Essential Oils

Essential oil content

The essential oil content of the three sage plants in Greece shows a noticeable inter-and infraspecific variation. In particular it ranges from:

Figure 12 Representative leaves of Salvia officinalis from Vikos gorge (NW Greece).

• 1.0 to 5.5% (ml 100 g-1 dry weight) in S. fruticosa (Catsiotis and Iconomou 1984; Harvala et al, 1987; Kokkini et al, 1989; Manou 1990; Karousou 1995; Karousou and Kokkini 1997; Karousou et al., 1998a).

• 0.9 to 2.3% in S. officinalis (Kokkini et al., 1989; Hanlidou 1996) and

• 1.3 to 4.2% in S. pomifera (Kokkini et al., 1989; Bellomaria et al., 1992; Skoula 1992; Karousou 1995; Karousou et al., 1998b).

The variation observed within each species is both seasonal and geographical. Concerning seasonal variation, it has been found that the essential oil content varies following the annual fluctuations of the mean temperature and precipitation. The essential oil content of sage plants reaches the maximum values in summer and the minimum in winter and/or early spring (Manou 1990; Skoula 1992; Hanlidou 1996).

The study of different S. fruticosa populations collected during summer along the Greek territory revealed that their essential oil content decreases following the climatic gradient from the Real Mediterranean (zone E, mean value: 3.0%) to the Transitional Mediterranean climate (zone C, mean value: 1.9%). As can be seen in Fig. 10, the increase of the mean value of the essential oil content follows the changes in leaf morphology, i.e. the decrease of the total leaf surface and the formation of three-lobed, canaliculate-undulate blade.

Qualitative and quantitative composition

The qualitative essential oil composition of the three Salvia species is similar with respect to the main components, 1, 8-cineole, a- + E-thujone and camphor, which constitute the bulk of the oil (54.4-83.4%) (Catsiotis and Iconomou 1984; Harvala et al., 1987; Bellomaria et al., 1992; Skoula 1992; Karousou 1995; Hanlidou 1996; Karousou et al., 1998a, b). However, a high inter- and infraspecific variation is found in the quantitative participation of the main components in the total oil (Table 1, Figs 13, 14). The amount of 1, 8-cineole is high in S. fruticosa oils, up to 66% of the total oil, whereas it is much lower, less than 16% in the other two sage species. The total thujone content is always high in S. pomifera, more than 58.7% of the total oil, whereas the highest amount of camphor (38.1%) has been recorded in S. officinalis oils. It should be noted that a total thujone content higher than 60.0% in a sage oil is rather rare and has been encountered only in a few S. officinalis oils (Lawrence 19791995 and references therein; Boelens and Boelens 1997 and references therein).


Three species of the genus Salvia are known as sage plants in Greece, viz. S. fruticosa, S. officinalis and S. pomifera. Their overall distribution is limited by the different climatic conditions dominating in the different areas of Greece. S. officinalis is restricted in the Continental-Mediterranean climatic zones (A and B), while S.fruticosa and S. pomifera occur only in the Real Mediterranean zones (D and E) and in the Transitional zone (C) between the Real Mediterranean and the Continental-Mediterranean climate.

S. fruticosa and S. pomifera exhibit a noticeable morphological variation along their range in Greece. In the latter species, this variation led to the recognition of two subspecies viz. subsp. pomifera and subsp. calydna. On the other hand, the leaf

Table 1 Ranges of the main essential oil components (% of the total oil) of the sage species in Greece.


a- +ß-Tbujone



Salvia fruticosa




Catsiotis and Iconomou (1984); Harvala et al. (1987); Karousou (1995); Karousou etal. (1998a)

Salvia officinalis




Hanlidou (1996)

Salvia pomifera




Bellomaria et al. (1992); Skoula (1992); Karousou etal. (1998b)

Figure 13 Infraspecific variation of the quantitative composition of Salvia fruticosa essential oils. The main components are expressed as percentages of the total oil. 1: Thesprotia; 2: island of Cephalonia; 3: Arkadia; 4: island of Lesvos; 5: island of Chios; 6: island of Syros; 7: island of Rodos; 8: Western Crete, Akrotiri Peninsula; 9: Central Crete, between the villages of Males and Christos; 10 Eastern Crete, near the village of Adravasti. The data for the localities are from Catsiotis and Iconomou (1984): loc. 1-7, Karousou et al. (1998a): loc. 8-10.

F" 1 camphor

■ Salvia officinalis A Salvia pomifera subsp. calycina 0 Salvia pomifera subsp. pomifera

Figure 14 Infraspecific variation of the quantitative composition of Salvia officinalis and S. pomifera essential oils. The main components are expressed as percentages of the total oil. 1: Aoos gorge; 2: Vikos gorge; 3: Peloponnisos; 4: Western Crete, Sougia gorge; 5: Western Crete, Imbros Gorge. The data for the localities are from Hanlidou (1996): loc. 1-2, Bellomaria et al. (1992): loc. 3, and Karousou et al. (1998b): loc. 4-5.

morphology and the essential oil content of S. fruticosa plants change gradually following the geographic-climatic gradient along the species range in Greece. Plants from the northern part of the country have flat, simple leaves and a mean essential oil content less than 2.0%. Conversely, those grown in the southernmost areas of their distribution have smaller, often canaliculate-undulate, three-lobed leaves and a higher essential oil content (more than 2.9% in average). The essential oils of the three sage species are characterized by the same main components, viz. 1, 8-cineole, a- + ß-thujone and camphor, which constitute the bulk of the oil. A high variation in their quantitative participation is in particular found in the oils of Greek sage. These may be rich either in 1, 8-cineole, or in camphor, or in a- + ß-thujone. The high variation of both leaf morphology and essential oil features, should be taken into account when these characters are used for the taxonomic or commercial identification of the sage plants.


We thank Prof. Arne Strid, University of Copenhagen, for providing us copies of S. fruticosa and S. pomifera Flora Graeca drawings.


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