Sage, also known as Garden Sage or more officially as Sage Officinalis, has long been associated with longevity and strength. For thousands of years, sage has been used beneficially as a culinary and medicinal herb. It has been revered by the Romans as well as the Chinese. It is said to be a cure-all; and it has been reported to improve the functioning of the brain, as well as assisting one in leading a long and healthy life. These are all great reasons to add this versatile herb to your garden.
Although Sage can now be found growing in many areas of the world, it originated in the Mediterranean region of northern Africa and Spain.
Varieties of Sage
Common Garden sage (Salvia officinalis) is very easy to care for in the garden. It can be found in several very attractive varieties. These include:
- The young leaves of the Purpurescens variety are a deep purple but mature to a rich burgundy color. Usually hardy to zone 6.
- The Tricolor sage variety does not get as large as Sage officinalis. In addition to being a culinary herb, it is also an attractive ornamental shrub with green, white and pink/purple variegated leaves. Usually hardy to zone 6.
- The Aurea vaiety is compact with soft yellow leaves. Usually hardy to zone 7.
These more decorative varieties do not tolerate the cold as well as the Common Garden (silver-green) sage. Their flavor is also not as strong as the Common Garden sage when used as a culinary ingredient.
Good varieties of culinary sage are Holt’s Mammonth, Bergarten, White Dalmation, and Extrakta.
Growing Tips for Culinary or Common Garden Sage
Establishing sage in your garden is easy. It can be started from seeds, layering (securing bottom branches against the soil until roots form), tip cutting, or transplants. Transplants are the easiest and most reliable source for your new plants, because seeds do not store well and germinate unreliably while layering and tip cutting takes much time and care. They can be found in most garden centers at a reasonable cost.
Sage grows best in a warm and sunny location – at least 6 hours of full sun. It will grow in almost any soil type as long as the soil is well drained. Sage should be pruned after it has finished blooming to keep the plant attractive and to prevent the plant from getting leggy.
The sage will need to be fertilized in early spring. Consider the use of an organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, for plants that are to be consumed by you and your family. At this time, remove the heavier, woody stems also to encourage new growth, but do not trim too soon. Be sure to wait until all hard frosts have past, as late frosts can severely damage a plant that has started producing new growth.
Work a couple handfuls of bonemeal into the surrounding soil at planting time and then at the beginning and end of each summer.
When planting sage, the plants should stand 24-30” (61-76.2 cm) apart. Sage should be planted yearly on a rotating basis for a couple of reasons. First, sage quickly grows into a small woody shrub in 3-4 years at which time it needs replacing. And secondly, a new sage plant should be allowed to grow freely and unharvested during its first growing season. After the first growing season, the leaves may be collected at any time, but they are most potent and flavorful just before or right after they have bloomed in mid-summer.
Cut the plant back about one-third to one- half after it has finished blooming so it does not have to put energy into making seeds. Fertilize lightly at this time with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
Quit harvesting the leaves from your sage plants about six weeks before last expected hard freeze to give the plant time to prepare for winter. Harvesting leaves later than this will encourage new growth which will not have time to harden off.
Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds relish the flowers of all Salvia.
Rosemary and thyme make great companions for the sage plant because they have the same moisture and lighting requirements.
Special Considerations for Growing Sage Indoors
Sage is well suited to being grown in containers, 8” (20.3 cm) or larger, but will do best if stones are added to the bottom of the pot to allow water to drain. Since a sage does not like for its feet to remain wet, it is also best to keep the plant on the dry side watering only once a week. It will also require placement where it can receive an adequate amount of strong, direct sunlight. Be sure to feed every month, and prune as described above.
Sage does not have many pest problems. Spider mites can be controlled by frequent daily misting. Setting the plant on a tray of pebbles covered with water helps with humidity also, without getting the plants feet too wet.
Sage is best when used fresh by cutting or pinching from the plant. Leaves can be frozen in a plastic bag for usage in the winter if needed. Dried sage will last indefinitely if stored in dark airtight environment.
It is best to leave the first year plants unharvested (those started from seed), but individual leaves can be taken if needed.
All the leaves and most stalks of 2-3 year old plants can be harvested 2-3 times each year. If the full plant is harvested, be sure to leave a few stalks in place for regrowth to occur.
The leaves of 3-4 year old plants should be stripped from a plant that has been removed from the garden. These leaves can then be dried and stored for future use.
Uses of Culinary or Common Garden Sage
Sage has many uses other than being an attractive blooming perennial in your garden. It is used as a seasoning for poultry and meats, as a tea which also has medicinal purposes, and in craft projects such as wreaths.
If you are interested in creating a cup of tea using the sage you have grown, check out, Sage Tea. The health benefits associated with drinking sage tea are amazing! I have used sage tea to treat sore throats and mouth ulcers for over 20 years, so I am not at all surprised at all the other health benefits sage offers.
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©Copyright 2012 Cindy Murdoch