CULINARY SAGE-grow it for the kitchen

December 7, 2021

Salvia officianalis-Cooking Sage-Garden Sage-Edible Sage

Whatever we call it, grow it to eat. Gray/green and velvety, sage leaves will enhance the taste of chicken, pork, turkey, squash, beans, and, yes, cocktails. This is culinary sage, also called garden sage, growing in a mounded shape, not the tall flowering ornamental salvia, its willowy cousin.

Use culinary sage to add flavor and reduce sodium in your diet. See in the summary a presentation from the Mayo Clinic. Sage is a perennial member of the mint family and grows conveniently near the kitchen door. Its scent evokes our important memory.

Sage and strawberries with a cocktail

Keep an open mind about all the tasty things you can make in the kitchen with Sage from your garden.

Sage-Gardens, Great Meals, and Fragrant Memories

culinary sage

Culinary sage, also called garden sage is the edible one. It grows about 2′ tall and in a mounding shape. It blooms in blue or purple in summer. We value it for its aromatic, soft leaves.

How Culinary Sage Differs From Ornamental Salvia

Ornamental Salvia

This is ornamental salvia, it comes in many colors and sizes, from 18″ to 5′ tall. We grow this for the blooms that, with care, can last all season.

Sage, Source of Fragrant Memories

turkey with sage & Proust quote

Whenever we renew our relationship with a scent we knew in the past, all the memories come back with it. Sage is the herb most evocative in this way.

Sage is tangled in our memories of holiday meals. it brings back Thanksgiving at grandmothers, guests with Christmas presents, basting the turkey.

It all comes back to mind as we chop and stir!

Sage provides a true Proustian memory. It provides us with a vivid link to past celebrations.

Is it Sage or Is It Salvia?

Is it sage or is it salvia? The sage you love in turkey stuffing and that blue flower in the garden that the hummingbirds love for nectar, are both salvias. These plants, edible or ornamental, and there are many, are members of the genus Salvia, and part of the family Lamiaceae, the huge class of mint children. (DNA testing is making some changes.)

We differentiate them by the way we use the words. By sage, we usually mean the one we cook with, and by salvia, we mean the flowering one. Like most mint family members all the salvias have the characteristics we expect of them; square stems, opposite leaves, tiny flowers, and volatile oils in their leaves and stems. This makes them aromatic and attractive to us, but not usually to deer and rabbits.

Edible and Easy

Salvia is a huge genus in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It has about 1000 members. So all edible sages are salvia, but only a few salvias are edible!

Just as culinary sage is the easiest and most beginner-friendly, of all the perennial herbs salvia is possibly the easiest source of color for the ornamental garden. Try this, if you would like more information on ornamental salvia. “Salvia, The Plant for Everyone.”

Flavors and Features of Sage

The taste of sage is earthy and bold. Use it in rich and hearty dishes. You will notice hints of mint and even lemon when tasting Sage. It s a herb that we can easily grow indoors on sunny windows which is ideal as sage is a popular ingredient for fall and winter meals.

If your meal plan includes, meat, poultry, sausage, or root vegetables, find recipes including Sage. It lends an earthy aroma to fish dishes. Think of ham, cheese, mushroom, and pasta dishes. Anytime you want to cook something rich and hearty look for ways to utilize leaves from your sage plant

Benefits Of Growing Sage

  • Herbs are compact and easy to grow-sage is very easy

How We Got Sage

Growing throughout the Mediterranean, and associated with both Jupiter and immortality it was thought to improve memory and sensory perception. It traveled throughout the Roman Empire, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used it medicinally as did medieval societies. Records show us that the ancients used it in wound care and medieval practitioners used it to improve memory and brain function. Linnaeus discussed sage in a 1753 publication.

sage in the Mediterranean

In the ancient world, it was used on wounds and to make women better looking. (No, sorry, I don’t have the recipe for either!)

Sage In The Garden

How And Where To Plant Sage

Sage performs best in well-drained soil amended with organic matter. Place the new plants in a hole about two times the width of the nursery pot and as deep. If your soil is heavy, slow draining or very acidic amend it with lighter materials. Sage does not perform well in constantly wet soil. It will, however, accommodate itself to dry conditions and poor quality soil.

Plant Sage in medium to full sun after the ground temperature reaches 65 degrees. Sage is a woody perennial in zones 4-9. We have learned that if garden sage survives our humid zone 10 summers it will thrive in the winter.

The top of the plant in the ground should be equal to the surrounding soil. Sage is subject to mildew diseases; ensure that you follow the spacing instructions on the pot you have bought. Plants growing too close together do not have sufficient air circulation and are subject to disease. We gardeners, do need to live for a long time with the decisions we make on planting day!

Plant Hardiness Zones To Grow Sage

Sage is a perennial plant in hardiness zones 5-9. This is affected by the variety you are planting. Check the hardiness zones for the plant you are buying, listed below.

If a sage you are interested in growing is not hardy in your zone you have these choices. Plant it new every year as an annual plant and you can also bring smaller plants indoors to grow for the winter.

