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A Floridata Plant Profile #609 Salvia officinalis
Common Names: garden sage, common sage
Family: Lamiaceae/Labiatae (mint Family)
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Shrub  Perennial  Can be Grown in Containers Edible Plant Has Medicinal Uses Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage Fragrant

Sage is a familiar herb in kitchens around the world.
Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, is a short-lived semi-woody shrub that gets up to 2 ft (0.6 m) tall with a similar spread. It has intensely aromatic, thick, wooly, gray-green or multi-colored, oval leaves to 3 in (7.6 cm) long. They are 'pebbly', like seersucker, with conspicuous veins on the underside and arranged in opposing pairs on the square stem. The leaves have a lemony, slightly bitter fragrance, reminiscent of rosemary. The stem is green at first, then becomes woody in its second year. Flowers are blue, lilac or white, with two lips, and borne in erect axillary racemes.

There are many cultivars. These five are hardy only to Zone 7: 'Purpurascens', also known as purple sage, has leaves that are reddish-purple when young; it is the preferred variety for medicinal uses. 'Aurea' is smaller and has yellow leaves. 'Tricolor' has leaves patterned with red, cream and green. 'Icterina' has variegated gold and green leaves. 'Holt's Mammoth' is much larger, to 3 ft (0.9 m) tall. 'Berggarten' is smaller, with rounded leaves and hardy to zone 5.

Garden sage originates from the Mediterranean region of north Africa, Spain and the Balkans. It has been grown as a medicinal and culinary herb for thousands of years, and can now be found in gardens everywhere.

Prune sage frequently to encourage more foliage and to keep it from going to flower. Replace after 3 or 4 years as it becomes woody and less productive.
Light: Full sun.
Moisture: Average water requirements. Water new plantings frequently, established plants less often. Sage is not drought tolerant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10.
Propagation: Sage can be grown from seed, but to be sure of what you get, the named cultivars should be propagated by root division or stem and leaf cuttings.

purple sage
The variety 'Purpurascens' or purple sage is a favorite container plant.
All of the common cultivars of garden sage make beautiful accents in borders and rock gardens. Sage often is grown in containers for ornamental and culinary use.

Sage is used extensively in the kitchen to add a unique flavor to salads, egg dishes, soups, stews, meats, and vegetables. It is used to flavor vinegars and tea. It is one of the most important culinary herbs in western cooking. Sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, chives, garlic, dill, sweet marjoram, savory, oregano, and French tarragon are indispensable in the basic culinary herb garden. Sage is used as an ingredient in soaps, cosmetics and perfumes. Smeared on the skin, sage is a useful insect repellent. Dried leaves among clothes and linen will discourage moths.

There are many medicinal uses for this important herb. Modern research has confirmed antiseptic, estrogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties in extracts from sage. It is used in gargles to treat most types of sore throat. Sage is a useful digestive tonic and stimulant, and helps in the digestion of fatty meats. Its estrogenic activity makes it a useful remedy for irregular menstruation, and it reduces hot flashes and sweating. A commercial product made in Germany from sage is marketed to reduce sweating. Sage lowers blood sugar in diabetics. It reduces muscle spasms. For routine culinary uses, harvest sage leaves as you need them. Well established plants (not those in their first year) can be severely defoliated 2 or 3 times a year. The leaves can be dried for storage; note that this makes their flavor stronger and a little less lemony.

The genus name, Salvia, comes from the Latin for "to cure." Sage has been associated with longevity for centuries. "How can a man grow old who has sage in his garden?" asked the medical school in Salerno, Italy in the 10th century. The Romans considered sage a sacred herb that could be harvested only with solemn ceremony. The 17th century Chinese valued it so much that they gladly traded 3 chests of their precious green tea to Dutch merchants for one chest of sage.

As with any herbal medicines, consult your doctor before using. Floridata does not advocate self-diagnosis or self-medication. It is known, for example, that taking large doses of sage preparations during pregnancy or if epileptic, can be dangerous.

Steve Christman 12/09/99; updated 02/09/02, 05/08/03

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