. German oil of Clary has a specific gravity of 0.910 to 0.960, and is soluble in two volumes of 90 per cent alcohol.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Antispasmodic, balsamic, carminative, tonic, aromatic,aperitive, astringent and pectoral.

It has mostly been employed in disordered states of the digestion, as a stomachic, and has also proved useful in kidney diseases. The seeds when soaked in water for a few minutes form a thick mucilage, which is efficacious in removing particles of dust from the eye. Gerard says: 'It purgeth them exceedingly from the waterish humerous rednesse, inflammation, and drives other maladies or all that happens unto the eies and takes away the paine and smarting thereof, especially being put into the eies one seed at a time and no more.' Culpepper tells us: 'For tumours, swellings, &c., make a mucilage of the seeds and apply to the spot. This will also draw splinters and thorns out of the flesh.... For hot inflammation and boils before they rupture, use a salve made of the leaves boiled with hot vinegar, honey being added later till the required consistency is obtained.' He recommends a powder of the dry roots taken as snuff to relieve headache, and 'the fresh leaves, fried in butter, first dipped in a batter of flour, egges, and a little milke, serve as a dish to the table that is not unpleasant to any and exceedingly profitable.'

The juice of the herb drunk in ale and beer, as well as the ordinary infusion, has been recommended as very helpful in all women's diseases and ailments.

In Jamaica, where the plant is found, it was much in use among the negroes, who considered it cooling and cleansing for ulcers, and also used it for inflammations of the eyes. A decoction of the leaves boiled in coco-nut oil was used by them to cure the stings of scorpions. Clary and a Jamaican species of Vervain form two of the ingredients of an aromatic warm bath sometimes prescribed there with benefit.

For violent cases of hysteria or wind colic, a spirituous tincture has been found of use, made by macerating in warm water for fourteen days, 2 OZ. of dried Clary leaves and flowers, 1 OZ. of Chamomile flowers, 1/2 oz. bruised Avens root, 2 drachms of bruised Caraway and Coriander seeds, and 3 drachms of bruised Burdock seeds, adding 2 pints of proof spirit, then filtering and diluting with double quantity of water - a wineglassful being the dose.

Clary, Wild English Botanical Name: Salvia Verbenaca Description Medicinal Action and Uses
Synonyms: Vervain Sage. Oculus Christi.
Parts Used: Leaves and seeds.

Salvia Verbenaca, the Wild English Clary, or Vervain Sage, is a native of all parts of Europe and not uncommon in England in dry pastures and on roadsides, banks and waste ground, especially near the sea, or on chalky soil. It is a smaller plant than the Garden Clary, but its medicinal virtues are rather more powerful.

Description: The perennial root is woody, thick and long, the stem 1 to 2 feet high, erect and with the leaves in distant pairs, the lower shortly stalked, and the upper ones stalkless. The radical leaves lie in a rosette and have foot-stalks 1 1/2 to 4 inches long, their blades about the same length, oblong in shape, blunt at their ends and heart-shaped at the base, wavy at the margins, which are generally indented by five or six shallow, blunt lobes on each side, and their surfaces much wrinkled. The whole plant is aromatic, especially when rubbed, and is rendered conspicuous by its long spike of purplish-blue flowers, first dense, afterwards becoming rather lax. The whorls of the spike are sixflowered, and at the base of each flower are two heart-shaped, fringed, pointed bracts. The calyx is much larger than the corolla. The plant is in bloom from June to August. The seeds are smooth, and like the Garden Clary produce a great quantity of soft, tasteless mucilage, when moistened. Because, if put under the eyelids for a few moments, the tears dissolve this mucilage, which envelopes any dust and brings it out safely, old writers called this plant 'Oculus Christi,' or 'Christ's Eye.'

Medicinal Action and Uses: 'A decoction of the leaves,' says Culpepper, 'being drank, warms the stomach, also it helps digestion and scatters congealed blood in any part of the body.'

This Clary was thought to be more efficacious to the eye than the Garden variety.

'The distilled water strengthening the eyesight, especially of old people,' says Culpepper, 'cleaneth the eyes of redness waterishness and heat: it is a gallant remedy for dimness of sight, to take one of the seeds of it and put it into the eyes, and there let it remain till it drops out of itself, the pain will be nothing to speak on: it will cleanse the eyes of all filthy and putrid matter; and repeating it will take off a film which covereth the sight.'