While a staple plant grown in many herb gardens for its culinary use, sage (Salvia officinalis) is a versatile plant to be considered for a variety of purposes. It can be grown in U.S. Hardiness Zones 4 through 11. It is an attractive plant that can thrive both indoors and out. A snip of sage can be used to add a savory flavor to meats, pastas, and even to ice cream. It also has therapeutic properties that can relieve such ailments as indigestion and sinus congestion.
Most sage varieties are native to the Mediterranean and to Asia Minor. It migrated from there to Central Europe during the Middle Ages. There are a few varieties that originated in Central America and Mexico.
Historically, sage has served to improve the quality of life for people from nearly every cultural background in one way or another. It has been used to flavor foods and teas throughout time. Its healing properties have been appreciated by the sick and afflicted long before modern medicinal practices. Beyond its obvious benefits, Ancient Greeks used it to treat snake bites and believed that eating it would bring great wisdom. Native Americans believed that the smoke created from burning it would lift their prayers to the Great Spirit. Sage continues to be of benefit to people everywhere and in many ways.
How to Grow and Care for Sage
A member of the mint family, the revered sage plant is an evergreen known to attract bees and hummingbirds to outdoor garden locations. Sage can be grown attractively in a container placed in a convenient location for use in the kitchen. The sage plant is a happy indoor plant as well.
To grow sage, place a few seeds in a five- or six-inch pot packed with a rich soil mix. Place in a sunny location. Once your sage has sprouted, thin to one or two seedlings per pot. When the plants are four inches tall, you should begin fertilizing with a liquid plant food according to instructions on the label. Beginning in the spring of the plant’s second year, it will annually produce a small blue flower at the tips of its branches. Pinch these off immediately to maintain full leaf growth.
For an outdoor sage plant, start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. Transplant outdoors after danger of frost to a sunny location in well-draining soil. Space the plants 24 inches apart as an average sage plant will grow to between 18 and 24 inches tall and 24 to 36 inches wide. Sage is a drought-tolerant plant that has average watering needs, so water regularly.
Like many herbs, sage is a good companion plant for vegetables in your garden. It is especially effective when planted near cabbage and carrots as it repels cabbage flies, carrot flies, black flea beetles, cabbage looper, and cabbage maggots. It also repels many bean parasites.
Mature sage can be harvested several times a year. Cut longer leaf stems back to about six inches. Snip the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the leaves on a cloth, a screen or on paper away from direct light. When dry and crumbly, store in an air, light and moisture-tight container until ready for use.
Sage Pests and Problems
With proper care and consideration to the needs of the sage plant, it is generally a hardy plant. It can be susceptible to spider mites, whitefly, mealybugs, and powdery mildew.
Sage Varieties Worth Considering
“Berggarten” is a vigorous variety with strong flavor and broad leaves. It is a good choice for the herb gardener because it is highly productive.
“Minima” is of the dwarf variety. Measuring in at 8 to 12 inches, this miniature sage plant is perfect for a small herb garden or a container.
“Purpurascens” offers an aesthetic appeal with leaves that are a dusky sheen of purple, green and indigo. It is a strong grower.
Want to learn more about how to grow and use sage?
Here are some helpful resources:
Growing Sage and Mint from Alabama Cooperative Extension
Sage from Penn State Extension