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Salvia Officinalis - Sage

Characteristics:Leathery, gray-green leaves on slightly woody stems up to 2 feet high. The stems don't always support the plant; it can get floppy. It produces attractive spikes of blue-purple (only occasionally white) flowers.

Growing Information: Plant sage in well-drained soil and full sun. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Cut back old stems in spring to encourage strong new growth to emerge. Divide every couple of years to rejuvenate plants.

Propagation: You can start the species Salvia officinalis from seed fairly easily. Sow the seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. You can also divide or take cuttings from existing plants.

Cultivars: You can buy brightly colored, but often less hardy sages. 'Tricolor' has white, rose, and green leaves. 'Purpurea' is a purple-leaved form and 'Icterina' is a golden variegated form. You can also grow dwarf, flop-resistant, silver-leaved sages. Or for a high-performance garden sage, look for 'Berggarten', which has larger-than-average round leaves and a bushy habit that stays full down to the base of the stems.

Possible Problems: Discourage rots and slugs with well-drained soil. Encourage good air circulation to prevent mildew and heat problems.

Harvesting and Using: Sage has the best flavor when used fresh with cheese or chicken dishes and stuffings. Try rubbing a fresh leaf on a pork chop before grilling it. You can also use sage for tea, in limited quantities; it tastes better if mixed with peppermint.

Related Herbs: Clary sage (S. sclarea) is a biennial or perennial with beautiful long spikes of white, purple, or blue flowers that can reach 4 feet high. You can use the foliage for potpourri.

S. viridis is an ornamental annual sometimes sold as clary. It produces pink bracts that resemble flowers and make excellent cut or dried flowers, but it has no herbal use.

Purple sage (S. o. 'Purpurascens') is a hardy cultivar that grows 18 inches tall. The purple leaves are strongly flavored and can be used in stuffings, omelets, and soups. Purple sage is also planted as an ornamental to complement yellow blossoms in the garden.

Pineapple sage (S. elegans) is a perennial in zone 8; it is grown as an annual elsewhere. It has pineapple-scented foliage and spikes of red flowers in late summer and fall. Use its leaves for teas or potpourri, and in fruit salads.

Other related herbs include blue sage (S. clevelandii) and silver sage (S. argentea).

Sage Purple Sage
Pineapple Sage

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