Garden Sage is a culinary herb that is often used around the holidays to flavor your stuffing, but I use it all year round as a flavor component of chicken dishes. These tips for sage plant care will help you get the most out of your plant.
Sage is not just for Thanksgiving. This fragrant herb is easy to grow and can be used to flavor all types of meat and bean dishes and the blossoms from sage plants are great tossed into a fresh salad.
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- What is sage?
- Sage Plant Care
- How to preserve Sage Leaves
- Pin these sage plant care tips for later
- Sage: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Sage
- What is Sage?
- Popular Types of Sage
- Steps to Planting Sage Plants
- Caring for Sage
- Common Questions About Growing Sage
- Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
- Scarlet Sage Care: Tips For Growing Scarlet Sage Plants
- Growing Scarlet Sage
- Scarlet Sage Care
- Herb to Know: Pineapple Sage
- White Sage Overview
- What Is White Sage?
- A Short History of Tribal Sage Use
- White Sage Care
- Harvesting and Storing White Sage
- Frequently Asked Questions
- The Wisdom of Growing Sage from Seed
- Sage’s Origins and Cultural Heritage
- Common Types of Sage
- Growing Sage from Seed is Easy!
- Cooking with Sage
- Make a Wise Choice…Get Your Seeds from Seed Needs
- Sage: Growing Guide and Planting Instructions
What is sage?
Sage (salvia officinalis) is a widely cultivated herb that is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family. The plant has a powerful spicy and aromatic flavor that is also bitter and astringent.
The flavor of sage varies greatly depending on the variety grown and the growing location. Some different types of sage plants less commonly found are:
- Greek Sage (salvia triloba) has velvety leaves with a felt gray underside and deep blue flowers. Often used in teas. More hardy than normal sage plants.
- Clary Sage (salvia sclarea) has very large leaves often used to flavor wine. Also good with eggs and infused in tea.
- Purple sage (salvia officinalis var. purpurascens) is a small plant with purple leaves and striking bright blue flowers.
- Tricolor sage (salvia officinalis var. tricolor) is a popular decorative variety that gives a lot of color to a garden. It has a milder flavor and is used less for cooking and more for its decorative look.
- Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha) Hardy in zones 8-10. Needs a long growing season and doesn’t start blooming until late summer.
Sage is widely used in Mediterranean cooking and, in particular, Italian cuisine. It is great when used to flavor fatty meats and is well known for its ability to aid in digestion.
The ancient Romans prized sage for its healing properties and as an astringent and disinfectant herb. The botanical name salvia comes from the Latin word salvare which means to heal.
Native American cultures often burn what they consider sacred plants and use the smoke from the herb to remove negative energy and bring peace to their living space.
This practice is done with white sage (salvia apiana), Palo santo, sweet grass and other herbs. This is called “smudging.” Check out this article for more info on sage smudging.
Fresh sage leaves have much more flavor than dried sage, which can have a medicinal aftertaste. The full flavor of sage leaves come out when the herb is cooked with food.
Sage Plant Care
You need just three things to grow garden sage – fresh air, good soil drainage and plenty of sunshine. Sage can be grown from seed, or you can purchase small plants at a garden center to give you a head start.
Follow these tips for sage plant care and you’ll be enjoying the fresh flavor before you know it.
Sunlight needs for Sage
Outdoors, sage likes full sun to very light shade. 6-8 hours of sunlight is ideal, but if you live in the Southern part of the USA, sage will benefit with some relief from the afternoon sun.
You can also grow sage Indoors in a bright sunny window. A south facing window is ideal.
When is the best time to plant sage?
Wait until the ground temperature is about 65º F which is normally 1-2 weeks after the last frost.
Seeds or seedlings should be planted 18 – 24 inches apart. You can also plant seeds or seedlings in patio pots. I once grew my entire herb garden and vegetable garden on my back deck.
I like having my herb garden right out my patio door. It ensures that I will be more likely to use them than if I have to trudge to the garden to get them.
Soil, Watering and Fertilizing Requirements
Plant in sandy, well draining soil. The ideal pH for garden sage is between 6.0 and 7.0. Soil rich in nitrogen is also beneficial.
If your soil has a high clay content, add organic matter such as compost so that it will drain more completely when watered. Avoid over head watering if possible to prevent fungal types of diseases.
Sage is fairly drought resistant and you should avoid over-watering the herb. Just add more water when the soil starts to dry out. Sage grows well in containers as well as in garden beds.
Don’t add too much fertilizer or you will end up with a plant that grows quickly but with a less intense flavor.
Leaves and flowers of sage plants
The leaves of a sage plant are elongated and come to a point at the end. They are a dusty gray green color. Sage leaves have a velvety texture that is pretty in the garden and also feels nice when you pick the leaves.
With soft textured leaves you need to be very careful of over-watering. Sage leaves can turn yellow if the plant is too wet, or if the leaves get splashed with water too often. This makes them more susceptible to developing leaf-spot fungus.
Water from below for best results.
Sage plants have purple or white flowers that appear in the summer time. The flowers are edible and often used in making vinegar or in decorating cakes.
Cut sage flowers right before they peak. The flowers will be partially opened, but not all the way.
Note on flowering: Most herbs will get more bitter if allowed to flower. If you want the look of flowering sage (which is very pretty) grow some for flowers and others for herbs to get the best of both worlds.
How large does sage get?
Sage grows to about 2 – 3 feet tall and has a spread of about 18 – 24 inches wide. It does well planted as a low background herb plant in a border with other herbs and also in its own bed.
How to propagate sage
Sage can be propagated from cuttings to get more plants for free. Make softwood cuttings in early summer. A rooting powder will speed up with rooting process.
Place the cuttings in well draining soil and keep watered until roots develop and the plant starts going.
You can also divide mature sage plants in spring or early fall every 2 or 3 years. The stems of sage will root well by layering.
To layer sage stems, secure long pieces of the stem along the garden soil with some landscape pins or bent wire, leaving the tip free. Make sure the stem comes in contact with the soil.
Roots will form along the stem in about a month and the entire stem can be removed from the parent and planted up separately.
Older sage plants tend to develop a woody taste to the leaves, so after 4 or 5 years, it’s a good idea to start over with new cuttings.
Companion plants for sage
Sage does well planted near tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and strawberries. The flowers of sage are lovely and attract pollinators. It does not do well near cucumbers.
This aromatic herb will attract honeybees and the cabbage butterfly and repels cabbage flies, carrot fly, cabbage looper and cabbage maggot.
Plant sage in containers with rosemary, thyme, basil,and other Mediterranean herbs, since these flavors are often used together in recipes.
Are you interested in growing herbs but can’t identify them very well? This herb identification chart will be a huge help to you.
How cold hardy is sage?
Sage is a perennial herb that is evergreen and cold hardy in zones 4 through 9. It will also grow in the warmer zones, but the high temperatures and humidity are hard on the plant, so it is often grown as an annual in these zones.
This herb handles the cold well but mulch for winter protection. Most varieties of sage will go dormant in the winter and come back again the following spring.
Prune sage plants back in the early spring each year, cutting out the oldest and woodiest growth to promote new growth.
When to harvest Sage
Garden sage will be ready to harvest in 70-75 days from small plants, or 90-100 days from seed.
Harvest lightly in the first year if you grow sage as a perennial. In subsequent years, you can harvest more often. The woody old sage plants produce the leaves with the strongest flavor.
Sage can be harvested almost all year long. The plant survives even after the snows have fallen. To harvest, cut the top 5-6 inch of the stalks before the plant flowers. Repeat as new growth develops.
Unlike many herb plants, sage leaves are still flavorful and aromatic even after the plant flowers. The flavor intensifies as the leaves grow larger.
Pests and diseases
Be on the lookout for mildew. You can discourage this condition by making sure that the plants are wide enough apart to encourage good air circulation. Check often for mildew on the hottest and most humid days.
Mulching with pebbles around the crown also helps to keep the area around the leaves dryer than normal mulches.
Other diseases and insects that infect sage are stem rot from over-watering, aphids, spider mites and rust.
Sage Plant Uses
Sage is useful in stuffings and stews and is often used to flavor sausages. It is very flavorful and combines best with rich meats such as pork, beef and game.
Combine sage with coarse sea salt to make a flavorful salt that makes a great addition to crispy potatoes.
