Plant of the Week – Culinary Sage

Plant of the Week - Culinary Sage

Our Plant of the Week is Culinary Sage.

Culinary sage is a plant that almost everyone knows.  The problem is the term “sage” identifies with such a wide range of plants that it is almost impossible to tell what plant someone is referring to with the simple four-letter word “sage.”  Let’s see if we can’t make a little sense of the confusion.

Sage is a member of the plant family Lamiaceae. This is a huge family falls under the genus Salvia which includes both culinary and ornamental varieties.

Culinary Sage

The sage plant most commonly used as a culinary herb is Salvia Officinalis, otherwise known as Common Garden Sage, Edible Sage, Garden Sage or Culinary Sage.  It is a perennial and considered hardy in Zone 7 (West Texas for the most part.)

Culinary sage has a reputation of being hard to grow.  It is difficult to start, but once established, takes little care other than watering and occasional feeding.

Once culinary sage is established, it will produce soft, silvery leaves and produce purple-blue flowers that are good beneficial insect attractors.  If you are going to use your culinary sage in the kitchen, it is best to pinch off the blooms before they open to keep you culinary sage leaves at their most aromatic.

Varieties

Sage Salvia officinalis Berggarten Variegated

Culinary or Common Sage comes in several different varieties.

Purple Garden Sage, which should not be confused with the ornamental purple sage that you often see blooming in the landscape, is noted for its purple coloration on the young foliage.

Golden Sage is a creeping variety with gold and green variegated leaves that makes a wonderful low addition to an edible landscape.

Tricolor garden sage has some of the characteristics of purple sage but the uneven variegation include some white streaks.

Berggarten sage is a non-blooming variety.

Habits

Culinary sage prefers full sun but will tolerate part shade.  It grows to a height of 24 inches and can spread up to 18 inches in diameter.  Plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart for best growth. Sage will tend to sprawl as it matures.  We recommend that you cut your sage back severely each spring.  This will help prevent crown rot and encourage new growth.  The cuttings can be rooted.

Planting

Sage can be started from seeds but is more easily established with transplants.  Move your container-grown plants to the soil any time after the last freeze.  If planting later in the season, make sure the plant has enough time to establish root growth before the first freeze of winter.

Purple Sage

Care

Sage doesn’t require a lot of care once established.   The biggest problem is over-watering.  Too much water can lead to crown root disease and dieback of your plants.

Harvesting

Harvest leaves anytime.  We suggest that you don’t harvest heavily the first year to avoid stressing your new plants.  Store the leaves in a tightly sealed glass jar.

If you want to keep your sage at its best, pinch off the blooms before they open.

After several seasons you may notice that your sage leaves have lost some of their aroma and character.  As the plant matures and becomes woodier, the leaves tend to become less aromatic.  Many people replace their culinary sage plants every 2 or 3 seasons.

Culinary uses

Sage Blooms

Sage is best known as the ingredient that gives Thanksgiving dressing its distinctive flavor.  Sage is also used in cooking with vegetables, bread, meats and steeped in vinegar as a dressing.

Notes

Don’t dehydrate sage.  Dehydration causes the accumulation of the essential oils in the plant leaves, which can become toxic.  Store leaves in a tightly sealed glass jar and use within six months of harvesting.

Sage is a great addition to any edible landscape or herb garden.  Because it is a perennial, it can be used in landscapes where low maintenance is a factor. 

For more information about edible landscape, garden herbs and the other members of the sage family, visit our website at https://westtexasorganicgardening.com