Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sage - Herb-of-the-Week

Wednesday is sometimes referred to as hump day. This always seemed a bad label for Wednesday, so to rejuvenate the hump day idea, I thought it might be nice to give something detailed and interesting to get you thinking creatively.  So while coasting down the hump into the weekend I hope I am giving you either a new herb to put on your list or something new to do with an herb you already know.

I have christened Wednesday Herb-of-the-Week day. Every other Wednesday I will feature a blog on a special herb and detail it uses, growing habit and include recipes not only for food.

This week’s herb is: SAGE
Sage in my first garden

The genus Salvia contains a staggering range of species suitable for every garden use under the sun—and in the shade. But for cooking, none can rival Common Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) and its cultivars. Sage has long been valued for its contributions to the cook’s palette of flavors. Its robust piney aroma and earthy flavor complement many ingredients. Sage is also an attractive garden plant, particularly in its fancy-leaved forms. Plus, it prospers under a wide range of conditions and adds a striking bold texture to mixed plantings.

S. officinalis varies widely in the size and shape of its leaves. Sharp-eyed herbalists have spotted numerous selections with unusual leaves, taken cuttings and propagated the resulting plants so that we can all enjoy them. There are a wide variety of colors, shapes and even dwarf versions of Sage all residing under the same general name Salvia Officinalis. Most commonly available in garden centers beyond Garden Sage is ‘Berggarten’ a vigorous clone with large, broad leaves and a strong flavor. It’s probably the most productive variety for home herb gardens. Dwarf forms of S. officinalis circulate under a variety of names, including Dwarf, Nana and Minima. In general, these plants will reach 8 to 12 inches in height and width, making them significantly smaller than the traditional species. Use them in containers or in-ground plantings where space is tight.
Purple basil with purple sage
Numerous forms have been selected for colored foliage. ‘Icterina’ has strong golden-green variegation surrounding a cucumber-green splash. It’s hearty and vigorous in growth. ‘Purpurea’ is another strong grower, this time with dark leaves that have a dusky sheen of purple, green and indigo. ‘Tricolor’ is the more common multicolored form, with splashes of lilac, cream and green. It’s slow-growing and resents crowding, wet and cold.

Salvia officinalis is admirably ornamental in its typical grey-green form. It can be trained into sculpted mounds for a controlled appearance, or left to sprawl in irregular clumps. The leaves have a lightly pebbled surface, which makes them look fuzzy. This soft texture combined with a muted flower color (pastel shades of blue and lilac-pink) gives the plants a soft appearance. Garden visitors will want to stroke them. If they do, they’ll be pleased at the plants’ robust fragrance. Although they flower in late July into August, the foliage is usually more desirable so flower stalks can be pinched off.

Varieties with unusual leaf sizes, shapes and colors have even more garden potential. ‘Berggarten’ and ‘Mammoth’, with their broader leaves, have a blockier presence and make a great foil to frilly-leaved companions. The dwarf forms’ tighter growth habit makes them well-suited to plantings in which forms must be strongly defined, such as parterres and knot gardens.

Fresh sage is deep, robust and earthy, much different from the stronger dried version many are used to from poultry seasoning.  Fresh sage also has a lively zing that you won’t find in any powder. This lively—almost lemony—flavor component is most obvious in spring, while the leaves are still very young.  You can strengthen this taste by combining sage with mint. You can also keep sage from becoming drab by combining it with lemon.

As summer approaches and sage’s flavor becomes more robust, try combining it with a multitude of different herbs. Its earthiness adds depth to herbal blends. Autumn cooking is highly supportive of sage. Its haunting aroma can perfume rich meats and carb-rich dishes. Use it to flavor slow-braised pork or starchy cubes of roasted squash. And in herb breads it is especially good.

Sage can easily become overwhelming, so start with a small amount and slowly increase the quantity to taste. The leaves can be rough and chewy, particularly later in the year, so mince them finely. If you want the flavor of sage without its presence in the final result, add sprigs of it to whatever you’re cooking and remove them before serving. To calm jittery nerves, make a decoction with the dried herb, strain and drink.

Salvia officinalis is an easygoing plant with few demands. But, if you want it to thrive, give it what it needs:  At least six hours of full sun per day;  Soil that is well-drained, but not constantly dry. That’s it.  If you want to ruin a sage, give it an over-rich soil, you’ll have lush growth at the expense of flavor.

Typical green-leaved S. officinalis is winter-hardy in Zones 5 to 9. The colored-leaf forms are weaker. Even under the best of conditions, they’re not reliably winter-hardy in areas north of Zone 7. Treat them as annuals and be happily surprised if they return for an encore performance. Don’t mulch them with anything moist and composty—they’ll rot. Also, make sure that they’re not crowded—most (particularly ‘Tricolor’) need impeccable air circulation and resent being jostled by their neighbors.

Sage is evergreen in most of its hardiness range, although its leaves will be damaged by extended periods of extreme cold. Wait until hard frosts pass in spring before trimming your sage. Most salvias—including S. officinalis—can be severely damaged by late frosts if they’re cut back early and start into growth while it’s still cold.

Once the weather warms in spring, sages will put forth a new crop of leaves. These will have the best flavor of the entire year. Their flavor intensifies until flowering starts, usually in late spring. After flowering, sage’s leaves toughen. To stimulate new growth, cut the plant back by one-third. Fertilize lightly with an organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, after pruning.

Sage has numerous medicinal benefits. The oils and tannins in Sage have astringent, antiseptic, and irritant properties. It is therefore an important herb in medications for mouth sores, mouth ulcers, and sore throat medications. As with many of the other herbs, Sage can also be tried in a tea for digestive problems and flatulence.

It can be grown from seed, but the easiest way to increase your stock is by taking cuttings. Cuttings are the only way to maintain specific clones (you won’t get variegated seedlings from seeds taken from a variegated plant). Since sage plants often become woody and start to die out in spots as they age, it’s a good idea to take cuttings and start new plants every two or three years—especially because young plants are more vigorous and produce better yields than older plants.


Good for chapped lips, cold sores and chapped skin.
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 2 tbsp sweet violets
  • 4 tbsp sweet almond oil
Combine ingredients in a small stoppered bottle. Leave in a warm place for 1 month, shaking daily. Strain into a bowl and add 4 tbsp each of almond oil and melted beeswax which have been melted together in the top of a double boiler. Beat until cold. Store in an airtight jar in a cool place.

Sage Cheese Spread
  • 1 cup dry cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated and at room temperature
  • 4 tsp. chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp. dry)
  • 1 tsp. prepared mustard
Mix all ingredients in blender or food processor until smooth and creamy. Store in crock in refrigerator at least 24 hours before using. You can place this in small crocks and give as a favor to guests to take home as well.

Sage and Tarragon Chicken Salad
This is another terrific sandwich spread to serve on top of the whole wheat herb bread.
  • One (10 ounce) can Chicken breast meat
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup finely diced celery hearts
  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage - chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves - chopped fine
  • salt & pepper - optional
Drain the liquid from the can of chicken breast. Flake with a fork and add to a medium size bowl. Add the mayonnaise, celery hearts, sage and tarragon and mix well. Add salt and pepper if desired.

If you love sage try the Seasonings of the Backyard Patch where the dried flavor of sage is at its best!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...