There are some experiences adults should never have, some we cannot ever even talk about, and yet, there we find ourselves dead in the middle of it, silent. On occasion, time itself affords us an opportunity to make mention and so time has passed and I mention how I came to love this particular herb, Cleveland sage.
We all live through stress but I cannot remember a single day in my life that was as stressful as this day when I met firsthand the potential of Cleveland sage.
I was (and am) a member of a board that oversees the spending of public funds for a local public institution. Many people do not realize that as a board member you are personally liable for your decisions — morally, legally, and financially. Strict guidelines apply to federal funds in particular and when you find violations, you simply can’t turn the other way. When you find discrepancies, you make your report to your institution and the problems get corrected. In some very unusual circumstances, your local institution may not be open to the corrections and if the situation is serious enough, you can end up in some bad business. Here in California when citizens or public officials have exhausted their recourses in correcting actions of public officials, and if those actions are serious and still need a resolution, your last recourse is located in your own county at the office of the Grand Jury. (The Grand Jury here in California does not involve itself in regular criminal cases as it does in some states, just issues relating to public institutions.)
Fortunately, most people will live their lives and never even know what the Grand Jury is or does. Like I said, there are some experiences adults should never have.
I found myself some months back at home alone working on an extensive report to our county Grand Jury. The board meeting was the night before and on the agenda was my request for public documents, a request that really should have been confidential. It was the heckling and yelling in the meeting that followed which led me to write my report the following morning. What the others in the meeting did not realize is that I had already requested many of the documents from the county and I had real concerns about certain spending patterns that had not been approved by the board. As a board member, I had not approved the spending and did not agree with its use and expected that community members would agree with my concern. It appeared that the spending would cause the institution to teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, leading to the closure of the institution itself. The institution was likely in its last year and the potential effect on the families it served was great.
On one very long Wednesday in September, stacks of paper littered two tables in my large dining room and my posterior ended up with the pattern of our dining room chairs engraved it in.
I focused my brain on the words on my screen for ten hours or more, re-reading each word: “Does that word constitute slander?” I would ask myself. “Is that a statement of fact or an opinion?” The process was long and tedious and the stakes were really quite high for our institution and for me and my family.
At one point I came up for air, completely overwhelmed and my heart pounding.
“Survive,” I told myself. “You are almost done. Survive.”
Having struggled with depression, I could feel the deep pit below me trying to suck me in. If you have experience with “the pit” then you know how difficult it is to climb out. I try to be aware when the pit opens in front of me. “Don’t step in!” And by all means, don’t let it suck you in.
It’s worth the fight to stay out of the pit because the fight to climb out is much worse.
“Survive. You are almost done. Survive.”
I walked from the dining room into the kitchen on a break from my work, desperately trying to collect my brain, raging with obsessive detail and extreme panic at the same time. I glanced at the shelves on our kitchen island. I had three jars of lavender sitting there. I knew that lavender helped depression but for some reason I reached for a jar sitting next to the lavender, just on a lark. I had harvested the Cleveland sage about three months before just because it was beautiful and fragrant. The sage sat around until I later decided to store the flowers in a jar about a month before, right next to the lavender.
I opened the jar of Cleveland sage and breathed deeply. I could feel my body relax.
I breathed again. Relief.
I stood for five minutes in my spontaneous aroma therapy session and then carried the jar to my computer, keeping it by my side for additional therapy. I carried the jar around for three days, like Linus carries his dirty blanket in the “Charlie Brown” series.
I stayed out of the pit.
In the months ahead, I would have more contact with public institutions than anyone should ever have and I carried that jar around with me many of those days. The institution in question has survived so far due to new leadership and a last ditch “Hail Mary pass,” all inspired in part by that long day in September and aided by that jar of Cleveland sage. While there is a bit of research on sage and depression, it is my own personal experience with Cleveland sage that gives me a deep appreciation for it. I figure that any tool that can get me through such bad business should have my full attention.
In those months of stress, I would open the jar, close my eyes, and breath. I pictured myself laying in a field of Cleveland sage, the beautiful flowers and scent surrounding me.
In honor of that very powerful image, I am planting a hillside full of Cleveland sage this fall — fifteen five-gallon pots and perhaps more. The hill overlooks our best sunset view. It is the perfect spot should I ever need to lay down in a field of sage.
You should consider planting it too. As friends visit I offer them a sniff or a taste. I have yet to find a person who does not think both the fragrance and flavor are wonderful.
The biggest barrier to your future Cleveland sage garden is perhaps your gardening zone. Though you could keep the plant in a large pot on your patio, it is not an exceptionally cold-hardy plant. Here in zone 7 we are right on the cusp of frozen sage and though it is a perennial that ought to live a decade or so, a very cold hour on a long winter’s night would wipe it out completely, leaving what looks like over-cooked salad greens in your garden. I am committed enough to planting Cleveland sage that I intend to cover the plants with bed sheets on cold nights, sheets that I will collect at my favorite thrift stores. The sheets should be just enough winter protection for zone 7.
All bets may be off for zone 6 and below unless you want to roll the sage inside and keep it by a sunny window through the winter.
In the meantime, fly out to San Diego where you can find it growing just about anywhere and take a deep breath. Until this plant gets carried stock by all of the herb shops, jet-setting may be your best bet. Short of that, find a friend in SoCal to grab you some flowers.
Cleveland sage may be the best mood remedy masquerading as a common California landscape plant.