Common Name: Sage, Common Sage, Garden Sage, Broadleaf Sage, True Sage, Cullinary Sage, Kitchen Sage, Dalmation Sage, and many more…
Scientific Name: Salvia officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)
Almost every herb garden has its obligatory Sage plant off in the corner, but few people know how to use Sage in the kitchen, and even less as an herbal medicine. While it is one of my favorite cullinary herbs, Sage has numerous other attributes. Sage attracts beneficial insects and confuses problematic insects. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and can be used as a groundcover. it is just a beautiful plant, and is being planted more and more just for its ornamental value.
Native to the Mediterranean area, Sage has been transported and transplanted all over the world. It was a very common medicinal and cullinary herb, and it had a reputation for healing and extending life. It remains one of the more popular cullinary herbs, although I think fewer people know how to use it nowadays. It has also become a rather popular ornamental plant, which is well deserved.
- The scientific name, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin salvere (to feel well and healthy, to save) and officina (traditional storeroom in a monestary where herbs and medicines were stored).
- “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto” is Latin for “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”
- Sage has a reputation for aiding in the digestion of fats and oils. Not surprisingly, these are the foods that pair best with this herb.
- Sage leaves are covered in trichomes. These trichomes come in two types. One type is like a fine hair, and these are used to protect the leaves a bit. The other type is a spherical, glandular structure that secretes oils.
- Sage, along with a variety of other herbs and spices, was always a component of the Four Thieves Vinegar. This concoction was used to ward off the Black Death in the Middle Ages.
USING THIS PLANT
- Edible Leaves – world-famous cullinary herb, and one of my favorites. Used fresh or dried. Typically cooked, but very young leaves can be eaten raw. It is great with fatty meats and savory dishes. Purple and Varigated varieties are typically more mild. Fresh Sage is more mild than dried; the drying process concentrates the flavor. A little Sage can go a long way, so start with a little and add to taste.
- Edible Flowers – can be used raw as a salad garnish.
- Tea Plant – made from the leaves, fresh or dried.
- Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its fragrant, attractive leaves and small, beautiful flowers.
- Medicinal Plant – see below
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
- Butterfly nectar plant.
- Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that strongly attracts Hummingbirds
- Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibits or repels garden pests. Sage is a common companion plant for cabbage and carrots.
- Groundcover Plant – Sage is not a fast growing plant, and it may take a few years to get well established. This means you can either weed the patch for a few years or plant a mixed groundcover. Martin Crawford recommends planting with French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) as a good partner. Place Sage plants 24 inches (60 cm) apart.
- Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established
- Sage has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and a cullinary herb.
- Sage has traditionally been used to treat indigestion, oral infections (mouth and throat), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), feeling down/depression, and a number of memory or attention/concentration issues.
- There has not been a lot of good modern scientific studies with Sage. As I always say, that doesn’t mean this herbal medicine does not work, it just means we have no modern scientific evidence that it does.
- There have been some interesting research that seems to support using Sage to improve memory and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
- There have also been some pretty good research that supports using Sage to improve mood.
- Preliminary studies show some evidence that Sage may help in the treatment of herpes lesions and menopause symptoms.
- There is some pretty good evidence that Sage has antimicrobial properties (i.e. it doesn’t allow microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, or fungus to grow or live) and anti-inflammatory properties (i.e. reduces swelling), but exactly how this occurs and how to use Sage for these problems is not well defined.
- There is little scientific proof that Sage works on sore throats, but it remains a very popular treatment. Hard to say where the truth lies. If it works for you, great!
- There has been almost no research on using Sage for diarrhea or excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), but Sage is still a traditional treatment.
- Problems with using Sage (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Sage, but to make sure you are aware):
- Using Sage in the amounts normally found in food and tea should not be a problem.
- Using Sage topically (it is often in creams and ointments) should be safe, although some people may develop a rash.
- Traditionally, Sage was used as both a fertility drug and a birth control. It was also used to help slow down breast milk production (lactation) and to help with menopausal symptoms (mainly hot flashes). While there is not a lot of modern studies investigating this, most sources recommend avoiding medicinal levels of Sage during pregnancy and lactation.
- Using Sage for more than a few weeks, at a high dose (and I can find little information that defines a “high” dose), has been shown to cause many medical problems including seizures, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, vomiting, abnormal heart rates or rhythyms, elevated blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys. Remember, if you are using a plant as a medicine, there are potential consequences…
- My advice is to be very cautious with using Sage essential oil as concentrations/dosing can be much higher.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest year round (remember, it’s an evergreen!), but the flowers can only be harvested when blooming (duh!). Flowering occurs in mid-late Summer.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. Can be stored for many months if dried.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: 8-5
Chill Requirement: Likely not very relevant for most uses, but no reliable information is available.
Plant Type: Small Shrub (sometimes considered a “subshrub”, because it is so small, but still woody)
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.
Flowering: Mid-late Summer to early Autumn, but this is extrememly variable depending on your local climate and conditions. I’ve had Sage bloom in April and May when living in the Azores.
Life Span: Sage will last about 3-4 years before it starts to fail. It may still be alive, but it will not thrive. Purposely sowing seeds in place may propagate the stand.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Roots: Heart-shaped and rather fibrous
Growth Rate: Medium
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate pretty dry conditions once established. Does not like wet soils.
Special Considerations for Growing:
Sage can be slow to start. Planting in Spring or Summer, in a sunny spot, will give the best chance for a good established patch.
Can be propagated from seed. No stratification is required. Sage can sometimes have low germination rates, but I always just plant more seed to make up for this. Can be propagated via cuttings or layering pretty easily as well.
Minimal. Sage can get a bit leggy or bare/sparse as they age. Pruning them back will keep the plants compact and more lush.
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