By E. VinjeTweet
A member of the mint family, sage (Salvia officinalis) is an ancient herb used in medicines to cure anything from broken bones and wounds to stomach disorders, including flatulence, as well as loss of memory. It is a traditional poultry seasoning, delicious baked in a low oven for forty-five minutes with onions, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Attractive plants grow 2-3 feet tall and are equally at home in herb gardens and in ornamental gardens. Hardy perennial.
Tip: Try layering a bed of sage on the grill and flavoring meat with its smoke.
Growing sage requires full sun (tolerates partial shade) and well drained, rich soil. Dig in plenty of compost or aged animal manure prior to planting.
How to Plant:
Sage seeds store and germinate poorly. When started from seed, it takes about 2 years to grow to mature size. Most gardeners start sage from cuttings or divisions, using the outer or newer growth. If growing from seed, sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Seeds will take about 3 weeks to germinate. Transplant the seedlings to the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Space the plants 2 feet apart and divide every 3-5 years to keep them vigorous. Note: Sage is hardy to -30 degrees F., if covered. In winter, cut back the foliage and place a thick layer of mulch over the roots to protect them from freezing.
Cut leaves sparingly during the first year of growth; harvest as needed in following years. Sage is best used fresh but may be stored. Dry sage has a stronger and somewhat different flavor than fresh. To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated, dark room. When dried, remove the leaves from the stems and store whole.
Insects and Disease:
Slugs and spider mites may occasionally become a problem on sage. Watch closely and use diatomaceous earth or other natural pest controls, if necessary.
Powdery mildew, rhizoctonia, and verticillium wilt are common plant diseases. Choose a site with good air circulation to prevent many problems and apply organic fungicides (copper, sulfur) early, when symptoms first appear.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Seeds are ready to harvest when the blooms begin to turn brown and dry. When the heads are completely dry, gently crush them between your hands and then carefully winnow away the chaff.