You can use the herb to make sage butter and it also makes a wonderful herb-infused vinegar. Sage has a very intense flavor, so only a small amount is needed to flavor a recipe.
Sage is also a useful plant to repel mosquitoes. The leaves send out a strong fragrance and produces oils that repel the insect. Find out about other mosquito repelling plants here.
How to preserve Sage Leaves
You may find that you have more sage than you can use at the end of the growing season. One of the best ways to preserve sage is to freeze the leaves. See more tips on preserving herbs here.
To freeze sage leaves, just place them between sheets of wax paper or foil which has been coated in olive oil. The leaves will remain supple even after freezing and you can remove them individually as needed.
You can also chop sage leaves and add them in an ice cube tray with some olive oil. Use the flavored oil cubes when cooking to give both oil and the flavor of the oil to the recipe.
Dry sage by hanging bunches of the stems upside-down to dry. Strip the dried leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container.
Pin these sage plant care tips for later
Would you like a reminder of these tips for growing garden sage? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest.
Active Time 50 minutes Total Time 50 minutes Difficulty easy Estimated Cost $5
- Sage Plant
- Well Draining Soil
- Sunlight needs: Full sun outdoors, very sunny window indoors.
- Watering requirements: Fairly drought tolerant. Avoid overwatering.
- Soil pH: 6.0 – 7.0
- Size of plant: 3-4 feet tall and 18-24 inches wide.
- Propagation: Stem Cuttings and layering.
- Cold Hardiness: Zones 4-9
- Pests and Diseases: Powdery mildew, stem rot and rust. Be on the lookout for aphids and spider mites.
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Sage: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Sage
Culinary superstar sage is a pretty, low shrub with pale, velvet-soft greyish green leaves. A member of the mint family, sage is easy to grow and does well in containers, the ground and indoors. If you’re looking to add a new herb to your mix this year, read on to learn everything you need to know about this hardy, versatile plant.
Here, we’ll cover:
- What is Sage?
- Popular Types of Sage
- Steps to Planting Sage Plants
- Caring for Sage
- Common Questions About Growing Sage
What is Sage?
Sage is popular both in the kitchen as well as for what some consider to be medicinal purposes. It’s known as a showstopper in fall dishes, complementing pork and poultry, pairing well with lamb and often used in Thanksgiving stuffing. It’s also the perfect flavor to add to fall and winter squash dishes and risottos. It is both aromatic and flavorful, and can be planted with Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary or basil. Some people believe sage’s medicinal properties may be good for improving memory and helping resolve stomach ailments. In addition to using sage for cooking , there are also some varieties that are purely ornamental.
Popular Types of Sage
There are a mind-blowing 900 species of salvia (which is the largest genus of plants in the mint family). Some of the most popular varieties are:
- Berggarten Sage – Berggarten sage is very similar to the common garden sage in color, look and style of leaves, but it does not bloom.
- Garden Sage – Garden sage is one of the most well-known varieties and is also referred to as “common sage.” It’s hardy and can resist even extreme cold during winters, bouncing back each spring. Soft, greenish silvery leaves with purple-bluish flowers make this herbal addition a pleaser in any garden. May become woody after 3 – 4 years and need to be replaced.
- Golden Sage – Golden sage is a creeping plant and has green and golden variegated leaves. Beautiful in a garden with other plants, as the colors accentuate whatever is planted around it.
- Grape Scented Sage – Grape scented sage is one of the largest-growing varieties, growing up to 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. This sage actually does not smell like grapes, as the name would imply, but rather has the sweet smell of freesia. Its flowers and leaves will attract hummingbirds and can be steeped to make tea.
- Mealycup Sage – Mealycup sage, the most common version is known as blue salvia, grows about 2 – 3 feet and is most often an annual, depending on the region you’re growing it in. It has lovely purple, white or blue flower spikes and has several varieties such as “Empire Purple” and “Victoria Blue.”
- Mexican Bush Sage – Mexican bush sage is drought tolerant and grows 3 – 4 feet. Despite being able to withstand drought conditions, it’s otherwise a tender perennial with white or purple flower spikes. It’s a nice accent plant.
- Purple Sage – Purple sage plants have purple leaves when young. Also used for cooking, but unlike garden sage, a purple sage bush doesn’t bloom very often.
- Pineapple Sage – Pineapple sage is primarily grown as an ornamental plant, but is also widely thought to have medicinal properties. This perennial grows tubular red flowers and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
- Scarlet Sage – Scarlet sage is an annual that really thrives in full sun, but can also withstand some partial shade as long as it’s planted in well-draining soil. It boasts gorgeous scarlet blooms that produce from late spring through the first frost of the year.
- Tricolor Garden Sage – Tricolor garden sage is similar in looks to purple sage, but has uneven white accented leaves, giving it the perception of being “tricolored.”
- White Sage – White sage is also known as bee sage and is used for cooking. Slow growing, the white sage plant is an evergreen perennial shrub that can take up to 3 years to mature and grows to 2 – 3 feet tall.
Steps to Planting Sage Plants
It’s not hard to learn how to grow sage. From where to plant it, to how to get the best results, just follow our simple step-by-step guide to growing sage for years of enjoyment.
- When is the best time to plant sage? Plant sage after the ground temperature reaches 65°F – about 1 – 2 weeks before you have the last frost of the year.
- Should you grow from seeds? If you decide to grow your sage from seed, take note that it will likely take a couple years to fully mature. If you choose to go the seed route, sow indoors for 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost under a plant light. Sage seeds will take about 3 weeks to germinate, and then you can transplant seedlings to your prepared soil. You can also propagate new plants from other cuttings or by layering.
- Choose the right soil. Sage needs sandy, loamy, well-draining soil. You want a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimal growth. Do not over fertilize if you’re growing for culinary purposes – while you may get faster growth, you will likely lose intensity in flavor. If you’re planting in clay soil, mix in organic matter and sand to provide better drainage.
- Where does sage grow? Sage does best in medium to full sun. It can also do well in containers or indoors – just be sure it’s near a sunny window if you’re growing it inside. If you live in zones 5 to 8, your sage will be a hardy perennial. If you’re in the humid zones of 9 or anywhere further south, it will likely be an annual, as it doesn’t tolerate summer humidity and heat very well.
- How to space sage plants. Most sage plants grow in a roundish bush shape, so take care not to plant them too close together so they have room to mature. Space sage plants about 24” apart.
- How much water does sage plant need? Sage is a relatively drought-tolerant herb. Even if it begins to wilt, it will typically perk up with water. Don’t over-water – wait until your soil is dry, and then thoroughly water.
Caring for Sage
Sage is an easy-to-grow plant that doesn’t demand a ton of care. It has a long growing season and is one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose intensity in flavor after flowering. It’s not susceptible to many pest threats, and most often, your only concern may be mildew, which you can avoid by taking care to not overwater.
- How to prune sage? You should prune your sage back in early spring. Be sure to cut past the woody, thick stems to keep your next-season leaves fresh and flavorful.
- How often to water sage. Water sage sparingly. Too much water and you risk mildew. Wait for the soil to completely dry out, then water thoroughly.
- When to harvest sage. Sage can be harvested as-needed. You should clip just above the part of the plant where two leaves meet. Harvest your sage in the morning, after dew has dried. During the first year of growth, harvest lightly to ensure full growth.
- How often to harvest sage. Once or twice during each growing season, do a larger harvest, cutting the stems back no more than about half of the sage plant. Doing so will ensure you have a nice, evenly-shaped plant that’s beautifully round and full.
- How to store sage. For the most fragrant and intense flavor, use your sage fresh. However, you can also dry it for later use or teas. Keep in mind, if cooking with dried sage, the flavor will be much more concentrated. You should adjust recipes accordingly.
- How to dry sage. Drying sage leaves is simple. Cut small bunches, leaving the leaves on the stems, and tie your cuttings together. Hang upside down in a dark, cool, well-ventilated room until bunches are dry and leaves are crisp. Remove leaves from stems and store them whole, crushing as needed.
Common Questions About Growing Sage
Why is my sage plant dying?
The most common reason your sage may be doing poorly is overwatering. Soil should be dry before watering to prevent mildew and yellow or brown spots.
Can sage survive winter?
Sage is a cold-hardy herb. In most regions, particularly zones 5 – 8, most varieties will simply go dormant in the winter and come back the next spring.
How long does sage last?
