Salvia officinalis. That’s botanical speak for sage. This delicious, healthy herb belongs in your world. Use it in your kitchen, or store it in your medicine chest. Keep your own supply at the ready by growing sage in your backyard garden spot, or in containers kept handy near your kitchen door.
Herbs of countless varieties have been our constant companion for millennia. Our ancestors undoubtedly recognized herbs on-sight, but today’s progeny isn’t always aware that that bothersome weed in our yard is an herb; friend, not foe. (Like the dandelion. More on that, later.)
Sage enjoyed a robust reputation in the Middle Ages for being a cure-all, and thought to bestow wisdom on its faithful followers.The word itself means “wise man.” Some sage tea-drinkers fondly call it “the thinker’s tea”; good for the memory. Famous herbalist – reputed by some as the father of herbs — Dr. Nicholas Culpeper prescribed gargling with sage tea for patients suffering from sore gums. Sage also helped relieve tuberculosis patients of their night sweats. Even today, it’s used for excessive perspiration (and an ingredient in some deodorants). Today’s famous herbalist Rosemary Gladstar remarks in her Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide, that “Sage is another remarkable culinary remedy, as valuable in the medicine cabinet as in the kitchen.”
Sage is abundant in its varieties, about 900 of them, in fact. Colorful, too. They bloom in yellow or red, violet or purple, pink or white. But it’s the leaves that are used in teas and in cooking. Know this sage by its rough-textured leaves. They’re narrow, pale and gray-green. Another variety, purple sage bears broad leaves.
Green sage is also known as garden sage. It’s one of those cornerstones, must-haves, you’ll want in your herb garden. It grows as high as four feet, and the perennial produces for three or four years. It’s ready to harvest when it reaches a height of eight inches. A couple planting notes: Sage and cabbages make great companions; sage wards off the nasty cabbage butterfly. But sage and cukes just aren’t good teammates, at all; their chem profile isn’t compatible. When cold weather settles in, if your garden is in a container, bring it inside. Place it where it’ll get lots of sunshine. Sage grown in the ground, according to one source, winters well in that spot if protected with snow pack, or mulch of straw and/or leaves.
There you have it — some highlights of sage gardening. Oh, and this. If you live in Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, your sage should do well.
If gardening just isn’t your thing, buy fresh sage from a sustainable and/or organic source. Ditto with dried sage. Know your source. Then use it in these ways:
In the kitchen —
- Egg and/or tomato dishes.
- Poultry – chicken, goose, or duck.
- Veal and pork – Try this: If you like what sage does for turkey but you don’t love the taste of the bird, crush dried leaves on ham or pork.
- Cottage cheese – Chop fresh sage and mix well.
- Dinner salads — Tear a couple fresh sage leaves and toss into salad greens.
- Herbed butter: Chop fresh leaves and a garlic clove and add to softened butter.
In the medicine chest –
- It’s a tonic tea, warming and extra good with lemon balm and honey.
- It’s a mouthwash.
- It can help digest a meal of rich, fatty meat.
- It fights colds and flu.
- It fights inflammation in the mouth and throat, even the tonsils.
- It’s a mild hormonal stimulant, says Rosemary Gladstar, and helps women achieve regular menstruation; or women having hot flashes and night sweats; helps with leukorrhea. Rosemary says, “Sage seems to work, in part, by ‘drying’ and regulating fluids in the body.” Amen and thank you, Rosemary!
Cautionary notes: Nursing moms should avoid sage. It can prematurely dry up their milk. Another source says that, “… this herb should not be taken internally by pregnant women, nursing mothers and epileptic patients.” One of sage’s key constituents is thujones. Too much of it can cause elevated heart rate, convulsions, or confusion.