Posted on 29 November 2010 by

Herbs: The Story of Sage

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sage2By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

Nothing beats the smell of Thanksgiving turkey with woody tones of sage gracing my kitchen air.

Sage is a newcomer to the culinary world but not to the horticulture environment.

It was valued as a medicine and food preservative and did not enter the kitchen setting until the 17th century.

This herb also received the spotlight when it was named the Herb of the Year in 2001. But what is sage?

Sage is part of the mint family but does not have the habit of taking over a garden. It is considered a woody perennial shrub that fits into any style landscape or container garden. Sage has many faces that can add color and texture to the natural environment. The most common sage for culinary purposes is the common gray or Salvia officinalis but this herb can also be found in tricolor, golden and purple shades.

These alternative colors while beautiful do not add as much flavor as the common gray. Another sage that is to strong for culinary purposes but eaten dipped in batter and deep-fried is the Clary sage or Salvia sclarea. Sage can also have fruit flavors, which include pineapple or Salvia elegans, honeydew, and peach. But these flavors are only used fresh. The bergarten sage is another sage that is used fresh but only use half strength. The flavor can be overwhelming.

To start your own sage is easy and a great project to involves the kids. Cuttings, layering, division and seed are ways to start sage. Depending on time and skill will determine which propagation method you choose. But regardless the sage needs a few things to grow. First if the sage is going to remain outside you must live in zone 5-9 but container gardening of this herb does not limit it to the outside.

Sage will only grow 12-30 inches in height and spread to a width of 24 inches. Also sage likes a soil that is rich and well drained with a pH of 6.4. To save space in the garden sage makes good and helpful neighbors with cabbage. It repels cabbage butterflies and improves cabbage flavor. Rosemary and sage also make good companion plants in any kitchen garden.

Sage can be used fresh, dried or frozen. Nothing beats fresh sage in dressing or at least dried sage that was grown with your own hands and that is how I discovered sage. My aunt introduced me to her homemade dried sage that she grew on the farm. It had the best taste in the world and added something special to my Thanksgiving meal. So I decided to take the plunge and try growing my own. It was simple and rewarding at the same time.

My sage grew and so did my herb cabinet. I hung some from my kitchen rafters and froze some leaves but my favorite way for that special meal was fresh. To get this I had to bring my sage into my indoor kitchen garden. While this can be a problem I promise you it is well worth the effort. But while some may decide to take a short cut and harvest sage during the winter do not fall into that trap. Sage outside goes through a cycle and cutting it or removing leaves effects that cycle.

So while Thanksgiving is around the corner think about sage and how wonderful fresh herbs will be for that special holiday meal. And while that meal is on your mind think about the kids and how history can be taught by using a simple herb that never graced a kitchen table until the 17th century. So until we blog again, May your 2010 holiday table be full of food, kinship, and merriment.

3 Responses to “Herbs: The Story of Sage”

  1. Carole & Chewy Says:

    You picked my favorite herb and this year I brought the entire pot inside for the winter -it’s sitting right next to my desk and giving off a wonderful aroma. Iuse my sage to make hair rinse (keeps the shininess in and the gray away for those of us with darker hair):

  2. Missy Says:

    Thanks for your information. I grow a variety of sages. I do use it but probably don’t use it as much as I could. I love the look of it in my garden.

  3. meemsnyc Says:

    I love sage. Especially sage butter. Yum.

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