I love the last glorious days of autumn, when the weather is deceptively sunny and mild. There is no snow in sight, yet. We have gotten the garden ready for winter: gone are all the tomato plants, the peppers and the basils. Bulbs are planted, but most everything else feels as though it is holding its breath, bracing itself for the onslaught of winter.


Except for the sages. They are showing their true splendor. At the entrance to my garden, where they are protected from the wind, you are greeted by the sage plants in full bloom. The dazzling blue blossoms are a contrast to the downy, gray-green leaves. This familiar garden perennial is native to the Mediterranean region but it has long been cultivated elsewhere for culinary and medicinal purposes and several varieties have been developed. For centuries in Greece sage was believed to have medicinal value. As a tea it was thought to slow menstrual bleeding, relieve hot flashes and night sweats, and as a mouth wash for inflamed and bleeding gums (gingivitis). Throughout history sage has been used as a muscle relaxant, an anti-persperant and a treatment for sore throats, diarrhea, venereal disease and a host of other conditions. It is also has been applied to wounds and insect bites. Sage seems to aid in digestion, which accounts for its being paired with heavy meats or oily fishes; the problem and the cure all in one. For years, sage has been used in the preserving of foods. Now it is known that it contains powerful antioxidants which slow spoilage. Sage is also antibacterial in nature.


As far back as ancient Greek and Roman times, healers advocated sage for a variety of ailments supposedly curing everything from snake bites, eye problems, infection, epilepsy, intoxication, memory loss, worms and intestinal problems. Charlemagne ordered that it be grown in his royal gardens. Arab physicians in the 10th century went so far as to claim that sage extended life to the point of immortality. One common belief was that sage strengthened the memory, hence a sage, or a wise man, always had a long memory. During the 17th century, the Chinese exchanged three or four pounds of their tea with Dutch traders for one pound of European sage leaves. Even the genus name of the plant, Salvia, comes from the Latin meaning "to cure." There's also compelling new research indicating that sage may be of value to people with diabetes. My copy of "The Complete Book of Natural and Medicinal Cures" by the editors of Prevention Magazine says "Laboratory studies indicate that sage may boost insulin's action. Sage was among 24 herbs tested that were found to boost insulin activity two- to five fold or more in patients with Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes. For people who have diabetes, this means that drinking sage tea in conjunction with their insulin treatments is worth a try."


Best known as a culinary herb, Sage is used around the world for cooking. The Italians sauté the leaves in butter for a veal sauce. The Germans use it in eel dishes and in sausages. The French use it with pork and in patés. In the Middle East it is used in salads. And of course, the English and the Americans use it with poultry. What would the Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas goose be with out the pungent flavor of sage dressing. Fresh, frozen and dried leaves are used in salads, breads, soups, stews, pork, beef, fish, lamb, poultry, tomatoes,vegetables, cheeses and teas. Dried branches are used for baths, lotions, hair rinses and herbal wreaths. Sage leaves are an attractive addition to potpourri.

To bring out the best flavor from the leaves, remember to use it sparingly, as too much will produce an unpleasant musty taste. This is especially true with the dried herb. Unlike most other herbs, the flavor of the sage leaves intensifies as they dry. Drying the herb can be a bit tricky, because its broad fleshy leaves have a tendency to mold.


Sage is hardy and grows most anywhere in the U.S. where winters get down to freezing. Most of the varieties are perennials, fast growers, require low moisture and are deer resistant. It has an attractive, compact spreading growth habit. Sage needs fairly dry soil and full sun to thrive. Sage prefers alkaline soil. Soil pH should be increased to at least 6.0 by applying lime if needed. Soils for growing sage should be very free draining because the crop will not tolerate wet soil conditions. The crop grows best in light soils.


Propagate from summer cuttings taken with a heel or by layering established branches in fall. Lay a brick or rock on a long limb so that it will root over winter. Seed is unreliable and slow to flower. Keep the plant well pruned to encourage young shoots with a strong flavor. Pruning also keeps the plants from becoming leggy and twiggy. Prune the sage plant back to about 6 inches high each spring. Resist the urge to water it between rains, it can withstand dry conditions. However, like most crops, its productivity can be substantially improved by good management and irrigation. It can tolerate cold winters providing that the soil remains well drained. Do not fertilize, I mulch my sage plants and apply a light application of compost every spring and the plants thrive. It is attractive to bees and is a companion plant to broccoli, cabbage, peas, carrots, rosemary and tomatoes.

When plants are flourishing, but before flowering shoots develop, take stem tip cuttings with several sets of leaves. Sage can be frozen, dried or used fresh. To freeze simply rinse and pat dry the whole leaves and place in re-sealable freezer bags. There is no need to thaw before using. For drying, hang the stalks upside down in a dry, dark place and crumble into jars when completely dry. I prefer fresh or frozen sage; the taste is quite a bit different than the dried. For sage tea, or sage hair rinse, cut and use leaves fresh or dry.



"Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone"

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