As long as properly cared for, harvested and pruned every season, your sage plant can last you many years. Some have found that their plants get more and more woody as the years go by, and that by year 3, the plant is no longer as productive or flavorful. However, others note that by cutting back past the woody stems at the end of each growing season, you can get many more years out of this herb.
Is sage annual or perennial?
Actually, both! If you live in planting zones 5 – 8, your sage will be a perennial, growing back year after year each spring. If you’re in zones 9 and further south, your sage will likely be an annual, or one-year plant.
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.
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. Sturdy plants — 12 to 30 inches high — are perennial in zones 5-10.
Tip: Try layering a bed of culinary sage on the grill and flavoring meats with its smoke.
Choose from a large selection of heirloom herb seeds available at Planet Natural. Planting instructions are included with each packet and shipping is FREE!
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
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 70-75 days from transplant, 90-100 days from seed
Height: 12 to 30 inches
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart
Sage grows well in prepared garden beds or containers and require full sun — tolerates partial shade — and well drained soil to thrive. Dig in plenty of organic garden compost or well-aged chicken manure prior to planting.
How to Plant
Seeds store and germinate poorly. When grown from seed, sage takes about 2 years to reach mature size. Most home gardeners start culinary sage from cuttings or divisions using the outer or newer growth.
If starting seeds indoors, sow under plant lights 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Seeds will take about 3 weeks to germinate. Transplant seedlings to the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Space the plants 2 feet apart and divide every 3-5 years to keep them vigorous (watch our video How to Grow an Herb Garden).
Sage is hardy to -30˚F, if covered. In winter, cut back the foliage and place a thick layer of mulch over the roots to protect them from freezing.
Harvesting and Storage
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.
Insect & Disease Problems
Slugs and spider mites are a few of the common garden pests found on sage. Watch closely and take the following common sense, least-toxic approach to pest control:
- 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 insects to attack and destroy insect pests.
- Spot treat pest problem areas with diatomaceous earth, neem oil or other organic pesticide.
Foliage is susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew and verticillium wilt, which can disfigure the leaves under severe infestations. To reduce these plant problems:
- Avoid overhead watering whenever possible (use soaker hoses or drip irrigation)
- Properly space plants to improve air circulation
- Apply copper or sulfur sprays to prevent further infection
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.
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Quick Guide to Growing Sage
- Plant sage during the cool days of spring or fall. This fragrant culinary herb is a great option to grow in containers or out in your garden bed.
- Space sage plants 18 to 24 inches apart in an area that gets plenty of sunlight and has rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
- If planting in a garden bed, give your native soil a boost of nutrients by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Check soil moisture every few days and water once the top inch of soil becomes dry.
- Feed regularly with a water-soluble plant food to make the most of your growing efforts.
- Annual and perennial sage are harvested differently, so harvest according to your plant type.
Soil, Planting, and Care
If you live in zones 5 to 8, your sage will grow as a hardy perennial. However, in the humid climates of zones 9 and farther south, sage is usually an annual, as it does not easily tolerate summer heat and humidity. Set out plants in spring or fall, planting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Choose a sunny spot in well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. If you have clay soil, add sand and organic matter to lighten up soil and provide better drainage, or make things simple by mixing in a few inches of aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. Sage also grows quite well in pots. Fill containers with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix to provide an excellent environment for root growth. For best results, pair great soil with just the right plant food. Feed sage regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, following label directions.
You can also grow sage indoors. One easy way to plant it in a water-based (aka hydroponic) system like the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System. It’s simple to use, even for beginners, and provides sage and other herbs and greens with a truly nurturing growing environment. Plants grow directly under a grow light, in water that circulates around the roots to deliver moisture, nutrition, and air.
Prune plants back in early spring every year, cutting out the oldest growth to promote new growth. You will begin to see little pink or purple flowers in late spring. Even with pruning, plants can get woody and stop producing lots of branches after 3 to 5 years. At this point, you may want to dig up your original and plant a new one.
Scarlet Sage Care: Tips For Growing Scarlet Sage Plants
When planning or adding to the butterfly garden, don’t forget about growing scarlet sage. This dependable, long lasting mound of red tubular flowers draws butterflies and hummingbirds by the dozens. Caring for a scarlet sage plant is simple and easy enough for the busiest of gardeners. Some scarlet sage plants are native to the southern United States, and while they grow prolifically with the right care, scarlet sage herb is not aggressive or invasive.
Scarlet sage plants, Salvia coccinea or Salvia splendens, are also known as scarlet salvia. One of the easiest salvias to find, plant the spiky specimen spring through summer, or even as late as fall in warmer areas. Scarlet sage herb is a perennial, but is grown as an annual plant in areas with cold winters. In cold winter areas, plant scarlet sage in spring for long-lasting enjoyment.
Growing Scarlet Sage
Start scarlet sage from seed or small bedding plants from the local nursery. Check the tag in the pot, as scarlet sage herb comes in colors of pinks and whites, as well as red. When growing from seed, press seeds lightly into the soil or cover with perlite, as seeds need light to germinate. Start seeds of scarlet sage herb indoors in peat pots a few weeks before outdoor temperatures warm. Seedlings can be planted outside when both air and soil temperatures warm.
Grow scarlet sage plants in sandy loam, rocky soil or fertile soil that drains well. Scarlet sage plants grow best in a full sun area, but also perform well in a partially shaded location. Use them in rock gardens, borders, mass plantings and with other salvias. Reaching 2 to 4 feet in height, with a spread of 1 to 2 feet, scarlet sage plants occupy their designated area without taking over the bed, as some members of the mint family are prone to do.
Scarlet Sage Care
Caring for a scarlet sage plant includes regular pinching or trimming of spent flower spikes, encouraging further blooms. Regular watering of the salvia herb is necessary if it does not rain. Salvias in containers may need watering daily during the hottest summer days.
Scarlet sage care includes fertilization. Incorporate time release fertilizer when planting scarlet sage herb in spring, for nutrients to last throughout the growing season, or use a balanced fertilizer according to label directions.
Herb to Know: Pineapple Sage
Because it’s a tender perennial, the way you grow pineapple sage depends on your climate. In the South, it is treated as a perennial, in the North as an annual. Either way, it develops into a graceful mound of fragrant foliage, equally at home in a formal herb garden or a casual herbaceous border. An established plant in the South needs a space about 41/2 feet in diameter, preferably at the rear of a border or in the center of an island bed where it will not obstruct the view of foreground plants. When placing pineapple sage among other ornamental flowers, consider the colors of its fall-blooming neighbors; for example, white or lavender asters might be a better choice than vivid magenta ones. If you grow pineapple sage as an annual, think of it as a foliage plant, as it must be brought indoors before it flowers. To facilitate the transition, you can grow it in a large container. This guarantees a satisfactory root system for it to carry on indoors and minimizes the shock of moving it when its season in the garden is over.
Pineapple sage is easily propagated from stem cuttings rooted in potting soil or a mixture of sand and peat moss (see “Growing Herbs from Stem Cuttings”, February/March 1993). Even in fairly mild climates, it’s a good idea to root a few cuttings late in the summer to grow inside until the following spring, just in case. Pinching the tops of newly rooted cuttings reaps dual benefits: it promotes a bushier plant, and you can use the tasty young leaves to flavor a fruit salad or dessert.
After the last spring frost, set new plants out in a protected location for a few days to harden off, then transplant them into the garden. They perform best in full sun and a well-drained soil. Allow adequate space for the plant to expand into. To cover the bare ground while the pineapple sage is still small, surround it with a fast-growing annual herb such as basil, cilantro, or dill. The purple leaves of Dark Opal basil will contrast dramatically with the soft green leaves of the sage. Toward the end of summer, as the sage needs more room, you can remove the annuals. Another alternative is to plant the area at the base of the pineapple sage with low-growing creeping thyme or oregano. In this case, you don’t need to pull out the creepers when the sage grows out over them; they make a fine little mound around the base.
If you live where pineapple sage can remain in the ground all year, be patient for it to emerge in the spring; it tends to sleep in until the soil is warm. When a plant becomes too large for its site, you can divide it in either spring or fall; spring is a safer bet where its hardiness is borderline.
The first hard frost of fall turns the leaves black. Overnight, the raving beauty of your autumn garden is transformed into a frostbitten hag. At your convenience, cut the stems back to the ground, leaving just enough stubble to mark the plant’s location. Several inches of mulch will moderate the fluctuations in soil temperature over the cold months. Gradually pull the mulch back when the weather starts to warm up in the spring.
