Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Improvement status: Cultivated wild material
Seeds per packet: ~50
Germination tested 11/2023: 85%
Life cycle: Perennial (Zones 8-11)
This plant is a medicinal, ornamental, and ceremonially important sage from the eastern Mediterranean. Like most sages, it's a square-stemmed aromatic plant with culinary and medicinal uses. Recent studies have shown promise in fighting cancer. It is commonly referred to in English as "Judean Sage," but we've opted for the slightly less controversial "Holyland Sage."
Why is "Judean" controversial? Because the Israeli government uses "Judaea and Samaria" as the official administrative name for the occupied West Bank, thereby ascribing two biblical names to an area that also happens to be the Palestinian heartland (in addition to being of great symbolic importance to Jews) and has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Six Day War. Palestinians rightly consider the use of the term Judea (along with the ongoing occupation and continued "settlement" activities) as part of a multi-pronged attempt to deny any historical Palestinian connection or claim to the land.
In Arabic, this plant is called "qaseayn khalili" which means "sage from Hebron." Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, home to over 200,000 Palestinians (and around 1,000 Israeli settlers). It is considered a holy city to both Muslims and Jews (and Christians too) because it is the location of the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, where people of both faiths believe Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah are buried. It is the "second holiest" site in Judaism, after the Temple Mount, and the "fifth holiest" site in Islam, after sites in Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Damascus. Hebron is in the southern part of what Israel considers "Judaea", so there is at least agreement around where this plant comes from.
Holyland sage is believed by some Jewish scholars to be the inspiration for the form of the traditional Jewish candelabra (or menorah), but its ceremonial use apparently long predates the construction of the biblical Temple of Jerusalem (which the Torah says housed the first and most famous menorah), because dried flowers from this plant are said to line the grave in a 13,000 year-old burial site in the region.
One account says a poultice made from this plant has been used to treat "foul lesions," but there has been very little research work done on this plant in the modern era. Some studies have found potent antioxidants. It also contains ledol, a toxic substance also found in Labrador tea, eucalyptus, and other plants, some of which have been used in shamanic practices to cause hallucinations.
Holyland sage is a warm-climate perennial hardy down to Zone 8. This is one of the few perennial sage species that lives in a woodland habitat, so it is happy with a place in the shade. Usually flowers in the second year from seed, with spikes of lavender-purple flowers whorled around stems standing 2' tall, and branched (indeed, like a menorah). Not to be confused with Jerusalem purple sage (Phlomis purpurea or turerosa), which are completely different plants. Very attractive to pollinators, and — according to our seed source, Wild Garden Seeds — gaining new attention as a cut flower.