Sage is a popular perennial herb, meaning it will come back year after year, if taken care of properly. The common sage is considered an evergreen plant that grows in bush form. With grayish leaves and spikes of colourful blue and purple flowers, this versatile drought-tolerant plant can easily be grown in your home garden for use in your kitchen with these tips on how to grow, harvest and use sage.
How to Grow Sage
There are many different varieties of sage, but only Salvia officinalis is edible. Some may find that this plant has a strong and pungent odour and when used in recipes it can taste slightly bitter.
Cuttings or Seed
You can grow sage by seed; however it will take you longer to actually have a well-established plant this way. To start sage from seed, it is best to begin sowing them indoors in late winter/early spring. These seedlings will then be ready to be repotted or put into the ground by the middle of spring. It could take up to the summer the following year before you see a real harvest if you begin growing sage by seed. The good news is though, that once a sage plant begins to take root and begins to grow it is a very hardy plant.
The best way to begin growing this hardy, edible herb is in its plant form. You can propagate sage from a cutting with a little patience and lots of love. To do this, you will to get hold of some sage.
Simply cut off some of the healthy, non-flowering springs that are around 10-15 cm (4-6 in) in length. Though these cuttings can be taken at any time of the year, it is better to do it when the stems are going slightly woody. This happens around the time that it is beginning to cool off. If you don’t have anywhere you can get cuttings from, some grocery stores sell bunches of fresh sage which can be used to get started growing sage.
Once you have a couple of springs, remove the leaves off the bottom 5 cm (2 in) of the spring and cut the tip at a 45-degree angle. Dip the end of the sprig into rooting hormone or even honey. This is optional, but it does help with giving your plant a faster and healthier root system. Just remember, if you are using rooting hormone, it is recommended that you want a full year before consuming any part of the plant. Then plant the cuttings into a pot that has good drainage, with good quality potting mix.
If you prefer not to use rooting hormone, you can place your sage cutting into a glass of water. Fully submerge the bottom end that you cleaned the leaves off in water. It will take around 3 – 4 weeks, but you should start to see roots sprouting. Once the roots have matured, plant into a pot that has good drainage, with good quality potting mix.
Store the cuttings in a warm place. Depending on the time you plant your cuttings and the weather, you should start to see signs roots within 6 – 8 weeks. If you find that some of the leaves are beginning to turn a little yellow, this may be due to transplant shock. Just cut them off and wait for more green leaves to grow.
Another way to propagate sage is by layering it. To do this, you will need to already have access to a sage plant that is growing in the ground. Simple bend down a branch so that the stem is in contact with the soil, and hold it down with a tent peg or some wire. Cover with soil and wait. Around 6 to 8 weeks later, remove the soil and check to see if the stem has produced some roots. If this is the case, simple cut off the new plant and transplant to a pot or new spot in the garden.
However, if you wish to go the easiest route and purchase a sage plant that has all ready started growing from your local nursery, remember to wait until the last frost before you plant it.
Caring for Sage Plants
A sage plant can thrive in most soils, preferring well-drained soil the most. It does require a lot of sun and you will need to water it on a regular basis as you do with all plants. It doesn’t like being flooded, so don’t over-water.
You can plant many of these low maintenance plants together as a border around vegetables as this plant is great for attracting beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and lacewings and repelling pests. This is a great way to ensure you have plenty of these delightful herbs on hand as well. To do this, just be sure to plant your sage plants about 50 cm (20 in) apart to allow maximum room for growth.
Once your plant begins to grow, give it a good support to help keep the winds and rains from damaging it. Be sure that your support is strong enough to hold it. Once established, sage is pretty tough and can tolerate dry conditions, though during the hot summer months, it will need a good drink to help it looking at its best.
If you live in a very cold climate, during winter you will need to cover any young plants with straw. This should protect them throughout the winter since they are a hardy plant. If they are over a couple years old, they really do not need any protection. However, you should never pick (harvest) any of the leaves in the colder months as this can cause damage.
Remember you can also grow sage plants in containers. If you chose to go this route, you may want to simply bring them into your garage or shed when winter approaches.
Be sure to remove some of the leaves of your sage as it grows. This actually is beneficial to the sage and allows it to grow even more. I prefer to pick the leaves as needed by hand. Regular harvesting not only helps with keeping these plants compact, but it gives you lots of fresh leaves to use in your cooking.
The flower spikes will need to be removed after they have finished. Every few years you may need to replace this compact shrub as it does tend to start looking a big scraggly and woody. So, take a couple of cuttings and replace the plants that are not as productive as they used to be and are starting to look a little unsightly.
Fresh sage should stay fresh for up to one week when stored, wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge. It can also be frozen or dried for long-term use.
Sage can be used fresh or dried. Fresh sage leaves need to be removed from the stem, rinsed clean with water and dried well. They are normally chopped or minced before adding to recipes. It is best to add sage towards the end of the cooking time so that its unique taste can be enjoyed.
Dried sage is measured out before adding to recipes and added at the start so that the flavour can mellow before serving.
Sage is great when paired with other herbs including thyme, marjoram, rosemary, parsley as well as with garlic and onion.
This gorgeous herb can be used in a variety of ways:
- toss the fresh, washed leaves into a salad for a splash of colour
- to flavour pork, fish and chicken dishes
- add to stuffing
- mix into egg dishes
- sprinkle as a garnish on soups
- add a few chopped leaves to your homemade tomato sauce
- complete diced leaves with butter to make sage butter
- use dried sage in a rub for meats or as a seasoning for roast vegetables
- add a sprinkle of dried sage to mashed potatoes or pumpkin for a lovely flavour
Sage also has many medicinal uses as it is high in antioxidants and nutrients. It has been known to help with digestive problems, bloating, heartburn, depression, memory loss and may ease menstrual/menopause symptoms.
Use only for a short period of time, taking precautions, especially when pregnant and breast-feeding or if you have medical issues such as diabetes, cancer, high or low blood pressure, and seizure disorders.
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Simple Sage Tea
To make a simple sage tea, you will need boiling water and sage leaves.
Simple add 1 TBSP of sage leaves to a mug and pour over 1 cup of boiling water. Let steep to reach your desired strength then strain out the leaves. Combine with a little lemon juice and honey for a lovely, flavour filled tea.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on this website.