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Sage – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Sage – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

In this article, I will try to provide sage advice – literally about sage.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) – AKA garden sage – has been cultivated since ancient times for both medicinal and culinary uses.  The term Salvia comes from the Latin “to save” or “to heal”.  At one time, sage along with parsley, rosemary and thyme were considered essential herbs in England – remember the Simon and Garfunkel rendition of Scarborough Fair? The plant is native to the Mediterranean region and is now widely cultivated for culinary as well as ornamental value.  In medieval Europe, sage was thought to strengthen the memory and promote wisdom hence the terms a “sage person” and “sage advice”.  Even today, people commonly use sage for memory and thinking skills.  The genus Salvia is very diverse with nearly 1000 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals – only a few of which are considered the culinary garden sage.  Like many of our herbs, sage is a member of the even more diverse mint family.

Sage is a perennial plant that grows to about 2 feet tall.  The most common color of the shrub is a pale grey green although there are other cultivars with golden, purple, and even variegated leaves. The leaves are small, tender, and somewhat fuzzy. Sage flowers are borne in spikes are usually purple but there are also white, red, and pink varieties.  The flowers are pollinator magnets and are also edible.  There are lots of other Salvias besides the culinary variety that we grow as ornamentals in our area including Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) and Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea).  While quite nice in the landscape, these other types of Salvias are not considered culinary plants.  Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) is another ornamental that is common in our area but is not a true sage at all and not a culinary plant.

Sage plants are relatively easy to grow in our area since they enjoy warmth and full sun. The plants do require well drained soil – they don’t tolerate wet feet and may require planting in a raised bed if the native soil doesn’t drain well.  Sage is fairly drought resistant once established.  Plants can be started from seed or from cuttings or purchased as a young plant from a nursery.  The shrub will tend to get “leggy” as it gets older and will benefit from pruning back more mature branches to encourage new tender growth.  I usually do this pruning towards the end of winter so I can also remove any stems that have been winter damaged.  If you want more plants, this is a good time to “stick” cuttings to get them to root.

To harvest sage, pinch off leaves or snip off the tips of branches.  The herb is best used fresh but can also be dried or frozen for later use. Sage is commonly used in sausages as well as holiday stuffing mixes.  Roasted meats and fish are wonderful flavored with sage leaves. Ravioli basted with sage flavored butter is a classic Italian dish as is saltimbocca – veal wrapped with prosciutto and sage.  Sage also makes a very nice pesto.  Lots of fruits like apples and pineapples and melons are often paired with sage as are many vegetables particularly onions, winter squash and cabbages. 

Put a couple of sage plants in your herb garden or landscape to enjoy and perhaps to become more “sage” yourself.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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