Sage

Fact sheet: Sage

Salvia officinalis is an aromatic, rather woody perennial shrub in the mint family (Lamiaceae) native to the shores of the northern Mediterranean. Its common names include culinary sage, common garden sage, or garden sage. The word “sage” has come to mean “wise” or “a wise or learned person.” It’s scientific name, Salvia, means “to be in good health”, “to save”, or “salvation” while officinalis is an old reference to an herb store, pharmacy, or drugstore.

Sage is often mentioned as the herb of immortality, domestic virtue, health, and wisdom. Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans. It has been cultivated for both culinary and medicinal purposes for many centuries in Europe. It is hardy in zones 4-10.

The species can grow to 2½ feet tall, but many cultivars are much shorter. The opposite leaves vary in color from gray to gray-green, or may be purple or golden. They are are pebbly, slightly fuzzy, and up to 5″ long. The stems are green at first, but become woody in the second year. It tends to be a short-lived perennial and is often best replaced every few years
Common sage blooms in early summer. The camphor-scented, bluish-lavender to pink-lavender flowers are borne in whorls on short, upright flower spikes. Each flower has two lips. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies and occasionally to hummingbirds.

Sage’s soft-colored foliage and profusion of lovely purple-blue flower spikes blend beautifully into any herb garden. The gray leaves of the common varieties contrast nicely with the green of many other plants, so sage doesn’t have to be relegated to the herb or vegetable garden. It mixes well in perennial borders and in cottage gardens. Try planting sage in the border, especially intermixed with pink flowering plants. The smaller varieties can also be grown as container plants to be brought inside for a supply of fresh sage through the cold winter months.

Sage grows best in a sunny location with well-drained soil. It will tolerate drought and poor soil fertility, but will produce better with consistent water. Prune the plant in the spring and a few times through the growing season to encourage young shoots with a strong flavor and to prevent it from becoming leggy and twiggy (and going to flower which isn’t desired if using as a culinary herb). Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart and divide every couple of years to rejuvenate the plants.

Sage is easy to start from seed (although most named varieties are not available as seed) and it can also be reproduced by layering, by division, or from stem cuttings. To grow from seed, either plant directly in the ground on the average date of last frost or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before then. Either way the plant may not flower the first year. Layer established branches in the spring and fall, or divide large plants in the spring. Take softwood stem cuttings in summer and root in a sand-peat mixture.

Sage takes 75 days from planting to first harvest. At least twice during the growing season, cut 6-8″ from the top of the plants. Pick the leaves as desired as long as you don’t cut back more than half the plant or it will stop producing. Harvest before the plant flowers.

Although fresh sage has a richer and more balanced flavor than dried, it’s usually not available during the winter. To preserve fresh sage, chop the leaves, place in an ice cube tray with water, and freeze to use later. To dry sage, tie springs in loose bundles and air-dry in a cool place or place branches on wire racks out of direct sunlight. When dry and brittle, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container. Hang bunches of sage in the kitchen for a nice herbal ambiance. You might even try using sage in an herbal wreath.
Sage has few pests when grown in well-drained soil. Good air circulation will reduce potential problems with foliar diseases. Some possible problems include slugs, spider mites, spittle bugs, root rot and wilt.

Selected from: http://wimastergardener.org/article/sage-salvia-officinalis/

Planted in Nassau County Extension Demonstration Garden

Sold at Nassau County Master Gardener Plant Sale