Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pineapple Sage - Herb of the week

I have been admiring the Pineapple Sage I brought into the house this fall because it was still flowering when frost hit.  As as a result, today's

 Herb of the week is: Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans

Belonging to the mint family Labiatae, it is indigenous to high altitude regions of Guatemala and Mexico. Despite its name, this perennial flowering plant is not related to pineapple. It is so called with reference to the scented leaves, whose sweet fragrance resembles that of the pineapple fruit. Similar to the growth habit of common sage, pineapple sage plant is a shrub of about 4-5 feet.  It will begin flowering in Mexico in August, but farther north it may not flower until much later in the fall.
Including pineapple sage in your garden will allow you to enjoy lovely butterflies and humming birds visiting this fragrant plant. Harvest the leaves occasionally and enjoy them yourself or dry them for later use.

How to Grow

Considered a tender perennial, Pineapple sage is best adapted in USDA zones 8-11, so here in Illinois I am forced to grow it in a pot if I want to keep it from one year to the next. The ideal growing conditions are optimal sunlight exposure (at least 6 hours a day), well-drained and fertile soil, and regular watering. Based on your plan, it can be included in container gardening or grow directly in garden soil. Planting is best done in spring with stem cuttings. Prepare potting media or garden soil in early spring and purchase already rooted plantlets from the nursery, and plant in the regular way as you do for other bushy herbs. Pineapple sage is easily propagated from stem cuttings rooted in potting soil or a mixture of sand and peat moss.  Pinching the tops of newly rooted cuttings reaps dual benefits: it promotes a bushier plant, and you can use the tasty young leaves to flavor a fruit salad or dessert.

The pale yellow-green leaves are veined, and covered with fine hairs. Six to twelve scarlet flowers grow in whorls, with a long inflorescence that blooms gradually and over a prolonged period of time. Scarlet colored flower buds in long tubular shapes appear in the late season, usually after everything else has bloomed. The buds bloom in a specific pattern, with the base flowers opening first. For regions with short fall or an early frost, transfer the plants indoors to lengthen their blooming period. This year I brought mine inside in October and it bloomed up until Christmas.  Remember that it cannot tolerate prolonged dry spells and cold temperature, so you must water it regularly if you bring it indoors or the leaves with turn brown on the edges.
Because it’s a tender perennial, the way you grow pineapple sage depends on your climate. In the South, it is treated as a perennial, in the North as an annual. Either way, it develops into a graceful mound of fragrant foliage, equally at home in a formal herb garden or a casual herbaceous border. An established plant in the South needs a space about 41/2 feet in diameter, preferably at the rear of a border or in the center of an island bed where it will not obstruct the view of foreground plants. When placing pineapple sage among other ornamental flowers, consider the colors of its fall-blooming neighbors; for example, white or lavender asters might be a better choice than vivid magenta ones. If you grow pineapple sage as an annual, think of it as a foliage plant, as it may need to be brought indoors before it flowers. To facilitate the transition, you can grow it in a large container. This guarantees a satisfactory root system for it to carry on indoors and minimizes the shock of moving it when its season in the garden is over.

For easy maintenance, consider laying a mulch layer around the stem. This will reduce soil moisture evaporation and weed growth. If required, stake the plants to protect from strong winds, they can get tall and the stems are not woody, when you trim them they will bush out. The maximum height for pineapple sage is about 3 to 4 feet in the first year.  If you live in the right zone they you can winter them over and get higher growth the following year.

Pineapple Sage Uses

The pineapple sage is a well-known multipurpose herb, prized for its versatile application. It is used as a curative plant, a flavorful herb for garnishing dishes and a specimen plant for avid gardeners.  
Pineapple sage leaves are edible and can be steeped in hot water to make an herbal tea or jam. It is also used in perfumes.
Cut them freely; buds on the lateral shoots will develop in abundance to produce a steady supply of flowers for your garden. The dried leaves and flowers impart their delicate, fruity bouquet to potpourri—it is hard to use too much. Entire stems can be dried for use in herbal wreaths.

In the kitchen, fruit salads are enhanced by the fruity, piquant flavor of the fresh flowers and leaves. This flavor is very different from that of garden sage; although there is a sagey element, it’s very subtle, and pineapple sage doesn’t substitute for other culinary sages. The flowers add visual sparkle as well. Even without flowers, a fresh leafy stem of pineapple sage is the perfect garnish for tall summer drinks.

