Without sage, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same. The turkey wouldn’t smell right, the stuffing wouldn’t taste right, and everyone would have restless dreams after dinner. Few cooks are able to pull fresh sage leaves from their garden when they dress the turkey, but there’s little reason why they shouldn’t: Sage is easy to grow. In spite of its Mediterranean good looks—fuzzy, narrow, gray-green leaves—it’s hardy in northern climates. In return for minimal attention, it will do double duty as a pretty, aromatic accent in flower beds and containers. Small white or light blue to purple flowers appear in early summer.
Common name: Sage, common sage
Botanical name: Salvia officinalis
Plant type: perennial
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 2 to 2½ feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Well-drained
· Moisture: Dry to medium; sage won’t do well in wet spots.
· Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
· Pruning: To encourage a bushy habit, prune in spring.
· Fertilizer: None needed.
· By seed and division.
Pests and diseases
· Vulnerable to a few diseases, including powdery mildew and stem rot.
· Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
· Before frost, take cuttings from your sage plant to start an indoor herb garden for the winter months.
· Bees and butterflies like sage, though it’s said to repel white cabbage moths.
· Plant sage where you can enjoy its fragrance and subtle flowers: at the front of a border or near a walkway.
· The young leaves of S. officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ are purple. This sage grows 1 to 2 feet tall.
· S. officinalis ‘Sage of Bath’ has silvery foliage and pink flowers.
· Foliage of S. officinalis ‘Tricolor’ is variegated (white and green); younger leaves have a wash of pink and purple over the variegation.
All in the family
· Like so many other aromatic herbs—including basil, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, and rosemary—sage is member of the mint family.
· Loosely translated, salvia means “healthy” or “to heal” in Latin, and sage is said to have many medicinal qualities. For instance, it’s considered antifungal, antibiotic, and astringent. One study showed it was effective in treating mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer’s. However, it can be toxic if used in very large amounts or over a long period of time.
Where to Buy
• Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, Clarksville, MI, www.anniesheirloomseeds.com
• Hummingbird Farm, Turner, ME, 207-224-8220, www.hummingbirdfarm.net
• Mountain Valley Growers, Squaw Valley, CA, 559-338-2775, www.mountainvalleygrowers.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Salvia officinalis by Tracy Walsh)