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Common sage

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  • Vegetables and herbs
Common sage (Salvia officinalis 'Aurea')
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Josée Bouthot)

Onglets

Botany

Origin and description

Sage is a perennial with stems that eventually turn woody at the base. It grows to 45 to 70 cm tall. The species has grey-green, woolly, bumpy leaves that appear opposite each other on the four-sided stems. Spikes of lavender-coloured blooms appear in early summer.

Common sage is only somewhat hardy in Quebec. The species and some cultivars can survive without winter protection in the Montréal region (zone 5), provided they have good snow cover and the soil is not too waterlogged in spring. Cultivars hardy to zone 6 need winter protection (insulating fabric) or to be replanted every year.

Species, cultivars and related plants

As a rule, cultivars with colourful or mottled foliage have a milder flavour, are less hardy and grow more slowly.

'Aurea'– Yellow-mottled leaves, zone 6;
'Berggarten' – Broader leaves than the species, compact habit, zone 5;
'Extrakta' – Narrow leaves, high in essential oil, zone 5;
'Gold' – Yellowish leaves, zone 6;
'Holt's Mammouth' – Broader leaves than the species, zone 5;
'Purpurascens' – Purplish leaves, zone 6;
'Tricolor' – Green-, pink- and white-mottled leaves, zone 6.

Common name

Common sage

Latin name (genus)

Salvia officinalis

French common name

Botanical family

  • Lamiaceae
Horticulture

Growing conditions

Plant sage in full sun after all risk of spring frost is past. Space plants 30 cm apart and leave 60 cm between rows. Sage prefers well-drained soil with pH between 6 and 7. It does not require nutrient-rich soil. For a good yield, add 2 to 3 kg/m2 of aged compost annually. Once established, sage tolerates dry spells quite well. Plants will produce better yields if watered during dry spells, however.

Prune flowering stems by cutting them back by about one-third.

In spring, plants damaged over the winter should be cut back to within 10 to 15 cm of the ground. This rejuvenation pruning will encourage the formation of new, non-woody stems.

Propagation

Although the species and some cultivars are perennials, it is best to buy or grow new plants every 2 to 3 years, because the plant becomes woody with age. The species may be propagated from seed, but most cultivars are propagated by division or stem cuttings.

  • Seed: Sow indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Do not sow too deeply. Seeds germinate in 8 to 10 days at 22-25oC and remain viable for 3 to 5 years. Germination is irregular.
  • Stem cuttings: Take a 8 to 10 cm long shoot from the tip of a stem (with 3 or 4 pairs of leaves) in early summer, remove the leaves at the base of the shoot and place the bare stem in a porous, moist potting mix (ex.: ½ potting soil and ½ perlite). Place the cuttings in a well-lit spot, out of direct sunlight, with high humidity (ex.: sealed inside a clear plastic bag). The first roots should appear within 4 or 5 weeks. Cuttings will root faster if they are dipped in rooting hormones and the soil is kept warm.
  • Division: A plant may be divided if it is very bushy near the base. Divide it in spring, taking care to keep a few rooted stems in each clump.

Use

Sage has such a pronounced flavour that it is difficult to use with other herbs or spices. It is combined with garlic and pepper to flavour grilled meat dishes. It can also be used to season fish, pork, poultry, pasta, sausage, eggs, sauces, stuffing, marinades and most vegetables.

Harvesting: Harvest the leaves or young, non-woody shoots at the tips of the stems, as needed. Stop harvesting in early autumn to allow the plant to build up its reserves for winter.

Storage:

Fresh: Sage keeps for a few days in a container stored in the refrigerator vegetable drawer. It lasts slightly longer if the base of the stems is wrapped in a damp paper towel.

Frozen: Shoots with leaves may be frozen on a cookie sheet and then stored in freezer containers. The leaves may also be frozen in ice cubes.

Dried: Spread the leaves out to dry in a warm, dark, well-ventilated location. Once dry, store the leaves in an opaque, airtight container. The leaves retain their flavour better if ground just before use.

Pests and diseases

Leafhoppers

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