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J.E. Kinghorn

Herbs are fascinating plants to grow and each one has traditions and folklore associated with it as well as individual medicinal and culinary uses.

Today we will get to know Salvia Officinalis, commonly known as sage.  Sage, as well as basil is an ancient herb originating in the Mediterranean and currently flourishes in temperate climates in Europe and North America.  The generic name salvia translates to "health" or "salvation".  The specific name, Officinalis indicates that sage was among herbs of medicinal value listed in the `Official Pharmacopoeia,'(Herbal Medicinal Guide), used widely in the seventeenth century.

`Why should a man die when sage flourishes in his garden?'... Ancient Latin Proverb.


Sage, the `saviour', enjoyed widespread fame as a panacea for ailments of the body when herbal medicine was universally practiced.  The Romans believed it prolonged life itself.  A European herbalist proclaimed, "Amonast my herbs, sage holds the place of honor; of good scent it is, and full of virtue for many ills."  It was widely believed that sage was a cure for Tuberculosis.  Arabic name.. "Camels Tongue".
In the eighteenth century, an English herbalist, Sir John Hill recounted the story of  "a woman so old that for that reason alone she was called a witch.  About five yard square of ground before the door of her little habitation was planted with sage, and `twas not only her account but that of all the village, that she lived on it.  Her exact age was not known, for she was older than the church register, but people remember their fathers calling her the `old woman'.


Sage, when used as a tea is considered a remedy for coughs and colds.  It is said to relieve the symptoms of constipation, liver complaints, and rheumatic pains.


A sage rinse was used to color gray hair and as an astringent, beneficial to those with oily skin or damaged pores.  Additionally, sage was rubbed daily on teeth to keep them sparkling white.  Sage baths were said to give relief to rheumatic sufferers.  


The perennial herb has a slightly bitter but warm flavor.  Sage is a small, one to two feet in height, grayish-green evergreen shrub with spikes of soft purple flowers in the summer. Its leaves are rounded to oblong. rough, wrinkled and coated with silver gray hair.


There are more than one dozen varieties of sage.  Following are a few:
S. Officinalis-'true' or `garden' sage.
Berggarten-high-performance garden sage.
tricolor-white, rose and green leaves.
Purpurea-purple-leaved form.
Icterina-golden variegated.


Plant sage in early spring after all threat of frost has passed.  Plant  in well- drained aerated soil, full sun, and in a wind protected area.  Clay soil must be lightened up with peat and lime. You can plant sage from seed, however, you will get quicker results from root divisions, stem cuttings or nursery stock.  Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart.  Cut back old stems in spring and divide every couple of years to rejuvenate plants.   The narrow leaf varieties are best grown from seed, 3/4 inch deep -12 inches apart.  Broad leaf varieties are best grown from cuttings, root divisions or nursery stock.  Mulch in winter.
Tip:  Keep away from cucumbers.  Do plant next to cabbage...repels white cabbage butterflies and deters carrot fly.  

Clip fresh leaves as needed, freeze or dry for extended storage.  Harvest until frost then cut back and mulch for the winter.

CULINARY: (use sparingly).
Goes well with pork, poultry, fish, lamb, cheese dishes and game.  Sage is one of the main spices in sausage.  It can be added to vegetables for added flavor, i.e. lima beans, eggplant.  Suggested amount..1/4t to 2 cups vegetables.     

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