Salvia officinalis, the common sage or just sage, is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae and native to the Mediterranean region, though it has been naturalized in many places throughout the world. Some varieties are also grown as ornamentals for their attractive leaves and flowers. Several other species of the genus Salvia are also known as sage. The origin of the salvia name speaks to this herb’s age-old medicinal value from the Latin salvus “to save” and salvere, “to heal”.
The oval leaves are rough or wrinkled and usually downy; the colour ranges from gray-green to whitish green, and some varieties are variegated. The flowers are borne in spikes and feature tubular two-lipped corollas that are attractive to a variety of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The flowers can be purple, pink, white, or red and produce nutlet fruits. Sage contains antioxidants which help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like cancer. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which aids the body in clotting blood.
Table of Contents
1 - 3 feet
2 - 3 feet
6.0 - 7.0
Types of Sage
There are several types of sage that vary in their appearance and use, with some being grown primarily for culinary purposes and others kept for ornamental value. They include:
Tricolor sage: This cultivar doesn't get as large as the main species. But its green, white, and pink/purple leaves make it prized both for ornamental and culinary uses.
Purpurascens sage: This variety has deep purple young leaves that mature to a burgundy.
Aurea sage: This is a compact plant with soft yellow leaves and purple flowers. It is also known as golden sage and is frequently used in cooking.
Garden sage: It is a hardy perennial to 30 inches; gray-green leaves and violet flowers.
Berggarten: Produces showy whorls of lavender-blue flowers in the late spring.
Bicolor Icterina: The leaves are bicolored, with cream-colored edges and silvery-green centers.
Dwarf Green: Tightly-compact version of the species, sometimes called ‘Minimus’.
Grower’s Friend: Non-flowering, this has red-colored stems and medium-green, upright leaves.
Holt’s Mammoth: Very similar to the base Salvia officinalis, but with huge leaves.
Pink Flower: Also called ‘Rosea’, this variety produces pink flowers instead of lavender-blue.
White Edged: A deeper-green center of the leaf with stark white edges, very pretty.
When to Plant
Grow sage in the mild weather of spring or fall. You can start planting seeds on the average date of the last spring frost. Set plants out after the threat of frost has passed. You can also start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before then.
Selecting a Planting Site
Your planting site must have well-draining soil and receive lots of sunlight. Container growth is an option if you don’t have a suitable garden site. Avoid planting sage by cucumbers, as its aroma can actually affect the taste of the cucumbers.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Only lightly cover seeds with soil, and position nursery plants at the same depth they were in their previous container. Space sage plants about 1.5 to 2 feet apart. A support structure shouldn’t be necessary.
How to Grow Sage From Seed
Sage is a lesson in patience when growing it from seed. Plant seeds only about 1/8 inch deep in moist garden soil or seed-starting mix. Keep the soil lightly moist but not soggy. It can take up to six weeks for germination to occur.
How to Grow Sage in Pots
Growing sage in a pot is ideal if you don’t have the right soil or light conditions in a garden. You can easily move pots as needed to ensure proper sunlight exposure. A container that’s at least 8 inches deep with a similar width is best. Unglazed clay is a good material, as it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls. The container also should have drainage holes.
Sage Plant Care
For the best flavor, provide your sage with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. However, in zone 8 and higher, your sage will likely prefer some afternoon shade, especially in hot weather.
Sage likes a sandy or loamy soil with good drainage. Wet soils can cause rot and be fatal to the plant. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is best.
Sage has moderate moisture needs, along with some drought tolerance. Keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy for young plants. Water established plants when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil dries out. Avoid getting the leaves wet when you water, as that can cause them to mildew.
Temperature and Humidity
Common sage tends to be a bit hardier than the more ornamental varieties, such as golden, purple, and tricolor sage. Established plants can withstand some frost, but temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best. Sage likes a moderate humidity level. In areas with high humidity, make sure there's enough air flow around the plants to help prevent fungal growth.
Sage plants aren’t heavy feeders, and too much fertilizer can result in weaker flavor. You can use an organic fertilizer for edible plants in the spring, or simply work some compost into the soil.
Sage is pollinated primarily by bees and butterflies and is excellent at attracting these beneficial insects to the garden.
How to Harvest Sage
Pinch off leaves or snip off small sprigs from the plant.
During the first year, harvest lightly to ensure that the plant grows fully.
After the first year, be sure to leave a few stalks so that the plant can rejuvenate in the future.