Pineapple sage is worth growing simply for its beauty in the garden, but it has additional virtues. Indoors, the scarlet blossoms add their bright color and subtle fragrance to fresh flower arrangements. Cut them freely; buds on the lateral shoots will develop in abundance to produce a steady supply of flowers for your garden. The dried leaves and flowers impart their delicate, fruity bouquet to potpourri—it is hard to use too much. Entire stems can be dried for use in herbal wreaths.
In the kitchen, fruit salads are enhanced by the fruity, piquant flavor of the fresh flowers and leaves. This flavor is very different from that of garden sage; although there is a sagey element, it’s very subtle, and pineapple sage doesn’t substitute for other culinary sages. The flowers add visual sparkle as well. Even without flowers, a fresh leafy stem of pineapple sage is the perfect garnish for tall summer drinks.
Try mixing the minced leaves and flowers in cream cheese for a delightfully fruity spread, or knead a handful or two of chopped leaves into raisin bread dough. Steeping the leaves in hot apple juice and using the juice to make jelly is an easy way to preserve the pineapple sage flavor. The dried leaves can be brewed for a satisfying winter tea; however, the fruity element is lost in drying.
A Sage For All Seasons
Whether grown as an annual, potted plant, or perennial, pineapple sage is an herb worth growing. Visually appealing throughout the summer, it achieves its full glory in the autumn when it blooms. Bruising a leaf to release its unusual perfume as you stroll through the garden is a simple pleasure that should not be missed. Pineapple sage is a must for those who value fragrance in the garden as well as those who strive to capture it indoors.
Rita Pelczar of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, is a horticulturist and herb gardener by education as well as experience.
If there’s any herb that has a long and storied history, it’s the white sage plant, also called salvia apiana.
Used heavily amongst California tribal people for centuries, this plant has many names given by the tribes who used it.
The Tongva, also called the Gabrielino tribe, called it kasiile and found it on hills around the area now known as Los Angeles. A similar pronounciation, qas’ily, was used by the Chumash people who lived along the current Santa Barbara coastline. The inland Luiseno tribe referred to this plant as qaashil. To Kumeyaay peoples who were in the area around modern-day San Diego, it was known as shlhtaay.
Viewed as a sacred plant, it was also used for food, medicine, and many other purposes.
While an individual salvia apiana plant can survive for many years in the wild if the surroundings are right, most people find it a bit more complex to grow in the garden. Yet it can be a beautiful and worthwhile plant to have on hand.
So please, read on for an in-depth gardener’s guide to this ancient herb. While we’re at it, we’ll discuss the best way to grow this plant both for use ornamentally and for collecting smudging herbs!
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White Sage Overview
|Common Name(s)||White sage, California white sage, sacred white sage, grandfather sage, bee sage, buffalo sage, and a number of traditional tribal names|
|Scientific Name||Salvia apiana|
|Origin||Southern California and parts of northern Mexico|
|Height||Up to 6’ tall, can spread almost as wide but typically 3-4’ wide|
|Light||Full sun, no shade|
|Water||Extremely drought-tolerant. Established plants need minimal to no water.|
|Temperature||Warm weather conditions preferred. Does not like temperatures below freezing, does poorly below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.|
|Humidity||Can tolerate humidity but may have disease issues|
|Soil||Sandy, extremely well-draining soil|
|Fertilizer||No fertilizer required. Likes low-nutrient conditions.|
|Propagation||By seed or cutting|
|Pests||Aphids, whiteflies, flat mites, spider mites. Also susceptible to powdery mildew, rust, and root rot.|
What Is White Sage?
White sage in its natural environment. Source: scott.zona
Salvia apiana, often referred to as California White Sage, is a large perennial desert plant. It grows in spiky clusters in sandier soils, often in foothill areas of southern California and down into Mexico. Its name comes from the leaves, which have a grey-green tinge to them when fresh and which turn a greyish white when dried.
In the wild, white sage can often grow to heights of six feet tall and many feet in diameter. Its long stems come from a central root mass and last throughout one growing season before drying and dying back. As a desert plant, it likes hot, dry conditions.
It’s become a popular choice for people who are opting for lower-water gardens, and can be easily incorporated amongst other low-water plants for good effect. If you’re trying to conserve water, this might be the perfect plant for you!
A Short History of Tribal Sage Use
Before we can discuss the uses of white sage amongst tribes, it’s important to realize that it is not even close to the only type of sage which was used traditionally by tribal peoples. In fact, the use of white sage was only truly common traditionally amongst the tribes in the desert southwest, since it did not grow elsewhere.
A Diversity Of Sages
Purifying smoke during a ceremony. Two different kinds of sage are used here. Source: antefixus21
Amongst Californian peoples, white sage is occasionally referred to as grandfather sage, as it grows to be so much larger in its elder form than any of the other sages in California. And there are, in fact, other indigenous sages! Salvia melifera (black sage) and salvia officianalis (garden sage or culinary sage) are common throughout California and into Mexico, as well.
While in modern times, black sage is spreading northward and taking over the habitats where white sage once grew, it is not used in precisely the same way. Black sage has a more acrid and chapparal-like scent, and was traditionally used in very specific ceremonies, where white sage is used for most day-to-day use.
However, the two look similar, although black sage tends to be shorter and more grey than white when dried. The leaves of black sage are also a bit smaller and narrower than white sage.
There are also other plants referred to as sage which aren’t sages at all. The two most common of these are Artemisia cana (silver sagebrush, also referred to as Badlands sage or South Dakota sage) and Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush, desert sage, mountain sage, and many other names).
Artemisia cana is occasionally called Sundance sage because it is widely used by the Lakota and other tribes as part of the Sundance ceremony. This plant grows in the northern plains area of the United States, and is hard to find outside of that region. Its leaves are narrower than California white sage and have a distinctly different aroma.
By comparison, Artemisia tridentata is incredibly widespread, both in tribal use and in growing area. This little-leafed plant is used very similarly to salvia apiana ceremonially, but its scent can be described more as a dusty sage scent. It can be found across the western half of the United States in the wild.
There is one other Artemisia species that should be noted here: the white sagebrush, Artemisia ludoviciana. It grows in similar environments to Salvia apiana, and it looks quite similar to Salvia apiana as well. However, it can grow in partial shade instead of full shade. This plant’s aroma is more like the dusty sage scent of Artemisia tridentata. It’s used medicinally by tribal people.
Smudging or Smoke Cleansing
An eagle feather and a white sage bundle. Source: Keira Morgan
White sage was traditionally used for ceremonial or medicinal purposes. The most well-known of these uses is burning it to release its fragrant smoke. While the term “smudging” is often applied to this process, the origin of that term actually comes from medieval Europe. A more accurate term would be smoke cleansing.
The smoke produced was used to purify or cleanse objects by fanning it across the object. It was also used similarly to purify or cleanse people in a similar fashion. Tribal spiritual leaders might have special fans or feathers which they would use for this purpose, depending on the specific tribe’s religious views.
While it is easiest and most common to bundle the leaves and stems together and dry them for this purpose, they can also be burned individually. Crumbled or powdered leaves can be burned as a powdered incense too.
The smoke is used in many other traditional ceremonies. Ohlone people use it as part of the preparation for and during their bear dance, for example. The Cahuilla bird singers often use it before they sing the traditional songs. It is an integral part of many Californian tribal religions. Uses like these tend to be overshadowed in the public eye by the popularity of smudging with white sage for its cleansing purpose.
Food and Medicine
A tribal member harvesting white sage. Source: Caveman Chuck Coker
Traditionally, white sage leaves were chewed by Californian tribes to freshen the breath and to stave off thirst on hot days. This might have been due to the high eucalyptol content in the leaves, which leaves a refreshing, almost minty coolness in the mouth after chewing.
That same eucalyptol content made it extremely helpful during times of sickness for clearing congestion. A common practice was to boil sage leaves for five to ten minutes in a small amount of water, then to breathe the steam from the container. This would help relieve congestion and ease cold symptoms.
Sage leaves and stems were boiled in water to produce a strong-scented liquid that would be used as a sort of shampoo and body wash. This not only eliminated body odors, but provided a slight antibacterial effect which helped with keeping the skin free from bacterial problems.
