Sage is a hardy perennial and the largest genus in the mint family. Purplish flower spikes appear in the summer. Many species become shrubby and woody. Some are variegated, providing additional interest in the garden. Sage has a wonderful very aeromatic scent and a long history of use. Usually people are referring to Salvia, but not always - for example Russian sage is the closily related Perovskia atriplicifolia.
Some Common Types of Sage
- "Culinary" Sage - Salvia officinalis, native to Europe and Asia.
- White Sage - Salvia apiana, native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
- Russian Sage - Perovskia atriplicifolia, native to southwestern and central Asia.
- Pineapple Sage - Salvia elegans, native to Mexico and Guatemala.
History and Folklore
The genus of Culinary and White Sage, Salvia, derives from the Latin word Salveo, "to heal" or "to save" (more like, to salve, as in, apply a salve), An old proverb says "why should a man die who has sage in his garden?", and sage has long been used in healing.
Sage was used in the Middle Ages to treat fevers, liver disease and epilepsy. In England, sage tea drunk as a tonic. It is also believed to strengthen the memory. An old English custom states that eating sage every day in May will grant immortality. It was thought that a woman who ate sage cooked in wine would never be able to conceive and its fresh leaves were said to cure warts. Some believe that where sage grows well in the garden, the wife rules and that sage will flourish or not depending on the success of the business of the household. During the Middle Ages, sage was used to mask the taste of rancid meat, and is thought to have antibacterial action. The Romans regarded sage quite highly and used it in sacrifice and ceremony associated with its harvest. Romans believed it stimulated the brain and memory and used it to clean their teeth.
Sage is a perennial that enjoys sun and well-drained minimally fertalized soil. Most varieties are winter hardy. Sow seeds up to two weeks before the last expected frost. Plants grown from starts and cuttings do better than those grown from seed.
The most common of the sages is Culinary Sage, which gets woody and very bushy. Give it its own corner of the garden because it will "take over". White Sage grows only in warm and arid regions, and has been over-collected in the wild - so if you use it and you can grow it, you should. White sage requires low humidity and a great deal of sun and will not survive a winter frost so it must be grown indoors in northern regions, though it does not particularly like pots. Russian Sage is very colorful and adds an airy cloud of purple to the garden.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest sage lightly for the first year to allow the plant to get established. Then large bunches can be harvested and hung to dry. The flavor is better if you freeze sage rather than dry it, though it does retain its flavor well when dried. Store dried in a sealed glass container in a cool, dark area. Prune sage after it flowers and then don't harvest anymore until spring so the plant has a month or two to recover and survive the frost.
Sage is masculine in nature and associated the the element of air and the planet Jupiter. Sage is sacred to the Zeus and Jupiter. It is also a symbol of the Virgin Mary. White Sage is sacred in many Shamanic and Native American belief systems and is used in smudging, and other, ceremonies to purify the body. Smudge sticks made of white sage are often found in shops and kits are heavily marketed to modern magical practitioners. White Sage is difficult to cultivate and is largely wild-crafted, which threatens native populations. European spiritual ancestors burned a lot of different herbs in their practices, but White Sage was not among them. If you feel the need to use sage, Culinary Sage is a suitable substitute. Indeed, most Salvia species can be burned by the non-indigenous witch and we can leave white sage to those to whom it is truly sacred. If you must have it, try to grow it yourself.
Sage is used in magical workings for immortality, longevity, wisdom, protection and the granting of wishes. Sage is also believed to help alleviate sorrow of the death of a loved one. Add sage to magick pouches to promote wisdom and to overcome grief. Burn sage at funeral and remembrance ceremonies to help relieve the grief of the mourners.
Culinary and Medicinal Use
- Only Culinary Sage, Salvia officianalis, is suitable for culinary use.
- Sage may boost insulin action, and therefore, a daily cup of tea may be helpful for those with diabetes. Use one or two teaspoons of dried sage leaves to one cup of boiling water.
- Sage aids in the digestion of fatty foods and is therefore good for seasoning meats, especially pork. It's also famously useful for stuffing poultry. It is awesome in various bean and pork dishes, like split pea soup and vegetarian bean dishes.
- Sage blossoms are good in salads or floated on top of soups.
- Pineapple sage is good in fruit drinks, salads and with ham.
- Common sage blends well with the flavors of balsamic vinegar, basil, bay-laurel, black pepper, cream cheese, garlic, lavender, lemon, mushrooms, onions, oregano, rosemary, thyme and red wine.