If fully established, one plant can be harvested up to three times in one season.
Stop harvesting in the fall so the plant can prepare for winter.
How to Store Sage
Sage’s flavor is best when fresh, but it can be stored frozen or dried.
To dry, hang sprigs in a shady, well-ventilated area and allow them to air dry, waiting until the leaves crumble easily to store in tightly lidded jars.
Sage keeps its flavor better if stored in the freezer. Freeze leaves or stalks on a tray, then move the leaves into a zippered bag or container. Some cooks blend the leaves with oil, pack the ground mixture into ice cube trays to freeze, and then transfer the cubes to a container.
Pruning and Propagating Sage
The stems of sage plants tend to become woody and produce less flavorful leaves over the years. Pruning can help combat this. As growth begins in the spring, prune out the oldest woody stems to encourage new growth. But even with this pruning, sage plants typically become too woody in about five years and are better replaced with new plants for a quality harvest.
Sage can be propagated by stem cuttings. Not only is this an inexpensive way to create more plants, but it's also an easy method to start new plants as established ones are becoming too woody for a good harvest. The best time to take cuttings is in the spring as active growth picks up. Here's how:
Trim off a 4- to 6-inch piece of young stem (rather than old, woody stem).
Remove the foliage on the lower half. Also, remove any flowers and buds.
Dip the cut end in a rooting hormone.
Plant the cut end in a small container of moist soilless potting mix.
Place the container in bright, indirect light, and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Wait to see new growth on the stem. Gently tug the stem; if you feel resistance you’ll know it has rooted and can be planted outside.
Potting and Repotting Sage
When potting sage, use a quality well-draining potting mix. Depending on the size of container you start with, you might not have to repot. But if you begin to see roots growing out the drainage holes, move your plant to one pot size up. Gently ease it out of its previous pot, set it at the same depth in the new container, and fill around it with fresh potting mix. Then, water to settle the soil.
To protect sage plants over the winter, lightly mulch around them. Also, make sure they’re not in the direct path of harsh winds. You can bring container plants indoors and place them by your brightest window.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Sage doesn’t have any major pest or disease issues. Root rot can occur in soil that’s too wet. Powdery mildew also can occur in wet conditions, but ensuring that there’s good air circulation around the plants can help prevent this. Common garden pests including slugs, spittle bugs and spider mites also might affect plants. Use an insecticidal soap to treat infestations.
Benefits of Sage
Sage has been used to treat a wide range of conditions like cold, sore throat, fever, respiratory problems, sinusitis, skin problems, menstrual disorders, digestive ailments and memory loss. It helps enhance mental functions and boost the immune system.
Sage contains phytoestrogens [plant compounds that act like oestrogen] which help to treat menstrual problems. In menopausal women, it provides relief from hot flashes and night sweats. It helps regulate menses and abnormal blood flow.
Sage contains tannins which are polyphenols that help fight infections and have been used for treating mouth sores, mouth ulcers, infected and bleeding gums, sore throat, tonsillitis, cold and fever.
Sage contains a phenolic acid called rosmarinic acid. This antioxidant acts to reduce inflammatory responses in the body. Increased intake of sage is recommended in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, bronchial asthma, and atherosclerosis.
Sage is rich in flavonoids like apigenin, diosmetin, and luteoin which help to prevent certain type of cancers.
Compounds isolated from an extract from the root of Chinese sage were found to be acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors, which may have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.
The herb is a carminative [medicine that prevents formation of gas] and a digestive tonic. Its regular consumption stimulates appetite and aids in smooth functioning of the digestive system. Sage has been used for treating intestinal cramps, flatulence and indigestion.
Sage oil is helpful in reducing cellulite. Since the oil helps in increasing blood circulation, it leads to the breakdown of fat cells and helps in reducing cellulites.
Hair and skin
Massaging with sage oil improves blood circulation and encourages hair growth. It can strengthen weak hair and reduce premature greying. Massaging the skin with sage oil has revitalizing effects. Sage oil also helps to treat many skin problems.
Sage is most commonly used as a spice or herb (fresh and dry) and lends a sweet, warm and earthy flavor to food.
Sage leaves are used as a seasoning or even as a marinade.
Sage tea can be prepared by boiling a handful of sage leaves in a cup of water.
The leaf is used to make medicine.
Oil can be extracted from the leaves and flowers of the plant and is used as a flavoring in alcoholic drinks and as a scent in perfume.