Salvia officinalis - Sage Herb - Culinary / Medicinal
USDA Zones 5 to 8 Soil pH 6.5 - 7 Perennial / Annual
Sage was originally used for purely medicinal purposes. Ancient Middle Eastern Women believed it increased fertility. Europeans of the Dark Ages used it for indigestion.
It is a powerful antioxidant, has antibacterial properties as well as being useful in breaking down fats. It's culinary use is believed to have originated as a food preservative.
Commonly grown in herb gardens, sage is a low shrub sometimes wider than it is tall. It has a soft velvet light green foliage with delicate blooms and is actually related to evergreens.
Planting and Care of Sage
Sage dries out rather rapidly, so a well drained light soil is necessary. In USDA zones 5 to 8,sage can be grown outdoors as a perennial. In more humid regions it is usually grown as an annual, it does not tolerate the dog days of summer very well.
Set out plants in spring or fall, planting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Choose a sunny spot in well-drained soil. If you have clay soil, add sand and organic matter to lighten up soil and provide better drainage.
Take 2 1/2 to 3 inch cuttings from the branch tips and gently strip away the lower leaves . Be careful not to tear parts of the stem. You can dip the cut end in rooting hormone, which is helpful but not essential, and stick it in sterile sand in a warm sunny location. Roots should form in about 4 weeks, 6 weeks tops.
Sage should be pruned back every year in early spring , cut out the oldest growth in order to promote newer healthier foliage. You should prune the stems by about a third. In late spring purple and pink flowers should appear.
Plants will usually get woody and less productive after 3 to 5 years, which is the point at which you may want to replace them. One easy and economical way to do this is to start new plants from cuttings.
Sage grows well and has a symbiotic relationship with cabbage, carrots, strawberries and tomatoes it is believed to enhance their growth. It attracts pollinators such honeybees, and helps to repel slugs and snails, some flea beetles , cabbage looper, cabbage maggot. [See: Companion Planting]
Troubleshooting Sage Plants
Diseases and pest problems generally aren't a big issue with sage. Adequate drainage will usually curtail problems such as root rot, and mildew , diseases encouraged by excess moisture.
Under humid, and poorly ventilated conditions, downy and powdery mildews sometimes rear their ugly heads.
Here again, prevention is the best control; Plant sage where it gets plenty of air circulation, and leave ample space between plants. In cases where mildew does appear, horticultural oil or a sulfur based fungicide will generally suffice.
Thrips, Spider mites, and spittlebugs are common insect pests of sage. Organic insecticides such as pyrethrum or horticultural oil will help keep these pests in check.
To prevent rots and mildews in sage ,be sure your plants are properly spaced, thin plants regularly and be sure of good air circulation.
During hot humid summer days mulching with stones or pebbles is sometimes done, moisture from stone evaporates very rapidly- this is only recommended in hotter areas where summer weather is longer and more extreme. Proper garden sanitation is also advisable, keep the area free of natural waste and leaves, periodic tilling.
Harvest And Storage
In its initial - first season, harvest very lightly. After the first season, you can harvest as much sage as needed all year long. Your main harvest is best just before bud break as flavor is optimal at this point. The highest quality leaves come from the last 3 -4 inches of a branch.
To allow newer leaves time to completely mature, leave about 5 - 6 weeks between your last major harvest and the first frost. You can cut off entire stems , or just a few leaves at a time, as needed.
Sage is dried in much the same way as other spices by hanging bunches of stems upside-down. Strip the well dried crumbly leaves from the stem and store in airtight containers. It holds its flavor well when dried.
The flowers can also be dried to create pods that work well in potpourri or dried herb arrangements. Drying trays or a food dehydrator will also work. Once the leaves are completely and absolutely dry, hand pick them from the stems and store in a jar or air tight storage bag until ready to use.