A discussion of perennial herbs wouldn’t be complete without including sage. There may not be a more versatile plant in the garden. Mostly that’s because there are so many different types of sage.
They’re great to have in your garden for several reasons. Pollinators love them and in turn pollinate your entire garden. Most types flower profusely and they are very hardy perennials. Still, bloom will always benefit from deadheading.
Another advantage is that most sage types tend to repel deer. At least the deer don’t often eat the sage. Rabbits avoid them too. They’re even supposed to keep mice away. Some people advocate planting sage around the edge of the garden. That couldn’t hurt.
Once established, sage tolerates drought pretty well. It will grow in partial shade but performs better in sunny places. Clay soils can be a problem, but sage thrives in acid as well as alkaline soils.
So what exactly is sage? Sages are in the genus Salvia. There are a ton of salvias, both annual and perennial. Common garden sage has grayish green rough textured foliage. Leaf surfaces almost look pebbled like a football or basketball. This is the most common cooking sage and is often used in poultry stuffing.
It shouldn’t end there. This is a very flavorful herb that brings out the flavor of many foods, especially meats. It’s great in marinades or sautéed with oil or butter to flavor it.
Sages can be upright or creeping. Many varieties are variegated. Some are even purple, although the purple sages usually don’t bloom as much. Some are very fragrant, while others have little aroma.
We often visualize sage as having blue to purple flowers, but my favorite is pineapple sage. It is less hardy than most perennial sages, but the bright red flowers and pineapple aroma make it a must for the herb or perennial garden. It can get tall but pruning it only makes it prettier. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it too.
Pineapple sage also makes a great cut flower and it dries well for flower arrangements. Green leaves also make a great tea, but much of the flavor is lost when drying them.
Sage has antimicrobial properties and has been prescribed by herbalists for nearly every problem known to exist. That’s a slight exaggeration, but sage preparations have been used to treat food poisoning, sore throat, breathing disorders, digestive problems and bad breath. Sage also has diuretic properties and will lower blood sugar.
Sage also has strong antioxidant properties and that could be part of the reason it has a wide usage in holistic medicine. It’s used as a general pain reliever and has even been mentioned as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s. Relieving skin disorders like dandruff or acne are also common claims.
Side-effects are common with pharmaceuticals. They are also prevalent with herbal medicines. Sage contains a compound called Thujone, which can be toxic in high doses. It can cause seizures and liver and nervous system damage. Research all herbal medicines like you would synthetic ones. Always consult your doctor.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).