Planting and Harvesting White Sage
White sage is a perennial desert plant that grows wild only in Southern California. Favored as the best variety of sage for smudging, the leaves are also used to flavor cooking and in medicinal teas. The seeds and roots are also edible.The white sage bush grows between 2 and 5 feet tall and can throw flower stems up to 6 feet. With this plant becoming rare in the wild it is increasingly popular to grow at home.
White sage, being a desert plant, needs sandy, well draining soil and lots of sun. Too much shade and humidity will cause your white sage to mildew. Over watering will kill the plant, especially during the summer months. Give your plants a deep soak every two weeks at the most. A mulch of sand or rocks will keep the soil warmer and reflect the sun's heat back at the white sage. Also try planting near a wall or rock on the south side. This will further reflect sunlight and heat to your white sage plant. In winter, try covering the plant with sand to keep your sage warm through the cold months. White sage is only hardy to 20 degrees F. Outside of the desert regions to which it is native, it is best to grow this plant as an annual or transplant it into a pot and bring it indoors in the winter.
Growing from Seed
The germination rate of the seeds is low, 15% or so. Sow heavy when starting these plants. Sow the seeds indoors in a cactus potting mix in a container with good drainage. Light seems to help with germination, so sow the seeds on the surface or no deeper than 1/4 inch into the soil. Soak the container once the seeds are added, then water lightly as needed until seedlings appear, 2 to 3 weeks. Transplant the seedlings only after they have 2 to 4 leaves. Space the plants at least 2 feet apart.
The leaves grow in florets atop fleshy stems. Lower stems are thicker and woody, sometimes called wands. If you cut at the woody part of the stem there will be no further growth on that stem. If you harvest at the fleshy section of the stem, then that stem will produce two florets next year. Cut with sharp shears for a clean edge. Use the leaves fresh to season food, or dry them. Hang the florets upside down with room for air to circulate and prevent rot. Once dry, the the florets can be bunched and wrapped to form smudge sticks or the leaves can be stored in an airtight container for food seasoning.
The white sage produces flowers with a lavender tinge. When these flowers pass a fruit will develop that turns brown and nut-like. When mature, the fruit will tip, spilling the seeds onto the ground. Pick the fruit before it tips to collect the seeds. Store them in an airtight container. You can use them in food or plant them next spring.