The leaves were used as a spice in cooking, but also offered medicinal value both as a poultice or a tincture as well. Roots were also used medicinally, and were believed to help strengthen women recovering from childbirth.
The seeds were gathered and powdered along with maize and other seeds and spices to form pinole, a flour-like substance that was an ingredient in many staple foods for tribal people.
The stems of white sage were seldom used medicinally, but were occasionally used in cooking for flavor. Young stems were sometimes utilized for making small items such as baskets while fresh and somewhat pliable.
White Sage Care
White sage in a container garden. Source: FarOutFlora
Growing white sage can be tricky for many gardeners because it goes against what we’re all accustomed to. In the wild, salvia apiana is a desert plant, accustomed to long spans of time between watering and extremely hot conditions — both things that we tend to forget about when we’re planting it!
But it’s not impossible to grow white sage, and it’s actually really worth maintaining this perennial plant in your yard. Here’s a list of some of the best ways to grow and maintain your plant for years to come.
For white sage, sun is life.
Salvia apiana absolutely demands full sun. It really does not perform well in shaded conditions at all. Pick the hottest and sunniest part of your yard to plant your white sage in, because it will thank you for it.
White sage does not like cold weather conditions. If your winter drops below 20 degrees consistently, you may have difficulties growing it there. It’s best in those conditions to transplant your sage and take it indoors to warmer temperatures for the winter, providing it plenty of light from a grow light.
Young white sage leaves. Notice the reddened leaves, a sign of drought stress. Source: John Rusk
Once white sage is established, it does extremely well in very dry conditions. It puts down deep taproots to search for its own water supply.
For the first year after you’ve started a new sage plant or transplanted a young plant in, water it once per week. You do not need more than 1/2″ to 1″ of water per week. Gradually reduce the watering over time as the plant’s root system becomes established.
Once a white sage plant has been in place for a year or two, it’s likely going to find all of the water it needs on its own. You can choose to water it sparingly during periods of drought or in extremely hot weather, but once established, it shouldn’t need much water if any at all.
Sandy soils that are extremely well-draining are preferred by white sage. Think of the natural soil makeup of a foothill in the southern California region – dusty, sandy soil with lots of decomposing granite. That’s the ideal “flavor” of soil for your white sage plant. If this doesn’t describe the soil in your region, opt for a cactus growing soil blend.
If you have richer soils, it can tolerate those, but be sure they’re extremely well-draining as sage really hates soggy soil.
White sage doesn’t need fertilizing. In fact, it actually prefers low-nutrient soils as an adult plant.
If you want to give young plants a gentle kick-start, side-dress around your plants with a light coat of spent mushroom compost. This provides a tiny amount of extra nitrogen to help spur plant growth, but won’t overwhelm your plants.
This plant can grow to reach heights of 6′ tall, and can easily spread out over 3-4′ or even wider. Because of this, I advise not planting your plants closer than two feet, and if you’re really trying to cram them in, no closer than 18″. They need room for both the roots to expand and for the plant to grow!
White sage flowers just starting to bloom. Source: Melissa Berard
White sage can be propagated in two ways: from seed, or by cuttings. Read on to find out how to do these two forms of propagation!
Growing White Sage From Seed
Seed is the most common way to grow new plants. However, white sage seeds are notoriously bad at germinating. It’s not uncommon to have a germination rate of 20-30%. Because of this, you will need to plant far more seeds than you expect to eventually plant out.
When planting your seeds in the spring, it’s easiest to start white sage in seed starting trays or pots rather than direct-seeding it.
Sprinkle your seeds across the surface of the soil, and then mist them with a water bottle. Keep your seeds in a location that is in the 70-85 degree range. Provide full light from a grow light if growing them indoors, or place them in direct sun.
You will want to keep the soil lightly moistened initially for your young plants, and then wait until the soil begins to dry out before moistening it again. Once your plants have started to grow, water no more than once a week, but only if the soil feels dry.
Growing White Sage From Cuttings
If you have an established white sage plant that’s at least a couple years old, you can opt to take a young cutting and try to coax it to take root. This also has a low success rate of around 20%. However, if finding seeds is difficult in your area, getting a cutting from someone with an established plant may be easier.
Make a special mix of 1/3 perlite, 1/3 medium-grained sand, and 1/3 seed starting compost. Lightly moisten the mix and place it into pots. Then, take 4-6″ cuttings from the top of an established sage plant. Be sure to select cuttings with newly-forming leaves at the top, and cut just above a leaf node.
Dip your cut end into water, then into a rooting powder such as Bontone Rooting Powder. Gently tap the cutting against the side of the container to knock off any excess, then place it into your prepared pot. Try to have your lowest set of leaf nodes about 1/2″ beneath the soil’s surface, and press the soil in to hold the stem in place.
Until your cutting takes root, it’s best to keep it in a partly-shaded location on top of a heat mat that’s set between 70-85 degrees. The warmth will help promote root growth. Only water when the soil feels dry just below the surface near the cutting, and water sparingly just to dampen the soil blend.
After 4-6 weeks, gently tug on the cutting to see if there’s any resistance. If there is, it has formed roots. Remove rooted plants from the heating mat, as the warmth is no longer required. Keep your plants in partial shade for a few more weeks, then carefully transplant them into a pot of well-draining, sandy garden soil or cactus blend.
At this point, it’s time to get your plants accustomed to sunlight. Slowly increasing over 2-3 weeks’ time, give your white sage plants more sun exposure until they’re out at all times. Once they’re hardened off, maintain them until fall and transplant them then.
Transplanting and Repotting
Planting a white sage transplant. Source: Suzies Farm
Transplanting a white sage plant is best done in the fall, as the fall through early spring months are the months when white sage growth tends to happen. The plant goes dormant during the drier summer months of the year, so transplanting it in the fall gives it the best chance to establish hardy roots before the heat comes.
Your sage plant should have at least 2-4 sets of true leaves, but I actually prefer to start seeds in the spring for plants I plan to transplant in the fall, as it gives them more time to develop.
To transplant, simply prepare your bed with a sandy, well-draining growing medium or cactus potting blend. Place your white sage plant in the ground at the same depth that it was in the pot. Be sure to gently open up the base of the roots if they’ve gotten rootbound, so that they can stretch back out in the soil.
Lightly water your new transplant in, and give it a little extra water initially, but no more than 1/2″ to 1″ a week. Don’t water if rain comes, as it will get plenty from the rain.
If you’re simply replanting white sage in a larger pot, the process is essentially the same as transplanting. Try not to put multiple plants any closer together than about 18″ so that they have plenty of room to grow. Remember, white sage can get to be a huge plant when it’s in the ground, but it’s restricted a bit when it’s in a pot. You’ll almost never achieve maximum size in a pot.
Traditional Growing Methods
Tribal people would harvest the seeds of the white sage by cutting off the dried seed pods and putting them into a pottery container, then tightly closing or covering the top. They would then shake the pot to cause the seeds to break free of their pods. Once this was done, they could pour the seed and pod mixture onto a piece of cloth or leather, remove larger bits of pod, and lightly blow the chaff away.
Any seeds which were to be replanted would be taken out to a place where people had been harvesting sage. After offering thanks to the plants for their bounty, a small handful of seeds would be cupped between the sower’s hands and rubbed together. This lightly abraded the surface of the seeds to allow them to take on water during the next rain.
The seeds would then be broadcast across the area and left to sprout. While it’s likely that seeds would be carried off by wildlife, enough seeds would sprout to keep the plants growing in the area.
Most gardeners just grow white sage on its own, but it companion plants well with the following plants:
- California Buckwheat
- Black Sage (just be careful it doesn’t take over!)
- Hollyleaf Cherry
- Sugar Bush
- Lemonade Berry
- California Sagebrush (keep them separate so you don’t confuse them)
Harvesting and Storing White Sage
A slightly over-harvested sage plant – always take less than a third of the plant. Source: briweldon
There’s a few tricks to keep this plant around, both in storage and in the world around us. Read on to learn when and how you should harvest your sage, how to dry and store it properly, and how to make sure we don’t lose it forever.
When To Harvest White Sage
Plants would not be harvested until they were at least a couple years old. This ensured that the plant would be able to handle the trimmings without adverse reactions.
Traditionally, harvests would take place at different times of year depending on what the plant was to be used for.