How To Find Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone

This link will take you to the USDA map. Enter your zip code at the top and learn your zone. You can use this information for any plant you grow. Check the label for the hardiness zones.

Varieties of Sage To Consider

BERGGARTEN

The name is German for mountain garden and it has some unique advantages you may like. The hardiness zone is broad, 5-11, the foliage is a lovely silver-gray and it is large. It rarely blooms which extends its useful life. It grows to 16″ H and 24″W.

If you like to fry sage leaves the big ones are nice to work with.

GOLDEN SAGE-Salvia officionalis ‘Aurea’

This one has a lovely variegated leaf, the foliage is cream colored with irregular patches of a dark green color. It grows as a small shrub of 2′ H and 1’W. This variety is hardy to zones 6-9.

PURPLE SAGE-Salvia officionalis ‘Purpurascens’

Ornamental as well as edible purple sage grows in a full sun environment. The narrow, purple leaves have a grayish underside. It usually is advisable to prune and discourage flower and seed growth, but this plant has beautiful purple flowers. So it offers a choice of flowers or lots of dinners. It will grow 12″-24″ tall and wide. Purple Sage is hardy to zones 6-9.

TRICOLOR SAGE-Salvia officionalis ‘Tricolor’

This ornamental sage has strongly aromatic leaves colorful grayish-green leaves that are marbled with white, purple, and pink. The leaves are edible both fresh and dried. The taste combines rosemary and pine with a bit of citrus. Tricolor Sage is hardy in zones 6-9.

The University of Illinois site states that the latter three are not “dependably hardy in zones 5”.

How to Use Sage in the Garden

Although we think of sage for its culinary value, it has lots of other value in the garden. With a moderate size, subtle green color, and attractive mounding shape it is a visual asset. Its blue or purple flowers in summer attract pollinators wherever you add them.

Use sage like this:

  • Cover dry, stony areas where it is difficult to grow many plants
  • Sage attracts pollinators
  • Sage repels damaging insects such as cabbage moth, cabbage looper, cabbage maggots
  • It can activate the development of compost
  • Burning sage can discourage mosquitos
  • It’s scent is unattractive to deer and rabbits and tends to discourage them from it’s neighbors.
  • Sage makes good pathway edging, note the colorful variegated varieties above.

Care of Sage Plants

Especially if you love sage, avoid too much generosity with food and water. Overfeeding and watering will negatively affect the flavor of the leaves as well as the health of the plant. Put your finger in the soil, if it is dry for an inch you can water safely. Fertilize one month after planting. Sage grows best with a pH of 6-7.

Pests, Problems & Disease

Sage has a limited lifespan. After several years the plant may become woody. Many gardeners are able to extend the plant’s life (after 5 years) by severe trimming.

Pests: be observant and notice the presence of Aphids, Thrips, and Whitefly, These are tiny, clear, sucking insects. They are hard to see but they will be on the underside of leaves. There will also be a sticky substance on the leaves.

This is a piece on managing Aphids from the University of California

This discusses Thrips from UC Davis

This should be helpful for Whiteflies from the University of Florida

Beneficial Insects

Some plants attract beneficial insects that can solve the problem. Sage attracts bees, a valuable pollinator whose numbers are diminishing. You might like this article on sweet alyssum and its partner in crime the hoverfly.

Being proactive is the easiest way to handle pests. Remove the creatures with water or soap, pick off damaged leaves. A hard spray from the hose can be useful. If that fails, insecticidal soaps can be helpful.

As I write this we are having a late tropical storm, (our first November storm in over 20 years.) I need to be proactive in the garden, ruthless removal of damaged leaves makes a big difference.

Important Companion Plants

Companion planting can help to deter pests, stimulate growth and attract beneficial insects.

  • Plant sage near members of the cabbage family. It repels pests common to those vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower
  • Plant near carrots and it will repel carrot rust flies
  • It can improve the flavor of strawberries and deter it’s pests
  • Sage will attract beneficial insects to nearby tomatoes
  • The soft leaves will enhance planters of flowers
  • Plant with rosemary as it is one of few herbs to perform well with rosemary

How To Prune Sage

Start early in the life of your plant and prune it to maintain a bushy, mounded shape. It is a woody perennial and the goal of pruning is to maintain loads of tender new foliage. Trim back the woody stems in spring. Cut about 1/2 of the stems back to the base of the plant and prune the other half to about 1/3 of their length. The entire plant can be safely cut back by a maximum of 1/3 its volume. Pruning the plant will extend its life but also the new leaves you produce will have the best flavor and aroma.

How To Harvest Sage

Cut leaves for use as needed during the growing season, Use sharp scissors and store them in water during the day.

How To Have Useable Sage All Winter

I do not dry sage as I grow it all year. For winter, sage will grow well in pots in a sunny window. Provide plenty of drainage to your pot by placing it on a tray of stones or gravel.

This writer has a simple plan to dry sage in the microwave. Here are the instructions.

