Salvia officinalis L. leaves, obtained from four plant populations of different origin, were investigated for their topical anti-inflammatory properties. The n-hexane and the chloroform extracts dose-dependently inhibited the Croton oil-induced ear oedema in mice, the chloroform extracts being the most active. By contrast, the methanol extracts showed a very low effect and the essential oil was inactive. Chemical and pharmacological investigation of the most potent chloroform extract, issued from an autochthonous sage population grown in the submediterranean climatic region of Slovenia, revealed ursolic acid as the main component involved in its anti-inflammatory activity. The anti-inflammatory effect of ursolic acid (ID50 = 0.14 microMoles/cm2) was two fold more potent than that of indomethacin (ID50 = 0.26 microMoles/cm2), which was used as a reference non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The content of ursolic acid in sage and sage-based remedies for the topical treatment of inflammatory diseases is proposed as a parameter for quality control purposes.