Red sage, also known as danshen, is a medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This article will look at red sage’s health benefits, its history, and safety.
Table of Contents
- What is Red Sage?
- Health Benefits of Red Sage:
- Red Sage Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Red Sage?
Red sage is a perennial plant native to China and Japan. It is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herb with a long history of use throughout Asia.
The plant’s scientific name is Salvia miltiorrhiza, while its common names include red sage, danshen (Chinese), dansam (Korean), Chinese salvia, Chinese sage, and red-root sage.
Red sage is not to be mistaken for common sage that you cook with (Salvia officinalis); although they contain some similar constituents, they are different herbs with different uses.
Some of the major bioactive constituents of red sage include:
- Lipophilic diterpenoids
- Salvianolic acids
- Lithospermic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
Red sage is commonly used to support heart health. It is also used for treating Lyme disease and other infections, for liver disorders, and may have neuroprotective and anti-cancer properties.
Health Benefits of Red Sage:
Below are the top research-backed health benefits of red sage.
1. May Treat Lyme Disease
Red sage is a popular herb for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a vector-borne disease that is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi .
Lyme disease expert and herbal author, Stephen Harrod Buhner, states that red sage may help to treat Lyme disease due to its anti-bacterial properties.
Buhner considers red sage to be a potent anti-inflammatory herb. It’s thought that this herb can stop the inflammatory process caused by the bacteria, Borrelia, and reduce the symptoms of Lyme disease.
One of the ways Lyme disease impacts the body is by breaking down connective tissues, caused by the Borrelia bacteria. Red sage is considered an MMP (matrix metalloproteinases) inhibitor. This means that red sage can help stop the process of connective tissue/collagen from being destroyed in the body and can ultimately promote tissue healing, according to Buhner.
Individuals with Lyme disease typically have high levels of histamine. Buhner notes that red sage may help to lower histamine levels, which can lessen Lyme symptoms and disease progression.
Furthermore, Buhner states that one of the essential functions of danshen on Lyme disease is its cytokine modulation effects. The herb acts as an immune-response adaptogen, normalizing cytokine responses during infection.
Summary:Herbalists indicate that red sage may work to benefit Lyme disease through its anti-inflammatory effects. Clinical research, however, is required in order to confirm this finding.
2. May Support Heart Health
Red sage is commonly used for heart health.
Heart disease is a cardiovascular disease and a leading cause of death globally. One of the significant risk factors of heart disease is elevated cholesterol levels.
A 3-month clinical trial of 126 patients studied the effects of danshen on coronary heart disease. Red sage was found to improve triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and homocysteine levels. The herb also helped to support liver function by increasing total bilirubin.
A lab-based trial examined the effect of red sage on heart health. The researchers found that this herb helped to improve recovery post-heart attack. It is thought that these effects were due to this herb’s antioxidant properties.
An extract of red sage benefited heart health post-surgery in an animal study. It was shown to regulate blood pressure, maintain circulation, prevent tissue buildup in the heart, and have anti-inflammatory effects.
Summary:Research has found that red sage may improve heart health by reducing high cholesterol levels. Clinical trials are needed to verify this finding.
3. May Support Healthy Liver Function
Studies have shown that red sage benefits liver health.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common liver condition where excessive fat builds up in the liver. This disease is linked to metabolic syndrome. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is an advanced form of NAFLD.
An animal study revealed that the extract of red sage can stop the development and progression of NASH and fibrosis, reduce inflammation, and improve overall liver function.
Another animal study used a formula of various Chinese herbs, including danshen, to examine its hepatoprotective effects. The treatment of this herbal formula showed to prevent fatty liver disease, liver injury, inflammation, fibrosis, and apoptosis (cell death).
Summary:Animal studies have found that red sage may promote liver health, but human clinical research is needed for confirmation.
4. May Have Neuroprotective Properties
Research has shown that red sage may protect brain health.
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. During the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the accumulation of plaques and tangles occurs in the aging brain, contributing to memory loss and cognitive decline.
In a review article, researchers discovered that red sage and its active compounds displayed multiple neuroprotective capabilities for Alzheimer’s disease. These actions include anti-plaque formation, antioxidant, anti-apoptosis (cell death), anti-inflammatory, and the promotion of neurogenesis (the process of new neuron formation).
An animal study using an herbal extract of primarily danshen found that this herb can improve learning and memory by reducing the production of plaques in the brain. Due to the plant’s brain boosting effects, researchers concluded that danshen may be a potential remedy to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Herbal researcher Stephen Buhner explains that red sage is a strong protector of the Golgi apparatus structures of the cell. Golgi structures can become damaged during neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Red sage appears to support Golgi structures and prevent them from breaking down during times of infection or disease.
