Salvia officinalis — many refer to it as “garden sage” — is used in poultry seasonings, sausage making, cheese spreads and pork recipes. It is our cornerstone of the herb garden.
Varieties “Berggarten”, “Golden”, “Purple”, “Tricolor” and “Holt’s Mammoth” can add beauty to flower beds and be used in the kitchen as well. Most other salvias are primarily ornamental or fragrant.
It’s a joy to bundle up and go out to the garden to gather sage for our traditional Thanksgiving cornbread dressing. My mother would insist on at least an equal amount of rosemary as well. Using fresh herbs is, in my opinion, so much better than using dried ones, and sage can be gathered fresh almost all winter in our area.
Sage has always been valued for its health-giving properties. Greek physicians believed sage to be sacred because of its healing powers. The Chinese believed it to be a symbol of immortality and are said to have traded three pounds of their best tea leaves for one pound of sage leaves. To be “sage” was to have wisdom and knowledge of healing.
Native to the Mediterranean, sage will do best in a warm, sunny location in light soil with good drainage and air circulation. It’s good to propagate new plants as the mother plant gets old and woody.
A well-established plant can be pulled apart into several new plants in spring if you are careful to include part of the root or “heel.” Another easy way to add new plants is by layering. Most years, I have good luck growing sage in clay pots that over-winter outside in a protected area.
Sage plants also do well in raised bed type situations. Carefully prune in spring and again in midsummer to keep the plants looking their best. “Good haircuts”, at appropriate times, are always appreciated by herbs. Like my grandmother and my mother, I try to avoid cutting stems after summer has passed for fear of causing winter damage. I just carefully remove the amount of leaves needed for my recipe.
Sage grows well near its sister herb, rosemary, requiring the same good drainage and air circulation. Sage is a companion plant for cabbage and carrots, and is said to repel cabbage moths and carrot flies. When herbs are grown in pots, it’s easy to move them around among the veggie plants.
The old saying “Why should a man die whilst Sage grows in his garden?” applies to women as well. Take good care of your sage plants, use them wisely. Just be sure to use them.
Salvia elegans – pineapple sage – is another culinary sage that I grow every year, especially for the hummingbirds and butterflies. The foliage smells deliciously like pineapple, and we now have a choice of foliage color, either green or gold. When nights are cooler, in fall, the plants produce beautiful red blooms.
The newer variety, “Golden delicious”, really gets attention even before it blooms. Both leaves and flowers are edible. I use the leaves for tea. The flowers are a nice addition to fruit salads and bouquets. Easily propagated from cuttings, it sometimes grows roots in a vase of water. This salvia is native to Mexico, and, depending on where it’s planted, occasionally survives our winters.
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