If the plant was meant for cleansing smoke purposes, it would be harvested after a period of drier conditions. This allowed the plant to use up much of its water stored in its leaves, making the oils in the leaves more potent. Ideally, the leaves would still be pliable and there would be young growth, but they would have a strong, pungent scent when rubbed.
For medicinal or food purposes, white sage could be harvested at any time of year, but its flavor or medicinal properties would vary. Again, this is related to how much water the plant might have stored in its leaves. Drier conditions made more pungent food herbs or resulted in stronger medicines, where wetter conditions tended to mellow these out and might require larger amounts to be harvested.
How To Harvest White Sage
It is important to cut white sage cleanly with a pair of bypass pruners or snips. Try to avoid crushing the stems, as that can lead to disease.
Never take more than a third of any plant at a given time, as that can cause the plant to go into shock. Only cut from the younger, fresher plant tips, leaving the older and woodier stems intact. Cut just above a leaf node, as that will cause the branch below to send out new branch growth from the nodes and bush out more.
Be sure that when you are harvesting your sage, you select a day when it has not been raining, and that you harvest at mid-day or in the early afternoon when all morning dew has already evaporated. This ensures that your leaves will be dry at the time of harvest, reducing the likelihood of mildew forming on them later.
To harvest white sage seeds, wait until the plants have flowered and the flowers are beginning to dry. Take paper bags and put them carefully over the flower stalk, using a rubberband to secure them in place. Then allow them to continue to dry. Occasionally shake the bag to see if you hear rattling inside. Once you do, the petals are falling off, and you can cut the stalk just below the bag and remove it. Shake the bag to free the seeds from their pods.
Once you have harvested your sage, it is essential to dry it quickly. There are two ways to do this: either loose, or in bundles.
Loose sage leaves can be dried simply by laying them out on a mesh screen in an area with low humidity and low light. You should be able to easily crumble a leaf between your fingertips when it is dry. Store loose leaf sage in an airtight storage container. You can add a moisture-absorbing dessicant packet if you would like to keep it dry.
To create sage bundles, be sure that your harvested sage leaves are completely dry to the touch. Take multiple stems of sage and group them together, tying a piece of cotton string around the stem ends to gather them together. Then, grasp the stem end with one hand, and carefully gather the leaves up against the stems with the leaf ends pointing towards the top of the bundle.
Wrap your string around the bundle multiple times from base to tip to secure the leaves in place, finishing by tying off the string at the stem end. Leave plenty of extra string to create a loop, and hang your sage bundles in a dry, dark location to completely dry out. It’s helpful if you can have a fan lightly blowing on them to reduce the moisture in the bundles more quickly.
Place your dried sage bundles in a box for storage. Cardboard is actually really good for this purpose, as it can absorb any residual moisture the bundles might have.
One note: please do not use heat to speed your sage drying process, as this will give it an unusual and unpleasant aroma. Dehydrators, ovens, all of those methods are not good for this plant. Air drying is best.
A Note About Wild Harvesting White Sage
A wild white sage plant. Source: scott.zona
Since white sage has become extremely popular for smudging purposes, there’s been an ever-increasing number of people picking it in the wild. This is not always people gathering it for personal use. Often, it’s being collected for resale purposes, and there is no effort at reseeding the plants or encouraging their continued growth.
As a result, salvia apiana is rapidly becoming an endangered species in its natural environment. Because of this, I do not recommend wild-harvesting white sage if you can avoid doing so. Since it naturally flourishes in areas where it’s also extremely popular, this has depleted stands of white sage to the point where it’s becoming difficult to find in unprotected areas.
If you do find yourself needing to harvest wild white sage, take some time to spread sage seeds around where you’ve harvested from, and perhaps take a pump-sprayer full of water and lightly mist the area to encourage germination. Try to encourage new sage plant growth where you harvested so that the plant will continue to thrive there long after you’re gone.
But I really recommend opting to take a few cuttings or seed pods and growing it yourself. Once your plant is established, you will have a neverending source of sage at your disposal!
This video offers some insight from the traditional tribal peoples of California as to why wild gathering may be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a fascinating bit of insight into the current Native culture and how they’re trying to sustain these plants.
While I’ve gone over the most common problems already in the above sections, there’s still a few other things to be aware of. Let’s go over those now.
Since white sage is indigenous to southern California, it’s more difficult to grow it in regions where the weather gets colder. Anywhere there’s regular temperatures below freezing, you may find your plant suffering.
Younger white sage plants should be carefully dug up and transferred into a pot during those cold weather months. Be sure to keep it in a warm location with a grow light to provide it all the light it needs.
Older, established sage plants, especially large ones, are much more difficult to move. Once your sage plant is over 3 years old, chances are you’re not going to want to try to transplant it anymore so you don’t risk transplant stress. At this point, it’s a good idea to mound sand up in a thick pile over the base of the stems of the plant. While you may suffer some stem damage, keeping the base warm should allow the plant to regrow later.
Aphids will thrive on sage plants. After all, the white sage stores its extra water in its fleshy, leathery leaves, and that makes it a delicacy for the aphids! You can use neem oil to repel these pests and keep them at bay. However, if you’re planning to harvest for burning purposes, avoid using neem oil for seven to ten days before harvest.
Whiteflies are another pest which can wreak havoc on your white sage. These also like to suck the plant sap from the sage leaves, but thankfully, the same neem oil you’re using to prevent aphids will also prevent these pests, both inside a greenhouse or outside.
The red and black flat mite (Brevipalpus phoenecis) is another sap-sucking pest who could infect your sage, as is the omnivorous flat mite (Brevipalpus californicus). Both of these are considered “false spider mites”, and they can cause browning or reddening of leaves, patchy spotting of leaves, and other issues. Thankfully, neem oil is also effective against these, too!
And, of course, there’s always the spider mite itself. While these are less common on white sage than they are on other less-pungent sages, they still can take up residence, especially during the drier months of the year. One more time: use the neem oil!
Really, neem oil is a great preventative for nearly any pest problem that salvia apiana may develop. If you have worsening conditions from any of these pests, you can opt to use an insecticidal soap with neem oil blended into it and coat all surfaces of the plant. This should eliminate your pests for good, and regular applications of neem oil will keep them at bay.
The most prevalent disease of white sage is powdery mildew. Since sage likes hot conditions, any humidity that accompanies that heat can spawn an outbreak, as can moisture that remains on the leaves. Thankfully, the same neem oil that will defend your plant against pests is a good preventative for powdery mildew as well.
Rust is another disease which can impact your sage. The Puccinia and Uromyces species are particularly risky. These start out as yellowish or whitish spots on the top of your leaves, but the underside of leaves may develop an orangish rust in the same locations. Remove any affected material as soon as you notice it, and avoid watering the leaves of the plant. Ensure it has plenty of airflow to allow leaves to dry out.
Root rot is another problem which white sage is susceptible to. This is usually caused by one of a number of fungal agents that’s active in overly wet soil. To prevent root rot issues, simply don’t overwater. Your sage will thank you in multiple ways!
Frequently Asked Questions
Happy little white sage plants. Source: FarOutFlora
Q: Why are my white sage leaves turning red?
A: White sage leaves and stems turn red, purple, or mauve as a result of drought stress. This actually is not a problem for the plant, as it will continue to survive even if the lower leaves and stems are starting to redden. It can actually be quite beautiful!
If you start to see reddening leaves, you can give the plant a little assist with a light drizzle of water at the base of the sage. That should perk it right back up.
Q: How much sage can I get off one plant?
A: This is a tricky question to answer, because it depends on the size of your plant and how long you’ve been trimming it to encourage more branching out. Older, heavily-branched sage plants may produce quite a lot of sage, but younger plants may only produce a couple bundles’ worth.
Plants under a year shouldn’t be trimmed, and in fact, the second year, you should be careful not to take too much.
Q: Where can I get white sage seeds?
A: There’s a number of places online to order white sage seeds, and you may actually be able to find white sage plants at local garden centers if you’re in California. While no white sage seeds are going to have a phenomenal germination rate, I’ve found the salvia apiana seeds from West Coast Seeds to be relatively reliable, as are the seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Both of those businesses are based in California, and have access to wild growth plants.
Do you already grow white sage? Are you thinking of adding it to your garden? Let me know in the comments below!
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The Wisdom of Growing Sage from Seed
June 14, 2018
The question of whether or not to grow sage is pretty cut-and-dry (pun totally intended) because it’s got so many uses, and any one of the sage varieties looks gorgeous as a landscape plant.