For food lovers, pineapple sage recipes are perfect for including a flavorful dish in the meal menu. From sweet banana smoothie to bread, fritters, salsa and chicken recipes, the sweet scented leaves complement nearly all types of dishes that call for a rich flavor.  Try mixing the minced leaves and flowers in cream cheese for a delightfully fruity spread, or knead a handful or two of chopped leaves into raisin bread dough. Steeping the leaves in hot apple juice and using the juice to make jelly is an easy way to preserve the pineapple sage flavor. You can preserve the sweetness in herbal sugar too by layering the leaves in sugar and allowing to infuse for a day or 5. The dried leaves can be brewed for a satisfying winter tea; however, the fruity element is lost in drying.

The purported health benefits of this herb include calming the nervous system, serving as a general tonic, improving the digestive health and treating heartburn. Pineapple sage is extensively used in Mexican traditional medicine, especially for the treatment of anxiety, and also for lowering of blood pressure. Although scientific information about these medicinal properties is scarce, a preliminary study on mice found support for the plant potentially having anti depressant and anti anxiety properties.


Pineapple Sage Smoothie
1/3 cup skim milk
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 banana
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 tbls pineapple sage packed and chopped

Place ingredients in blender in the order ingredients are listed. Process until smooth.

Pineapple Sage Pound Cake
I adapted this recipe from a pineapple and sage pound cake and I find it is much sweeter less savory with Pineapple sage.

1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
5 eggs
2 tbls pineapple sage leaves, chopped
3 tbls pineapple sage flowers, coarsely chopped
1 tsp grated lemon rind
4 tbls crushed pineapple, drained
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour four miniature loaf pans Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in the honey. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to beat for one minute after each addition. Beat in the sage leaves, flowers, lemon peel, and crushed pineapple. Stir the dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture. Fold these together gently, until just blended. Pour into loaf pans. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until golden brown (wooden pick inserted into center will come out clean). Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pans and continue to cool.

*I used a regular size loaf pan just bake a little longer till brown and cake tester comes out clean.

Pineapple Sage and Ginger Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (pounded to 1/3 inch uniform thickness)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
grapeseed oil
1 bunch of  fresh pineapple sage leaves, washed and chopped)
2 tbls ginger puree
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 lb pasta (gemelli or fettuccini)
whole pineapple sage leaves for garnish

Preparing the chicken: If you have a little time before cooking dinner, lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts. It's great if you can do this the night before, but it's not necessary. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Dredge both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour. Heat a large heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat, with a little grape seed oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. Quickly sear both sides of the chicken breast until just faintly golden; you don't want the insides to cook much at all. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still tightly covered. Transfer chicken to warming plate, tented with foil to keep it warm.

 Whisk the ginger puree into the wine. Heat the skillet with the pan juices and fat, scrapping up any fond (brown bits) from the bottom of the pan, and sauté the sage leaves just until wilted. Deglaze the pan with the wine and ginger mixture, letting it bubble until slightly reduced. Add the broth and cook until reduced by half. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and toss with the ginger sauce. I saved a little bit of the ginger sauce to pour over the chicken. OR: Place the pasta on the platter, then the chicken and pour all the sauce evenly on top of the mixture. Serve the chicken on top of the pasta. Garnish with a few whole pineapple sage leaves. Serving suggestion: steamed vegetables and/or a tossed salad using seasonal produce. Basmati rice or jasmine rice is another option instead of pasta.

*To make your own ginger puree, finely grate 1 tablespoon fresh ginger and stir in about 1 tablespoon softened honey (or cane sugar). Do not substitute dry or ground ginger in this recipe as it will be overpowering in flavor and strength.


  1. Thank you for your well written and informative document. Take care,
    Michael Brown (

  2. This was SO informative. I just acquired this plant and don't have much of a "green thumb." I have faith in myself after reading this. I will definitely try these recipes! Thanks again!

  3. Thank you so much! I live in northern Illinois and needed the great tips! Also the recipes!

  4. I love pineapple sage and have been wondering what to do with it. I originally bought it to attract hummingbirds

  5. I am what you know about using the stems. Can I just cut a stem and add the stem & leaves to a soup?

  6. I would not use the stem of Pineapple sage, but rather pluck off the leaves and use them whole or minced. The stems are woody and have no flavor. Marcy

  7. I just made my first pineapple sage tea and it is delicious. I mixed it with stevia and a bit of peppermint. It's delicious! I got it from what I call death row at my local big chain garden store for .50. JACKPOT! This is such a pleasant herb. The slugs love it, unfortunately, and I spend much of my time fending them off.

  8. I just made my first pineapple tea and it is delicious. I mixed it with stevia and a bit of peppermint. It's delicious! I got it from what I call death row at my local big chain garden store for .50. JACKPOT! This is such a pleasant herb. The slugs love it, unfortunately, and I spend much of my time fending them off.

