A member of the mint family, culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is a highly aromatic herb with a subtle, earthy flavor.
It works especially well with meats such as pork, lamb, and poultry, and is often used in dressings or holiday stuffings. Use sparingly, as sage can be very strong and easily overpower a dish.
Luckily, this culinary herb is easy to grow as long as it gets ample sunlight and has well-draining soil.
Sage is highly regarded as a medicinal herb and has been used for years to cure a long list of ailments from broken bones and wounds to stomach disorders, shortness of breath, and loss of memory.
Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD), a Roman naturalist and philosopher, recommended using sage for intestinal worms, memory problems, and snake bites.
Sage is attractive with grayish-green foliage and beautiful purple-pink blossoms. It is equally at home grown outdoors in garden beds or indoors in containers.
We recommend planting this hardy perennial with other Mediterranean herbs, like basil and rosemary, for a delicious and fragrant kitchen garden.
Common Name: Sage, common sage, culinary sage, garden sage
Botanical Name: Salvia officinalis
Plant Type: Herb, perennial
Hardiness Zones: 4 – 10 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic, neutral (6–7)
Bloom Time: Summer
Maturity: 70-75 days from transplant, 90-100 days from seed
Height: 2 – 2.5 ft. tall
Spread: 2 – 3 ft. wide
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart
Native Area: Mediterranean
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Sage
- A must-have herb for pork, lamb, and poultry and stuffing
- Grows best from cuttings or divisions
- Plant in full sun in compost-rich soil that drains well
- Handles cold very well; add mulch for winter protection
- Watch for slugs, spider mites, powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt
Sage Plant Care
Sage (Salvia Officinalis) is an aromatic, relatively woody perennial shrub belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae) that is indigenous to the northern Mediterranean.
It is known by the common names culinary sage, common garden sage, and garden sage.
Salvia officinalis is an old reference to an herb store, pharmacy, or drugstore, while Salvia means ‘to be in good health’, ‘to save”, or “salvation”.
Sage is frequently referred to as the herb of immortality, domestic virtue, good health, and wisdom. The Romans revered sage as a sacred ceremonial herb. It has been cultivated in Europe for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
Even if you don’t cook with sage, consider planting it as a companion plant in your vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects and discourage pests.
Aside from attracting pollinators like honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds with their fragrant blooms, this plant’s aromatic leaves also serve as a natural repellent for bean parasites, carrot flies, cabbage flies, and cabbage maggots.
Provide your sage with full sun, or at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, for the best flavor. But if you live in zone 8 or higher, your sage might like some shade in the afternoon, especially when it’s hot.
Sage plants prefer well-drained sandy or loamy soil. Wet soils can cause rot and ultimately kill the plant. The pH of the soil should be slightly acidic to neutral.
Sage has moderate water requirements and some drought tolerance. For young plants, keep the soil evenly moist, but never let it get too wet or soggy.
When the top 1 to 2 inches of soil on established plants dries out, water them. If watering, avoid getting the leaves wet as this can cause mildew.
Temperature and Humidity
Sages like common sage, rather than the more ornament varieties like golden, purple, and tricolor sage, tend to be a little hardier.
Temperatures between 60- and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal for plant growth but established plants can survive brief periods of frost.
Sage prefers a moderate level of humidity. If you live in an area with a lot of humidity, make sure your plants have enough air circulation around them to prevent fungal growth.
Sage plants are not heavy feeders, and providing them with an excessive amount of fertilizer can cause the flavor to become watered down. In the spring, you can use an organic fertilizer on plants or mix some compost into the soil.
Sage should be pruned back in early spring. To keep your next-season leaves fresh and flavorful, cut past the woody stems.
Types of Sage
Sage comes in many different varieties with different leaf sizes, plant shapes, and leaf colors.
The varieties that are purple or golden make excellent ornamental houseplants. The plants are smaller than the green or gray ones, but the leaves taste just as good.
Among the more commonly available varieties are:
- Golden sage (Aurea): Golden sage is a creeping sage with leaves that are different shades of gold and green. It brings out the colors of other plants. It’s also frequently used in cooking.
- Berggarten: This variety was first discovered growing at the Berggarten Mansion in Germany. Berggarten sage does not bloom, but it is very similar to common garden sage in terms of color, appearance, and shape of the
- Purple sage (Purpurascens): This variety grows 18 inches tall and has purple leaves with a strong flavor. It can also be used as an ornamental in the garden to complement yellow blossoms. But it’s not as hardy in the winter as common sage.
- Tricolor: This variety has green leaves with white edges and rose-colored streaks. It can be grown as an indoor plant but is not as hardy as common sage.
How to Plant and Grow Sage
Sage grows well in prepared garden beds or pots and requires full sun. They can tolerate partial shade but need well-drained soil to thrive. Dig in plenty of organic garden compost or well-aged chicken manure prior to planting.
How to Grow Sage from Seed
If you decide to grow sage from seed, keep in mind that it will likely take several years to fully mature.
If you choose to start from seed, start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost under a plant light. Sage seeds will germinate in about 3 weeks, after which you can transplant seedlings to your prepared soil.
New plants can also be propagated from other cuttings or by layering.
To give them room to mature, avoid planting sage plants too closely together since they typically grow into roundish bushes. Sage plants should be spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart.
How to Grow Sage in Pots
Growing sage in a pot is ideal if you don’t have the right soil or light conditions in your garden. Pots can be easily moved to ensure proper sunlight exposure.
To grow sage, a clay pot is ideal. Choose a container that is at least 8 inches deep and 8 inches wide at first. When the herb outgrows its current container and becomes root-bound, you can repot it into a larger container.
In order to prevent waterlogging, make sure your pot has enough drainage holes.
Harvesting and Storing Sage Plant
Harvest leaves sparingly during the first year of growth; pick as needed in following years. Sage is best used fresh but may be stored. Dried leaves have 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 dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store whole. Read our article about Harvesting and Preserving Herbs to learn more.
Seed Saving Instructions
Sage seeds are ready to save when the blooms turn brown and dry. When completely dry, gently crush the heads between your hands and carefully winnow away the chaff.
Companion Planting With Sage
In the vegetable garden, common sage is an excellent companion plant.
The strong smell of sage will help deter these pests. It is also known to protect carrot crops from carrot rust fly.
Common Pests and Plant Disease
- Remove weeds and other garden debris to eliminate alternate hosts.
- Discard severely infested plants by securely bagging and putting in the trash.
- Release commercially available beneficial insectsto attack and destroy insect pests.
- Spot treat pest problem areas with diatomaceous earth, neem oilor other organic pesticide.
- Avoid overhead watering whenever possible (use soaker hoses or drip irrigation)
- Properly space plants to improve air circulation
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.
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