Beyond its beauty in the garden, sage is a sacred plant, a valued seasoning, and an herb with therapeutic properties. Growing sage from seed is easy and inexpensive, and surplus young plants make meaningful gifts to friends and family.
Sage’s Origins and Cultural Heritage
Many sages originated in the Mediterranean and Croatia, while others first appeared 2000 years ago in northwest Arizona before spreading south through the Sonoran desert. Salvia is either derived from the Latin word for health (salvus) or from “saved” (salvere) and indeed it has a long history of treating ailments and protecting people and spaces from evil.
Tea from sage leaves, often mixed with honey or other sweeteners, applied directly to the skin (crushed leaves), or burned as an incense is used to treat the following:
- Sore throats
- Respiratory ailments and colds
- Treat insect bites and repel insects
- Treat mouth sores and tooth infections
Tinctures made from sage leaves have been used to treat eye and skin infections, and sage twigs were used to clean teeth. In Mexico, chewed sage seeds (which are round and relatively large) are used to aid digestion.
The Chinese valued sage tea so highly that one pound of sage was traded for four pounds of their own traditional tea leaves.
Sage in Spiritual Cleansing Ceremonies
Sage has long been used in the Old World and the New as an incense for the purpose of cleansing, due to its strong camphor aroma when it’s burned. It’s still used today in First Nation ceremonies, and by neo-hippies in an adaptation of cleaning rituals.
Smudging with sage before Native American sweat lodge ceremonies prepares participants for interaction with positive spirits; people who are engaging in sage-burning are instructed to keep their intentions pure.
We heard of a woman who kept losing renters in her downstairs mother-in-law apartment, until one tenant—a personal friend—said, “This place is (expletive) haunted!” At the advice of a third friend, they smudged the apartment with sage and since then, the only nasty entities the tenant encountered was a jerkwad of a boyfriend.
Here’s how to cleanse your own digs!
Make Your Own Smudge Sticks: Learn the proper way to bundle herbs for smudging. You’ll note that rosemary and lavender are among the herbs sometimes used in ceremonial smudging, due to their pungent smoke.
Sage Burning Ritual: Learn how and when to “smudge” with sage bundles.
Common Types of Sage
There are two main types of sages. True sages are in the enormous Laminacea family, which includes the mints as well as the sages belonging to the salvia genius. Then we have the Asteracea family, which includes the artemisia sages. These are the sages most frequently used in North American aboriginal rituals, though Old World sages have also been adopted since arriving on this side of the Atlantic.
We currently carry three sages in the Salvia family which represent the best of what either family has to offer.
Plant Descriptions: Seed Needs’ Favorite Sages
All of the following Salvia sages have showy, trumpet-shaped flowers emerging from terminal spikes, and attract a wide variety of pollinating insects. Hummingbirds are known to visit sage blossoms from time to time, as well.
Beekeepers swear that sage honey is among the best, so if you have a backyard hive you’ll want to add a few plants to keep them happy.
Salvia officinalis: Most commonly used as a food seasoning, this is the plant we refer to as “plain ol’ sage”. It’s also known as “Dalmatian sage” and “cooking sage.” Its narrow, ovate leaves are covered in tiny hairs, or trichomes, and are lighter in color on their undersides than above.
Here are a few quick facts about true sage:
- A perennial when grown in USDA Zones 5 to 10.
- Native to the Mediterranean and North Africa.
- Upright growth to 2.5 feet tall, and about 2 feet wide.
- Mauve to purple flowers on terminal spikes begin to bloom in early summer.
Common sage is an acceptable substitute for all cleansing rituals and is the primary sage used in herbal medicine.
Salvia farinacea: Commonly known as sapphire sage, blue sage, and mealy cup sage, this ornamental plant bears striking blue to indigo blooms.
- Native to the dry desert plains of Texas, New Mexico, and Old Mexico.
- A winter-hardy but tender perennial in USDA Zones 8 to 10, and as an annual in zones 3 to 7.
- A more compact sage, growing to 2″ tall and 1″ wide.
Salvia coccinea: Also known as scarlet or red sage, this striking ornamental has supersized (for sage, anyway) bright red flowers on upright spikes. Unlike its cousins, its leaves are shaped like a broad, serrated spearhead. Instead of sage’s trademark silvery foliage, S. coccinea’s are a bright medium green.
- S. coccinea is native to Mexico, though it’s naturalized on all American continents.
- Scarlet sage grows 12 to 24 inches tall and wide.
- Grown as a perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11, and as an annual elsewhere.
Don’t let scarlet sage’s cold-avoidant nature scare you off; it’s absolutely worth replanting each year, especially next to sapphire sage and other vivid blue or purple ornamentals. It’s also closely related to the most potent domestic medicinal varieties.
Growing Sage from Seed is Easy!
We recommend starting sage seeds in peat pots or quart-size pots rather than plastic nursery trays since sage has a deep taproot. You can direct-sow your sage, but since it needs moisture and sunlight to germinate, it’s important to make sure it’s watered with a fine mist rather than blasted into the soil with manual gardening irrigation. Therefore, you might find it easier to “nurse” your sage seeds.
The following growing tips are geared toward Salvia officinalis and hold true for most of the sages.
Soil Preferences: Plant in well-drained, compost-amended soil. When preparing the planting site, make sure to dig down to about 18″ and add a bit of sand if the subsoil is compacted.
Soil pH: Your target soil composition is 5.6 to 7.8; if anything, err on the alkaline end of the spectrum. Sage grows well in natural limestone deposits.
Sunlight Preferences: The sages don’t do well in anything but full sun, so pick a spot where it can soak up the rays.
Watering Requirements: Sage is drought-tolerant, and an excellent xeriscape plant. Water your plants deeply and infrequently to encourage its taproot to grow. Bottom-water your seedlings for this reason, but mist unsprouted seeds until they germinate and take hold.
When to Sow: Sow your sage seeds outdoors as soon as all chance of frost has passed, or indoors 4 to 8 weeks before. Transplant your sage when the plant is about 6″ tall.
Planting Depth: Don’t plant deeper than 1/8″ deep. Sage requires sunlight to germinate.
Plant Spacing: Plant sage seeds, or thin seedlings, 12″ to 18″ apart.
Germination: Sage seeds germinate in 7 to 21 days at a soil temperature of 70°F.
Companion Plants: Sage invigorates tomato growth, and gets along particularly well with carrots and cabbages given that it repels carrot flies and cabbage moths. It doesn’t get along with cucumbers or other cucurbits.
Pests and Diseases: Sage is deer, rabbit, and pet resistant, and as long as the plant isn’t overwatered, it isn’t susceptible to common plant diseases.
Maintenance: Once its established, sage doesn’t require a lot of attention. Trim it back by as much as 2/3 in early spring to encourage new growth. When it wilts during the first hard frost, clean up any debris around the plant for the sake of aesthetics, or just say “f* it” and let the soggy leaves act as composting mulch, attracting abandoned old tires and rusty transmissions.
Harvesting Sage: Sage leaves have the best flavor and aroma before the plant flowers, but you can pick leaves anytime. Pinch buds and new leaves from the ends of the stalks to keep your plants compact, or clip whole stems from which you can strip the foliage. Dry sprigs upside-down in a warm, dry, airy spot, or toss loose leaves in a food dehydrator or warm oven on a cookie sheet. Store your stash in an airtight container, or keep fresh leaves in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Cooking with Sage
What better way to add insult to injury among First Nation cultures than to add sage to Thanksgiving stuffing? Indeed, sage has been a traditional ingredient in this holiday favorite.
S. officinalis is the best sage for your kitchen garden, and the herb required for the following recipes. If it’s been a while since you’ve cooked with sage, then the term “food coma” has a whole new meaning for you. Wake up! It’s time to start living again.
“It is a savory herb, slightly peppery with overtones of camphor. The flavor is astringent but warm. Sage is faintly bitter and its flavor is an assertive one.”
A little sage goes a long way, so don’t overwhelm your recipes. Sage goes best with oily, fatty meats, or to complement sweet vegetables.
Fettuccine with Brown Butter and Sage: With this Italian dish, Epicurious reminds us that culinary sage is a Mediterranean native. Did you grow butternut squash this season? Throw some in for over-the-top flavor.
