Scientific Name: Salvia Sclarea
Common Names: Cleareye, Eye Bright
Growth Habit: 1st year, rosette; 2nd year, flowering stalk
Height: up to 4 feet
Permaculture Designation: Flowering Beneficial, Medicinal
I first encountered this plant on a site visit to the Permaculture Institute just north of Santa Fe. In this location, the flowering stalk was a fairly short 18-24 inches with more white than purple flowers, which may have been the “Vatican” variety as opposed to the “turkestanika” variety with purple to blue flowers.
Grown as an insect attractor for pollination, the leaves and flowers can be used as a flavoring agent or in teas. The oil from the flower is a popular essential oil in aromatherapy.
The herb starts its first year as a rosette, producing a low-lying mass of leaves radiating from a central point. In the second year, the herb shoots up a flowering stalk. After flowering, the herb dies, though it may reseed itself from the flowering stalk. At the Permaculture Institute, our tour leader mentioned that the tap root will shoot as far into the ground as the stalk shoots up. Thus, the plant can also be considered as a dynamic accumulator and soil decompactor.
Best grown from seed, which need cold scarification. Sow in winter when possible, or freeze for 3-5 days in a ziploc bag. Seeds need complete dark for germination, so sow to a depth of .5 inch when soil temp has reached 55.
Leaves can be used as a culinary herb in similar cooking situations as common sage, but be careful; too much clary sage can overpower the dish. Useful in sausages, breads, and stuffings. The blooms can be used as garnish or salad addition.
A decoction of the seeds was traditionally used as an eye wash (and thus the common names Cleareye and Eye Bright)
Links to sites consulted:
The best information on growing and uses came from the backyard patch blog.