Sage, or Salvia officinalis, has many varieties including both edible and ornamental types. This perennial herb is a bushy, woody shrub. Most people know common or garden sage, which is easily recognizable by its grayish-green, velvety leaves. The herb blooms in late summer and is quite fragrant. Some varieties are purple, golden or variegated in color. Sage can be used as a cooking spice, tea, herbal bath and for medicinal purposes. Colorful sage leaves are a beautiful addition to dried arrangements, and the fragrant leaves make excellent potpourri.
You can start sage from seed, propagation, division or stem cuttings. This perennial is hardy in zones 5 through 9. Sage prefers dry soil with good drainage. The plant fairs well over the winter and can be kept in an outdoor garden. Many people who raise sage are able to harvest it year round.
It's best to start sage indoors if you are using seeds. The soil temperature must be kept at 60 to 70 degrees in order for the seeds to germinate. Use small containers or egg cartons filled with good potting soil. Plant the seed about 1/4 inch deep and water. In about three weeks you will see small shoots appear. Keep the seedlings indoors until the threat of frost has passed, and give them good sunlight on a daily basis.
When planting outdoors, spread the seedlings, cuttings or divisions 12 inches apart in rows spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. Sage loves full sun and does not need to be fertilized. For protection, you can mulch in the winter if you live in cold climates, but sage manages very well outdoors on its own.
Well drained soil helps sage to survive. The herb is like many others in that it prefers poor soil, which actually improves sage's flavor and fragrance. Sage is a companion to carrots, rosemary, tomatoes and strawberries. Do not plant with cucumber.
Fertilized sage will proliferate, but its flavor is compromised. This hardy herb is drought tolerant, needs no fertilization and requires little care. Sage can be grown indoors, in container gardens and in your backyard.
Sage grows faster if you don't allow it to flower. Blooms use additional energy and deter overall plant growth. Unless you need the seeds, always pinch off newly formed buds while they are tiny. Cut the mother plants back each Spring to encourage new growth and a fuller bush. When the sage plant is several years old, it may begin to produce less-fragrant leaves and become spikey. When this happens, uproot the old plant and start over with a new seedling.
Mature plants range in height from 12 to 30 inches. You can harvest the leaves during the first year when the plants reach maturity. Be careful only to take the largest leaves and always harvest before the plant flowers. Your second year should yield a greater harvest than the first.
You will love sage in sauces, herb butters, breads and stuffings. Sage can be dried, fresh or frozen; however, the dried version is the most potent in flavor.