Summary:Red sage is thought to benefit cognition and longterm brain function. Clinical studies are required to verify these findings.
5. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Studies have shown that red sage may be effective in fighting cancer cells.
A lab-based study investigating red sage extract on breast cancer cells found that it could inhibit breast cancer cell growth.
Another lab-based study looking at the benefit of red sage on breast cancer found that the herb extract may help to block breast cancer cell growth.
An herbal formula that contained bioactive compounds from red sage and astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) was found to inhibit the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma, a common form of liver cancer, in a lab-based study.
Summary:Lab-based research has found that red sage may inhibit the growth of cancer cells, but human clinical studies are needed for verification of this finding.
6. Other Potential Benefits:
- May Protect Organs: Herbal researcher Stephen Buhner describes red sage as a strong organ protector, specifically for the spleen, by reducing inflammation and enhancing immunity. He also mentions that this herb may help improve intestinal circulation, and reduce unhealthy bacteria overgrowth in the bowels while increasing healthy bacteria.
- May Treat Chlamydia Infections: Buhner reveals that red sage is one of the few herbs used to treat Chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted infection. Buhner explains that red sage can protect the reproductive tract.
- May Treat Rickettsioses Infections: Buhner indicates that red sage can also be used to treat Rickettsioses infections. The herb works similarly when treating Lyme disease by stimulating the immune system and reducing inflammation.
Summary:Red sage has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Red Sage Safety:
Safety Class: 2b
Interaction Class: C
The safety class of 2b indicates that red sage should not be used during pregnancy, according to The Botanical Safety Handbook.
The Botanical Safety Handbook also states that an interaction class of C indicates that clinically relevant interactions are known to occur with this herb. Red sage may interact with medications such as warfarin, digitalis, cardiac glycosides, diazepam, and hypotensive drugs.
The Botanical Safety Handbook advises using red sage with caution during bleeding episodes, including menstruation, nosebleeds, blood in the urine, or if blood is expectorated through coughing.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Traditional Chinese Medicine texts indicate that red sage should not be used during pregnancy, according to the Botanical Safety Handbook.
The Botanical Safety Handbook also suggests not using this herb during pregnancy unless under the care of a qualified health practitioner.
There is no safety information on red sage during lactation; therefore, safety has not been established, according to the Botanical Safety Handbook.
Below are the standard dosing recommendations for red sage, according to herbalist Stephen Buhner.
- For Lyme carditis with angina:
- Tincture (1:5): ½ tsp. 3 to 6x per day
- For swollen lymph nodes/sluggish lymph:
- Tincture (1:5): 1 tsp. 3x per day
- For leaky gut:
- Tincture (1:5): 1 tsp. 3x per day
- For septic shock:
- Tincture (1:5): 1 tbsp. Each hour
- For liver pain:
- Tincture (1:5): 1 tsp. 3x per day
Note that these red sage dosages are for the average adult. Children’s dosages must be based on age and weight.
Red sage is not on the United Plant Saver’s “species-at-risk” list of plants that are sensitive to the impact of human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Red sage’s scientific name is Salvia miltiorrhiza. It belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family of plants.
The name “miltiorrhiza” means “red ochre root” which references the red color of the herb’s root.
The plant grows to about two inches tall and sheds its leaves annually. In the spring through summer, big blue-purple whorl flowers bloom.
The medicinal part of red sage is its root.
History & Traditional Use:
Danshen has been clinically used for more than 2000 years.
The herb was well described in classical, traditional Chinese medicine works, including the Compendium of Materia Medica.
Since 1953, danshen has been officially recorded in the Chinese pharmacopeia.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, danshen is used to promote blood circulation, remove blood stasis, alleviate pain, clear heart heat, and cool the blood to remove boils. It is considered a bitter-flavor herb.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the root cause of chest pain and heart conditions is the inadequate circulation of Qi and blood, which is where red sage comes into play.
Traditionally, red sage has been used for treating cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, angina pectoris, coronary artery disease, and hypertension.
Red sage benefits the body in a variety of ways. Although there is limited human clinical research on red sage, it has been used in Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
It is used for heart health, Lyme disease, liver disorders, and neurological conditions.
It is always recommended to consult with your physician before adding a new herbal supplement to your regimen, especially if you take any medication.
Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). American Herbal Products Association.
Wang, L., Ma, R., Liu, C., Liu, H., Zhu, R., Guo, S., Tang, M., Li, Y., Niu, J., Fu, M., Gao, S., & Zhang, D. (2017). Salvia miltiorrhiza: A Potential Red Light to the Development of Cardiovascular Diseases. Current pharmaceutical design, 23(7), 1077–1097. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612822666161010105242