One could go nuts contemplating the sages (all the species of Salvia). But today we are going to focus on old-fashioned garden sage. Why? Well, one of my first nursery jobs was making cutting of, and repotting herbs. And of all the herbs I dealt with, sage made a huge impression. It’s aroma burned into my memory.
I have hardly ever even cooked with sage. Sometimes I add it sparingly to my salads (I do love it’s bitter flavor). I mostly just love the way it smells. I could hardly think of gardening and not have a plan for sage.
There are many varieties of sage out there (even if we stick to talking about only Salvia officinalis). My favorite for cooking is ‘Berggarten’ which also has the trait of rarely flowering (extending the time you can harvest leaves).
Two colorful varieties are really pretty and just a tad more spicey: ‘tricolor’ and purpurascens’ (sometimes called ‘purpurea’). To me ‘aurea’ just looks like it needs food. I feel that way about a lot of the yellow-variegated plants.
Grow in part sun. Sage can handle full sun, but foliage looks better with a tad more shade in summer. They detest wet feet in the winter, and they are best with very good drainage. Garden soil is best, but plants require little in the way of nutrition. This is true with many plants we call “herbs”.
On the subject of “herbs”: for the sake of organization and communication, I tolerate the term. But in general, I don’t really make a distinction between “vegetables” and “herbs”. Though I understand that “herbs” are most often meant for spicing up dishes rather than BEING the dish, how do you account for fennel, which we classify as an herb?
Most of the time I encourage people to plant from seed. Sage, however, grows well from 4-inch starters you find at the nursery. Just make sure it hasn’t spent too much time in too shady a spot, particularly at the more corporate places like Home Depot or Target. Mulch plants well to keep soil moisture and temperature consistent, especially in summer. Plants may need to be cut back every once in a while, particularly after flowering.
Sage is great with fatty meats like pork, as an addition to stuffings for poultry, and as an ingredient in sausage. It has an intense flavor raw, but minced up and used sparingly, it’s a nice addition for the adventurous.