When we think of sage, we think of a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. This ancient herb has a long colorful history and is a staple in most kitchens. Native to the Mediterranean region, this hardy perennial shrub is easy to grow, as long as you check the germination level before planting. In this article we will discuss sage — its history, medicinal and culinary uses, how to grow and store it, and where to purchase it.
History of Sage
Sage, native to the Mediterranean coast, is hardy north into Canada. To the ancient civilizations, sage was considered to give longevity and was associated with immortality. The genus name of sage, salvia officinalis, translates roughly as "salvation" in Latin. Said to have many curative powers, it was prized for tea by the Chinese, who would trade their own green tea at a ratio of 4 to 1. it is widely grown in Yugoslavia, where it is harvested three times a year and used for cooking. The American Indians used sage as medicine. The mixed sage with bear grease to make a salve that they felt would cure sores. They used sage for rubdowns and baths. Americans in the early 1900s claimed that sage cured warts, and it has been used as a cure for such ailments as epilepsy, measles, and worms. It has been used extensively for stopping the flow of milk and urine, and especially perspiration.
Sage contains volatile oils and tannins, which probably accounts for its use as an herb for drying perspiration. The volatile oils of sage have antiseptic, astringent, and irritant properties. It is useful for soothing a sore throat, irritations of the mouth, and even cuts and bruises. Sage is said to strengthen the lungs and can be used in teas or tinctures to prevent coughing. Different varieties have different uses — red sage is used traditionally in Chinese medicine and the Chia sages are used as laxatives. Diviner's sage is a strong Mexican psychoactive herb used by visionaries.
Sage contains camphor, salvene, and terpene, with terpene being the dominant property until sage is dried.
Sage has a camphor-like lemony taste with a bitter taste that is very pleasant. It is used in soups, breads, sausages, meat pies, poultry stuffing, and some marinades. It goes well with beef, pork, fish, lamb, poultry, and many vegetables and fruits such as oranges and limes. With many different varieties, sage has flavors for any dish.
Sage is readily available commercially, in both whole and ground forms. A notable thing about sage is that the taste of dried sage is much different than fresh sage. Fresh sage is more lemony in taste.
How to Grow Sage
Sage seeds store poorly, and should be tested for germination before planting. It germinates quickly when seeds are fresh. Sage is hardy to zones 4-8, and prefers a soil with a pH balance of 6.4 and should be slightly alkaline. It likes well-drained soil and full sun for optimum growth.
Sage is a perennial subshrub that has woody, wiry stems that are square and covered. The flowers are blue, pink, purple, or white. Flowers are 1/2 to 3/4 inches long, and are bell-shaped. The leaves are opposite the flowers, and up to 2 inches long. The leaves are puckered, grayish-green, and have a soft down much like velvet. Leaves may be toothed. Stalks are long with a height of 12 to 30 inches. Sage typically flowers in June. It ranges into Canada and is native to the northern Mediterranean area.
Sow sage in late spring and transplant 20 inches apart when seedlings are established. Experts advise starting sage with plants or divisions because it takes about 2 years to grow a sizeable plant from a seed. Prune them closely in the spring to keep from going to seed.
Sage is hardy, but susceptible to wilt and root rot. Slugs, spider mites, and spittlebugs may be a problem for sage.
Harvesting and Storage
The leaves of sage should be cut from branches trimmed from the plant. Spread the leaves on cloth in the shade to dry. When they are completely dried, store the leaves in airtight colored containers or tins. Dried sage has a much different taste than fresh sage.
Where to Buy Sage
Sage seeds can be obtained from territorialseed.com, Agriseek.com, and many other websites. If you know someone who grows sage, try to get cuttings or divisions to speed the time to flowering.
Sage has a long history and has many medicinal properties and culinary uses. Any worthy herb garden will contain sage. It is a good herb for potpourris, crafts, and ornamental uses.