Helpful Herbs: Sage

Sage is a beautiful decorative plant and has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries.  Since the Middle Ages, sage has been cultivated for its many useful qualities.  It is a hardy perennial that comes in a variety of colors making it both decorative and helpful.

Beautiful and useful sage
Beautiful and useful sage

You can start sage from seeds outdoors after danger of frost, or indoors about six weeks before the last frost.  Sage thrives when established by taking a cutting off of a healthy plant and propagating it in water to start a new plant.  In the winter the plant will die back, and you should cut back any dead, wooden stems that remain in spring.  Sage plants prefer full sun and well drained soil, they do not like to be waterlogged.  They do not like a lot of fertilizer and although a perennial, plants should be replaced every five years or so in order to thrive.

There are many varieties of sage that share the same medicinal properties but have different colored leaves and flowers.  You may be intrigued by purple sage, tri-colored varieties, and even special variants that smell of certain fruits.

Sage can be harvested well into the fall, as it tolerates frost remarkably well.  Wait until your plants are well established and then either pinch off certain leaves on a smaller plant, or trim back an entire stem for harvest.  Sage can be dried by hanging in a cool, dark spot with plenty of air circulation.  Recipes usually call for fresh sage, however, so it’s nice to have a container variety such as dwarf sage in the kitchen for easy picking.

A harvest from the garden with several herbs, including sage for drying.
A harvest from the garden with several herbs, including sage for drying.

Sage has some truly remarkable health benefits, including improving memory.  Sage has been used in several Alzheimer’s studies and helped to significantly improve cognitive recall.  In addition to this, sage is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which improve your overall health and fight off infections and diseases.  It is particularly beneficial for those with inflammatory diseases like arthritis and bronchial asthma.

How can you incorporate more sage into your diet?  It’s easy, since it is so delicious in a wide variety of recipes.  Fresh sage compliments many meat dishes, most commonly in America it is paired with turkey or pork.  It can also be used in pasta sauces or as a garnish on a rice or gnocchi dish – but it has a very strong flavor, so should be used in minimal doses for ideal flavor.

If you are not cooking with sage you can still get many of its health benefits through salves, tinctures, or an essential oil.  Throughout history sage has been used to ward off evil, increase fertility, and cure the common cold.  At one point or another in time, sage has been recommended to alleviate nearly every ailment humans face.  In the time of the plague, sage was one of the ingredients used to try to cure patients, and Pliny, Charlemagne, and Theophrastus all recommend sage tonics as remedies.

It is quite simple to make tea from dried sage, and this tasty treat will help to soothe a sore throat.  You can also make an essential oil from sage leaves to use in a healing salve or tincture.  There are excellent recipes to be found for sage butter and sage salt, easy ways to incorporate the plant into your cooking.

Sage is an essential plant for anyone starting an herb garden.  It is easy to grow and can be part of almost any recipe or remedy.  Even if you don’t have a herb garden, consider putting some sage in a container.  You may be surprised how often you use it.


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