Wood Sage is a common open woodland species, I saw it a lot, on visits to various locations in Thetford Forest. I was taking students there and they would be carrying out studies as part of their ‘A’ level Biology course. The study usually involved some sort of combination of linking species diversity under different species of trees with available light. Of course this would involve the students in being able to distinguish between one plant and another. Fortunately Thetford forest being basically a huge Pine plantation did not have too many different species, which would have confused the students.
In terms of large plants ( ie not mosses) there were two species of Fern and about six different flowering plants that they had to get to grips with, Wood Sage, Heath Bedstraw, Stinging Nettle, Foxglove, Sorrel, and about three different grasses. OK that’s eight. I used to try to quickly teach the students to differentiate between the different species before they started their recording… Wood Sage I would say ‘looks like the culinary herb sage and has a smell somewhere between lemons and cats pee’. Looking back on it, how many modern day ‘A’ level students would know what the herb sage looks like? Also probably most of them did not know the smell of cats pee. Still the studies they carried out usually produced good and consistent results so something was working.
Thetford Forest was back then largely Corsican Pine, but I took my students to an area where the Forestry Commission had planted some experimental blocks of different tree species. This had been done for three reasons, one was to monitor productivity, second was to monitor diversity and third was to see if the selected trees were disease resistant. Some of the tree species filtered out a huge amount of light and as a result very little grew underneath. Wood Sage was only found growing with tree species that allowed a reasonable amount of light through to the forest floor, trees like Hybrid Larch and Southern Beech.
We would measure the light with light meters and also take soil samples, which were used to test pH and water content. The pH was always acidic and it did not seem to be affected by the type of tree, it was always 4.5 to 5.0. Water content did vary a bit but was usually quite low, the time of year would also influence this.
So Wood Sage lives in open woodland and likes an acid soil and tolerates quite dry soils. It is a perennial and flowers in mid summer. The flowers are not that spectacular, they are arranged in a terminal spike and are creamy, slightly greenish white. The petals are shaped in the typical nettle (Labiate) arrangement. The stamens and anthers stick out from the petals quite prominently and are a purple colour as can be seen in the photos.
The genus Teucrium is commonly known as Germander and includes species like Wall Germander, Cut-leaved Germander and Water Germander…. Not Germander speedwell which is in a completely different group.
Wood sage has been used for all sorts of remedies, many associated with the skin. It was also used in beer making. Here is something I found in a web site called Herbs 2000
‘In addition to its therapeutic uses, wood sage also has a number of culinary uses. The taste as well as flavour of this herb is similar to that of hops. In some places, people use the infusion prepared with the leaves and flowers of wood sage as a hop substitute to add essence to beers. In fact, it is believed to clear beer faster compared to hops. However, unlike hops, wood sage imparts excessive color to beers.’
With the recent popularity of craft beers and the use of what seems to me like every possible ingredient I wonder if this has been incorporated into any of the weird concoctions that are available theses days. I will consult with my son who is an expert on all things beer. You might like to have a look at #eternalhoptimist It is his appraisal of craft beers.
Ha! I have found a web site which has info on Wood sage and its use in beer… evidently it can cause hallucinations and makes the beer a green colour!!!