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Thujone in Sage Tea – Should You Be Worried About Side Effects?

Thujone Content of Common Sage

It is true that garden sage, also known as common sage or by its botanical name Salvia officinalis, contains thujone, a toxic substance that may cause side effects and adverse reactions. Thujone has been reported to be toxic to brain, liver and kidney cells and to cause convulsions (muscle spasms), wheezing, restlessness, anxiety, sleeplessness, vomiting, vertigo, rapid heart rate, kidney damage, epileptic seizures, psychedelic effects if ingested in too high a dose. At extremely high doses, thujone has also been proven to be lethal in mice.

But it is also true that common sage as well as many of its edible wild-growing cousins, such as Salvia lavandulifolia, typically contain only small amounts of this neurotoxin. This is also why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has included Salvia officinalis, along with Salvia lavandulifolia Vahl. (Spanish sage) and Salvia triloba L. (Greek sage or East Mediterranean Sage), on its list of substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), implying that consumption of this common kitchen herb in normal food amounts is not likely to cause any serious side effects or adverse reactions.

But what if you really love the flavor of this culinary and medicinal herb and like to use it whenever you can? Is it possible that you may actually be exceeding the safe dosage? In other words, how much sage can you eat without experiencing adverse reactions caused by thujone

Unlike America's Food and Drug Administration, the European Union has defined an actual maximum amount of thujone that is allowed to be present in food prepared with sage: 25 mg/kg. But what exactly does this mean in practice? For example, how many cups of sage tea can you drink safely without having to worry about the risk of convulsions or other side effects?

According to a study published in the July 2011 edition of Chemistry Central Journal, about 3 to 6 cups of sage tea could be consumed daily without reaching toxicological thresholds. The findings of this study were based on an analysis done on Salvia officinalis, the common garden sage. It is also good to know that sage leaves collected in spring, before and around the flowering season, have been shown to contain the lowest levels of thujone, while the highest thujone levels have been reported for sage harvested in autumn.

So what's the bottom line? Unless you have an existing condition (especially one that affects the kidneys or the liver) or you're taking some medications that may interact with thujone or other compounds naturally present in sage, using sage to add Mediterranean flavor to your culinary creations and drinking sage tea in moderation are unlikely to cause any major adverse reactions – in fact, you may be doing your body a real favor! That's right, both anecdotal reports and scientific evidence suggest that sage has a number of health benefits, ranging from mood-enhancing and headache-fighting properties to anti-cancer and anti-cough effects.

Note: Sage is hardly the only herb that contains thujones. Other medicinal plants that contain thujones include, but are not limited to: mugwort, oregano, tansy, wormwood, and some species of mint.

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