Sauteed Carrots with Sage: Here’s a fantastic example of sage’s relationship with sweet root vegetables. Be sure to use butter, because butter is awesome…and it contains the right kind of fat to bring out sage’s best flavor.
Old School Bread Stuffing with Sage: Give thanks for personal blogs and family recipes! This one’s from Kate at The Domestic Front.
Sage is often paired with recipes associated with fall and winter, perhaps due to its rich, warm, “cozy” flavor. It’s a popular herb for stuffing smoked sausages, seasoning roast poultry, and flavoring well-marbled pork cuts.
Make a Wise Choice…Get Your Seeds from Seed Needs
We smudge our climate-controlled seed storage room to ward off evil so you have the best shot at a successful, juju-free growing season. OK, so maybe we don’t but we do go to great lengths to make sure your ornamental, herb and vegetable seeds are of the freshest, best quality. We obtain our stock from reputable growers of healthy, hearty plants, and only keep on hand what we can expect to sell in a season. Want to know more? Give us a shout! We’re always excited to hear from our customers, receive requests for new varieties, and hear about your gardening adventures!
by Jodie Perry
Have you ever seen a sage plant that just LOVES the spot where it grows?
I’m talking about sage that grows wildly in all directions. Sage that sprouts huge, succulent leaves. Sage bursting with purple blossoms that look like it’s putting on a fireworks show?
If you have, then you have experienced one of the great pleasures of being a gardener.
Sage is truly an amazing herb. I want to share with you some surefire methods to growing a plant that will return all the love you put into it come harvest time.
When you rub a leaf between your fingers, feel that tacky texture and inhale that aromatic medicine, you’ll know it was well worth the (very modest) effort you invested.
Sage Advice: How to Grow a Monster Sage Plant
Sage plants like sandy, well-drained soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. They also like a lot of sunlight.
A lot of your success in growing sage is because of what you DON’T do. Don’t over-water your sage plants. They only need to be watered at all during dry spells. And don’t over-fertilize them. Sage plants don’t really need much fertilizer. Over-fertilizing makes them grow faster but they have a weaker flavor, defeating the purpose of growing it. Once or twice per year is enough for mature plants.
Plant your sage with other compatible herbs and vegetables. Sage grows well with rosemary—another herb that prefers dry conditions—as well as cabbage. Sage repels some insects that feed on cabbage and it actually improves the flavor of the cabbage! It also grows well with carrots, strawberries and tomatoes.
If you find a sage plant you like, take a cutting. You can grow a sage plant from cuttings and that’s the preferred method because growing from seed can take years. Prune the plants back in the spring just as they begin to grow. Because they like well-drained soil, sage does well in containers as long as you have a location with enough sun.
Unlike most plants, you don’t have to worry much about pests. Sage is impervious to most garden pests and it’s flowers draw beneficial bees in droves.
Health Benefits of Sage
Sage has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. It has natural anti-bacterial and preservative properties, which is one reason it’s often used in preparing meat. It’s chock full of a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber.
1) Improved brain functioning – Sage is also great for your brain. One study found that sage can significantly and immediately improve cognitive functioning in young, healthy adults. (Are you college students listening?)
2) Fewer hot flashes – The second amazing benefit is in treating the symptoms of menopause. Researchers found that hot flashes decreased by 50%-100% over eight weeks of treatment.
3) Skin conditions – The third little-known benefit of sage is that it’s great for your skin. Using a topical salve or tincture can help with skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
With so many benefits, I think we can all agree that you’d be crazy not to grow some sage this year. So I know you will.
The only problem you’ll have then is what to do with the huge pile of sage you’re harvesting. Fear not, we have you covered. As a bonus, I created this great list of home remedy recipes to help you exploit all the health benefits of sage.
Are you going to grow some sage? Have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below!
9 Impressive Benefits of Sage
|Store fresh sage leaves in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Retain flavor by freezing sage. Either freeze entire branches on cookie sheets, then strip the leaves from stems and put into plastic bags into the freezer, or mix finely chopped sage leaves with just enough olive oil to bind them together, and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. Alternatively, dry sage leaves on screens in a dry spot away from direct sun. Store dried sage leaves in an airtight container.|
|Fresh||Excellent; cuttings last 2-7 days in the refrigerator.|
When to Harvest Sage
Sage can be harvested about 75 days after transplanted to your garden. A few plants will easily supply plenty for yourself as well as your neighbors. At least twice during the growing season, cut six to eight inches from the top of the plants. This allows vigorous growth throughout the season.
How to Harvest Sage
Pick the leaves as desired as long as you don’t cut back more than half the plant; if you do it will stop producing. Store dried sage leaves in an airtight container. Harvest sage on a clear day after the dew has dried on the leaves but before the sun’s heat can dissipate the essential oils that give the herb its flavor and aroma. Frozen sage tastes much better than the dried form, but it appears limp and unattractive. Use it in stews, casseroles and other dishes when taste matters more than appearance.
Sage has no serious pest problems.
Sage has no serious disease problems, but if the area is too damp or shady rot may occur. Avoid this by planting sage in a dry, sunny location.
Sage: Growing Guide and Planting Instructions
Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region. Its smallish gray-green leaves have a pebbled or bumpy texture, and release a pungent but not unpleasant aroma. Although Sage flowers, it is primarily grown for its foliage, which should be harvested before the flower buds open.
Sage is used to flavor meat and fish, sausages and stuffing, salad, and a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. It is also a common ingredient in vinegars, soils, and sauces.
Choosing a Sage Variety
With more than 750 varieties of Sage available today, you might think that selecting one for the herb garden would be a daunting task. Most of these varieties are ornamental, however, and you can’t go wrong with the classic Salvia officinalis, plain garden sage! There are also lovely golden- and purple-leaved variants on garden sage, which add plate appeal and garden beauty.
When to Start Sage Seeds
Sage seeds can be direct-sown into the warm spring soil after all danger of frost, but most gardeners find it easier to begin the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost.
How to Start Sage Seeds
Sow the seeds in your Bio Dome or in seed flats. If using the Bio Dome, drop one seed into each Bio Sponge. If using seed flats, cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of vermiculite.
Seeds should germinate anywhere from 10 to 21 days after sowing. They are ready to transplant when they have 2 sets of true leaves and stand about 4 inches high. Space them about 18 inches apart in the garden, or set them into containers.
- Sage is delicious fresh, frozen, or dried. If you want to dry large quantities of Sage, you can cut the entire plant at the base, hang it upside-down in a warm, dry area for about a week, and then strip the leaves off, discarding the remainder of the plant. Store the leaves in an airtight container.
- To freeze Sage, place individual leaves on a cookie sheet and flash-freeze them for about half an hour, then carefully stack them in a plastic bag and refreeze.
- Sage is the traditional companion to Rosemary in the herb garden, and is a natural pest fighter for plants in the Cabbage family. Its strong aroma may discourage some nibbling pests, so it is a good choice around the edges of the vegetable patch and annual bed.
- Bees, butterflies, and birds adore Sage. If you want to attract these creatures to your garden, create an area where your Sage plants can go to flower (rather than be harvested before blooming). Most winged visitors appear after the blooms are open!
Growing Tips for Sage Plants
- Sage loves blazing sun, hot weather, and dry soil. Let it dry out a bit between waterings, and if you are growing it in a container, make sure the drainage is excellent. (Add a layer of pebbles at the base of the container to improve the drainage if it is in question.)
- Pinch the growing tips of your Sage plant several times during spring and early summer. This will produce a bushier plant and slow the formation of flower buds.
- Harvest the leaves when they are young, either by pinching them off individually or snipping an entire stem at the base.
Pests and Problems to Watch For
Seedlings can occasionally fall victim to damping off, a fungal condition. To prevent this, make sure your potting mix or medium is sterile, bottom-water the seedlings, and avoid crowding.
Whitefly and mealybugs are sap-sucking pests that can harm your Sage. Whitefly is usually found on houseplants and in greenhouses, and is easily controlled by hanging a yellow sticky trap near the plants. Mealybugs can strike indoors or out, and are best dealt with by pruning off the affected branches or, if there are only a few bugs, using a Q-tip to coat them in rubbing alcohol or cooking oil.
Mildew can be a problem in humid or rainy climates, or with overhead watering. In the garden, site your Sage in an uncrowded area where air circulates freely, and use a soaker hose to bottom-water if possible.
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