Sage is a perennial herbaceous or semi-evergreen herb growing up to 50cm tall. It is native to the Mediterranean, but is grown widely elsewhere. Sage has a woody stem and lower branches which give way to the labiate square stem which is green or purple in colour and covered in a fine down.
The Sage in this section can be used for ornamental, culinary and herbal medicine purposes. Our herb Sages belong to the huge Genus of Salvias, which are all part of the Labiatae family. One thing they all have in common, ids the fact that the stems are square rather than rounded. Herb sage is the same group of plants as the common bedding Salvias, and many ornamental Salvias which are gaining in popularity for ornamental herbaceous perennial use.
Our Herb Sages - all Salvia officinalis types - have leaves which are oblong, and tapering to a point, like the head of a lance with a leathery texture. The blue flowers, which appear in June, occur as spiral-shapes at the end of the stems. Herb Sage is usually harvested in May and June, just before flowering. The leaves can be harvested again in September.
Sage prefers chalky soil in sunny areas, but will thrive in any fertile workable soil with good drainage. Water well in dry spells in order to keep the foliage young and tender for cooking uses. Otherwise, Herb Sage is relatively drought-resistant and will only need watering when drooping. Old plants tend to get woody, so replace every 3-4 years. The older plants can also be rejuvenated by cutting back hard in spring.
There are several ornamental sages – grown for foliage effect – which
are also suitable for culinary and other uses. The two main choices are
shown in the images below. They are reasonably hardy, with the golden
form of 'Icterina' being hardier than the purple leaved form. Normal Herb
Sages have green or blue green foliage.
Salvia officinalis Purpureus
Herb sages can be propagated by cuttings from end of April through to September. Insert the cuttings 30cm apart in a lightly shaded place; leave them until they are well established, then they can be removed and placed in a permanent position.
Alternatively, pop a few cuttings into a glass of water on the kitchen windowsill - not too sunny, and they will soon root. More convenient than the traditional gardener's methods of taking cuttings, and well suited to producing just a few plants.
Growing in the garden, Herb sage presents us with few problems - other than a being a feast for aphids, which are normally found sheltering under the leaves. The same is true of Red Spider Mite and Whitefly. First sign of problems is normally a mottling of the foliage from its normal colour. Use a pesticide that is suitable for edible crops - or soap-based insecticide. There are several 'organic' and otherwise safe insecticides available.
Sage is a wonderful herb renowned for its antispasmodic and astringent properties. Sage is great for excessive perspiration. Including night sweats, stopping unwanted breast milk, diarrhea and dysentery, sinus congestion, bladder infections and inflammations and colds and flu. It is also used in combination with rosemary, peppermint and wood betony for headaches, and on its own, as a gargle for sore throats, including laryngitis, mouth ulcers and indigestion. Some species of sage have been found to be particularly effective tranquillisers that are non-habit forming.
Long ago, it was used to ward off evil spirits - and may stilled for that as far as we know. We have no medicinal science to verify that claim! It's a case of, if it works, then it works!
Sage oil is used in aromatherapy, and is classed as one of the 'essential' oils. The foliage of the sages contain many flavonoids and safe acids. A few leaves of the Herb Sage can be placed in your bathwater, and are said to waft away all - or at least most - of your day to day problems (whilst in the bath!)
Sage - or Salvia officinalis to give it its botanical name - is traditional in turkey stuffing; but has many other uses; fresh sage has a prominent lemon zest flavour that is lost when the herb is dried. Fresh sage can be frozen and will keep up to two months.
This fragrant herb is often combined with thyme, rosemary and basil. Use sage to cut the richness of fatty foods such as goose, duck and oily fish, spread the leaves the top before cooking, add sage to soups and stews, use the fresh herbs to make sage butter and gather young leaves to make a sage vinegar. Tie together some sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram and a bay leaf to make a Bouquet Garni.