The Perfect Garden Herb
I love growing herbs; especially hardy herbs that thrive year round in my zone 7a garden. Although rosemary is my favorite herb, sage is a close second. Sage, Salvia officinalis , is native to the Mediterranean, belonging to the Lamiaceae (mint) family along with oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme and basil. Sage has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and has been consumed for thousands of years.
What makes this herb so special? For starts it is aromatic and has lovely foliage. Besides its aesthetics, sage has a multitude of benefits. Why should you grow sage in your garden? Here are my top reasons for including this herb:
- Easy to grow
Most herbs are easy to grow, but sage is exceptionally easy. It is prone to few diseases and require little once established. Powdery mildew can be a problem, but is easily avoidable by not over-watering.
- Drought tolerant
Sage grows best in well-drained soil. It doesn’t like to have wet feet, which makes it a good plant for xeriscaping and container gardens.
- Prolific grower
Once established, sage will grow fast! You can even propagate the plant easily by layering or stem cuttings. The more you harvest from the plant, the bigger it will get. If you plant one 4 inch plant, rest assure that by the end of the growing season you will have your money’s worth!
- Long growing season
Sage grows well within a wide range of temperatures and planting zones (4-11) and has a long growing season. In some areas (mine included) sage is evergreen. It will also tolerate frosts and a few freezes before calling it quits.
- Attracts pollinators
Sage is a favorite among bees, butterflies and humming birds. Pineapple sage in particular is a lovely plant to have in your garden purely for the deep crimson flowers that show up in the late summer and fall. They attract butterflies of all sorts and are a great food source for migrating hummingbirds.
- Medicinal benefits
Sage has a been used as a medicinal herb. Its most noted properties are its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sage can aid with digestion, mental disorders, menstrual and fertility issues, as well as soothe coughs and sore throat.
Don’t forget that sage is what puts the flavor in “poultry seasoning”. Although most of us don’t think of sage until Thanksgiving rolls around, the herb is delicious with roasted potatoes or stewed white beans.
How to Grow Sage
Sage, like most herbs, needs full sun and well drained soil. However, it’s a pretty tough plant and will tolerate some light shade. It is hardy in zones 4-11. Only water when needed and let the soil dry in between waterings. Give the herb some space to grow and good air circulation. Poor circulation will lead to powdery mildew.
Sage really doesn’t require any fertilization. Overly rich soils will lead to floppy plants. Divide plants in spring or fall if they get too big for their current space. or cut plants back to the ground in fall or early spring.
Some Sage Varieties to Try
Although there are hundreds of sage species and varieties, for culinary and medicinal purposes we recommend just a few to begin with. These all stars are readily available at garden centers, are easy to grow and offer a good sample of all that the salvia genus has to offer.
Salvia officinalis is common garden sage. Some improved varieties include ‘Berggarten’ which rivals lambs ears with its huge leaves, ‘Purpurascens’ featuring smoky purple leaves, ‘Tricolor,’ a variegated form with green, white and purple leaves, and the golden leafed ‘Aurea.’ This species produces blue flowers in summer.
Salvia elegans is also called pineapple sage because of the pineapple scent of it’s foliage. As mentioned above is one of the most beautiful red flowering forms.
Salvia apiana is known as white sage because of it’s white flowers and silvery foliage. It is the species most commonly associated with smudging, although other sages are sometimes used as well.
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