  9. Do you have to dry the leaves first in order to make the tea, or can you use them while they're fresh-cut?

    1. You can use the herbs both fresh and dry to make tea. Just remember use twice as much when using fresh. You will notice the flavor is more pineapply when the herb is fresh. It loses a bit of that in the drying process.

  10. I'm anxious to try this herb as this is the first time I planted it in my garden. No slugs yet...I think I will try it in tea first and go from there. I think it would be pleasant to use in chicken dishes.

    1. I've never had slug issues, but our soil gets rather dry. You will love it in chicken dishes!

  11. If anyone is looking for more recipes using Pineapple sage, I did another Herb of the week post on it sharing several new recipes.

  12. Well written and insightful. This is my first growing experience. I now look forward to using this herb in the kitchen. I can just imagine adding it to stuffing in the fall....mmmmm! Thank you for your energy and enthusiasm Back Yard Patch.

  13. Thankyou for this fantastic article, so much information, and I am delighted that I can use it for so many purposes, that instinctive buy turned out to be perfect.

  14. I had no idea what to use my pineapple sage for when I bought it this spring and had no idea how vigorous its growth would be but I LOVED the smell when I found it. I planted it in my herb garden and just would pick a leaf and smell it. It grew and grew and since I had so much I started adding it to things. It's fantastic in pasta sauces, I cut a big pile of leaves and mince and add fresh to tomato sauces while cooking, it's fantastic in flavorful savory dishes. I am going to try it in tea and fruity and sweet recipes. I also just cut a bunch to bring inside and propagate to plant in several places in my garden and land scape, beautiful, smells great and seems to love the Portland spring and summer. Will see how it does over winter but even if it doesn't come back, I will be planting (in larger more suitable locations so it can get even bigger, was over taking a lot of the smaller herbs in the herb garden) again in spring! Thanks for the great article!

  15. I've been growing it in the SFBay Area for years. Here it spreads a lot, so much so it needs constant monitoring that it doesn't take over. I've given cuttings to friends who have successfully added it to their garden's. I didn't know about it's purported antidepressant attributes. Thank you cor all your most informative information.

  16. I had a pineapple sage bloom in May this year. I have no idea why it did. The flowers were a bit anemic, but they were there. Then we had a long stretch with no rain and it is just puttering along now. Curious to see if it will bloom in the fall this year.

  17. Very useful information. We are in zone 9 and planning how to use our garden space and what to do with the pineapple sage we bought not knowing anything about it! Thanks for your blog.

  18. Most welcome. Enjoy! I loved the scent of this plant...hope you do too.

  19. Hello! Very informative article! This is my first year growing pineapple sage. I bought plants and planted them the beginning of May. I am in Indianapolis, In, but our summers are hot! Now it's the middle of June, and they are definitely growing, but they seem to be growing out rather than up. Is this typical? I'm VERY new to all of this so I appreciate any tips! I'm hopeful that they will get to be at least 3 ft tall eventually!

    1. Thx! I find that pineapple sage will grow toward light, so if the sun is to the side the growth will be there also, Pinching the branches will make it grow along the main stem a bit more. Good luck with your plants!

  20. Hello Marcy. I live in Kensington, London UK, and found this delightful herb in my local garden centre. I live in a 5th floor apartment and so have to grow everything on my windowsills and up the sides of the windows on hooks. I've just started my herb garden in the kitchen, and the Pineapple Sage is thriving. Its starting to get too big for its pot and so will have to be repotted. Is there anything I should bear in mind whilst performing this procedure. Many thanks for your help in advance, and btw lovely work you're doing over the pond! Stephen

    1. Repotting Pineapple Sage is about the same as any other plant. The roots come from a center tap-like root and branch off, so be most careful of the center mass of the plant so you do not damage the middle.

    2. Do I just put a piece of the plant in potting soil to start me another or start roots in just water?

  21. In order to start multiple plants, do I just snip off a bit if the stem, like 3 leaves deep, and stick in potting soil or do I root start it in water then into potting soil. 1st time ever and super excited!

  22. What type of white wine works best with the chicken recipe you posted.

  23. Once I have dehydrated pineapple sage leaves, what can I use them for? I know I can use them as an herbal tea. I have a large plant in my herb garden, and here in IL we are getting close to frost time! I don't want to lose this wonderful plant! Is there a way to keep them as fresh? What about freezing them?

  24. You can bring the plant indoors, you can hang dry the stems and allow them to dry rather than using a dehydrator for large amounts. You can freeze the leaves, but they will not be the same as fresh, so you can use them in smoothies and cooked recipes like those in the post above. Hope this helps! Mine is blooming right now and I am so thrilled - Marcy

  25. Very Nice Posting! I have some growing too! Smiles, Cyndi


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