An herb garden workhorse
Sage is an herb native to the Mediterranean, belonging to the Lamiaceae (mint) family along with oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme and basil. The many species of sage have virtually the same properties. Its leaves contain tannin and its astringent properties have been demonstrated over centuries.
“Sage is singularly good for the head and the brain; it quickeneth the senses and the memory; strengtheneth the sinews; restoreth health to those that hath the palsy; and takes away shaky trembling of the members.” – John Gerard.
I think every garden needs a sage plant, if only for the beauty of its leaves and the wonderful fragrance when crushed. It is a workhorse in the herb garden, being a good companion plant to cabbage, carrot, strawberry and tomato. It does not do well when planted with onion. It’s practically indestructible, not affected by either too much sun or too much rain.
Sage has excellent antibacterial and astringent properties, which explains it popular use in gargles for sore throats, gingivitis and sore gums. A strong sage tea or tincture diluted with water can be used.
Get the Facts on Sage:
- Name: Salvia officinalis
- Family: LAMIACEAE lay-mee-AY-see-ee
- Growing Conditions: Zone 4 to 8. Sunny, with medium well drained soil.
- Hardy Perennial: An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region.
- Height: 18 inches to 3 feet
- Flowers: Grown primarily for its leaves, the flowers are blue and grow in whorls.
- Leaves: Oblong, green-gray softly hairy and pebbly, on stiff stems that become woody with age.
- Propagate: From seed in late spring. Best by stem cutting or root division.
There are many different types of sage. Officinalis is the most common and the one used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
The leaves are oblong and green-gray with softly hairy and pebbly flesh. The stiff stems will become woody with age. I have my plant in a vertical garden planter, but it does equally well in a pot or in the ground.
The strong taste of sage increases when it’s dried. Use it sparingly to add flavor and aid the digestion of fatty meats. Of course it’s popular as seasoning in your Thanksgiving meal and for stuffing but there are other ways to incorporate it into your daily diet. See the post 45 Ways to Use Fresh Sage by Chocolate and Zucchini for ways to use it besides stuffing.
In a study of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, participants were given either sage extract or a placebo for 4 months. Those given the sage extract showed an improvement in cognition as well as less agitation compared to the placebo group. Other studies have shown that sage can improve memory in young, healthy adults as well. (Source)
Sage should never be boiled. When making an infusion put the leaves in water that has just been boiled and removed from the heat. A strong infusion is useful in washing wounds and is sometimes used as an old-fashioned remedy for treating sore and bleeding gums, loose teeth, cold sores, sore throat and colds. Rubbes sage makes a great ingredient in herbal toothpaste.
Sprinkle powdered sage on a cut or wound after it has been washed with sage tea, to stop bleeding and encourage healing.
According to ancient history, sage tea has a marked effect on the brain and head. Make tea by putting 2 heaping teaspoonful’s of fried leaves in a French press. Pour in boiling water and allow it to stand until it obtains a good deep color. Drink throughout the day.
From Growing and Using Healing Herbs by Gaea Weiss: The leaves of the plant in their second to fourth year of growth are considered the best for healing purposes, because of the strength and concentration of herbal properties. After four years the properties greatly diminish and most gardeners rotate in new plant stock every few years to keep a fresh supply.
How to harvest sage and save it for later
Harvest just before flowers begin to bloom by cutting the plant back to 4 inches above the ground. Hang and dry the stems and leaves, then strip the leaves off the stems and store in airtight containers.
Another option is to dehydrate at the lowest setting until the leaves are easily crumbled. This should only take a few hours. Then you can package the leaves whole until using them in recipes, or make rubbed sage following these simple directions.
To make Rubbed Sage: thoroughly dry the sage leaves and remove them from their stems. Using a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, rub the leaves through the strainer. They will come out the other side – as rubbed sage. Who knew it was that easy!
To make Sage Vinegar: One bottle of apple cider vinegar; 3 sprigs of fresh sage, 1 clove of garlic, peppercorns to taste. Remove 2 ounces of vinegar and place the fresh ingredients into the bottle. Add back any vinegar that will fit. Cap tightly, shake well, and place your sage vinegar in a spot on the counter where you will see it. Shake daily for 3 weeks and then enjoy in marinates, egg, and meat dishes. Omit the garlic and pepper and you have a fine hair rinse to add shine to dark hair.
Sage is safe in amounts typically used in foods. According to an article on WebMD, sage is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in high doses or for a long time. Some species of sage, such as common sage (Salvia officinalis), contain a chemical called thujone. Thujone can be poisonous if you get enough. This chemical can cause seizures and damage to the liver and nervous systems. The amount of thujone varies with the species of plant, the time of harvest, growing conditions, and other factors. Review all precautions in their article: Sage – side effects and warnings.
Sage is a versatile and useful herb to have in the garden, spice and medicine cabinet. It’s easy to grow and often overlooked for all the wonderful properties it possesses. In my book it’s one of the best Herbs to Know: Sage.