Growing Sage in Containers

Sage grows successfully in containers. If you have no space for a garden or if your garden soil does not drain promptly, then container growing will solve your problems. The sage plant is attractive, feel free to mix it with decorative plants. Start with a planter at least 10″ in diameter. If you would like to combine several herbs in one pot, sage will work well with thyme and parsley. In this case start with a pot of 18″ diameter. Please see the notes below on companion planting.

Ensure that the plant is potted in quality, sterile potting soil. This article discusses what to look for in purchasing a potting mix.

Growing Sage Indoors

You can grow sage indoors year-round. Follow the procedure for good container management with the added caveat to ensure that you provide sufficient light.

Sage requires 6-8 hours of sun. A sunny south-facing window should suffice, otherwise, you may need a grow light.

“How to Grow Herbs Indoors for the Winter.”

If you are bringing your outdoor plants indoors for the winter, you might like this. “Acclimate plants between the Garden and Indoors.

Culinary Sage In The Kitchen

Cooking With Sage

Sage has a strong flavor and aroma and should be added early in the cooking process. This creates a more subtle background note. If it is too subtle you can always add a little more.

The taste of sage should be like a cooling mint, you will notice a green, sweet, floral, even hay-like note. Sage, sometimes, can seem both strong and bitter. I like the Chiffonade idea below, it prevents people from experiencing bitter bites.

Chiffonade Definition

How To Make A Chiffonade

soft sage leaves

Remember the three steps: stack-roll-slice. Stack the leaves, roll them like a little cigar slice into narrow diagonal strips. This ensures that the flavor can be evenly distributed in your dish, and it does not hurt that it makes you look like a great chef!

Food Parings For Sage

Sage’s aromatic nature blends well with cheese, and cream-based meals. Use it with sweet and savory bread, potatoes, pasta, many kinds of beans, tomato sauces, and risottos.

Sage harmonizes well with onion, garlic, oregano, parsley, bay leaf. Use it with thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. I found this article suggesting pairings of food and sage. Some of them might surprise you.

pasta with sage sauce

Pasta, butter, sage, and parmesan, quick and delicious, there are many recipes to choose from

How to Use the Leaves

Sage leaves add flavor at any stage of the plant’s life. Most herbs develop a bitter taste after the plant flowers. This is not true of sage, use it any time and enjoy the flowers. Trim the plant on a regular basis, as you would any herb. This will prevent it from developing a thick woody stem which is negative for flavor.

Cut the leaves with scissors or a sharp blade. Remove the leaves from the stems, rinse in cold water, and pat dry. You can chop or mince them or slice them into a chiffonade, according to your recipe.

Recipes With Sage

Fried Sage Leaves

I love to make these and then float them on soup. They add a savory crunch. Just make some and put them out with drinks. Remember to get your own share first! Here is a recipe from Saveur.com

Roast Turkey With Sage Butter

Roast turkey with sage stuffing is a popular holiday dish. This one makes delicious butter from the sage. I made it one year for Thanksgiving and am still resting on the laurels. From Food Network, Tyler Florence.

Use Sage To Make Delicious Cocktails

The distinctively earthy taste and aroma we get from sage will make memorable cocktails. For drinks use only fresh sage as you will make a simple syrup to flavor your drinks and you will garnish them with fresh leaves. To make the syrup cook together equal amounts of sugar and water and steep the leaves in it. Strain, cool, and use.

Here are some cocktails you might like to try:

Honey Sage Bourbon: If you are a bourbon aficionado, you might like this one. Use honey instead of sugar.

Blood oranges and sage make this sour both herbaceous and fruity.

Here’s the sage version of a martini.

If you like to make interesting cocktails as we do at our house you will benefit from herb simple syrup. Here’s how to make a variety.

Compound Butter

Make compound butter from any of your herbs. Sage butter, ready in the freezer is a quick addition to poultry, meat, soup, and blueberry muffins.

Herbal Salt

If you come in, tired from the garden having a flavored herbal salt ready to use can be a great asset in the kitchen.

Simple Syrup For Sage Cocktails

Sage-infused simple syrup adds a cool and slightly peppery sweet note to cocktails.

Summary and Ideas

Sage with other spices
Sage with Other Spices

SUMMARY,

Flavorful, healthy, and cost-effective, cooking with herbs fresh from your garden has so many benefits that I truly hope that everyone tries this out. This piece is the Mayo Clinic’s opinion on using herbs and spices.

It seems simplistic to say that a pot of herbs near the kitchen door can change for the better the way that we eat, but it is true. Sage is an easy-to-grow plant that will enhance the way you eat. The Ancient Romans named it for the word Salvere, to be saved.

At one time the French raised sage to make tea, it was also profitable because the Chinese, who understood tea would trade three times the amount of their own tea to get the French sage tea!

So grow some sage, you may not make a profit from it but you will appreciate it!

RESOURCES

This article discusses Culinary Herbs and will provide information about other herbs to use with Sage.

ThymeMarjoram, and Rosemary are other herbs that blend successfully with Sage. These are links to information about the herbs.