The word ‘sage’ is an Anglo-Gallic corruption of the Latin ‘salvia’ which is derived from salvere meaning to be well or to be in good health. This indicates how highly the Romans thought of sage. Our ancestors thought likewise and we inherit from them the ditty ‘Eat Sage in May and live for aye’.
Common sage – Salvia officinalis – is the form of sage most commonly met with in the kitchen garden. This short, bushy, evergreen perennial provides the foliage used in a stuffing for poultry. Some consider this shrub handsome; others complain that it is a straggly plant with a useful life of only three years. For those who want new, young bushes propagation is easy. Take cuttings in May of new wood with a portion of old wood attached. The cuttings need be no longer than 2 in. and they will root quickly in sandy soil kept well-watered in very dry spells. Cuttings may also be taken and planted in September and should be over-wintered in a cold frame or beneath a cloche. To induce bushiness, pinch out the growing point of each young plant when it is about 5 in. high. When it is seen that the young plants are making good growth, dig them up and replant at 18 in. apart in a sunny situation with well-drained soil. Although sage can withstand dry summer weather well, in their first season transplants benefit from waterings in dry spells.
There are several sorts of common sage. Broad-leaved sage seldom flowers and is much liked by those who claim that because no flowers are made all the strength of the plants goes into the highly aromatic foliage. Narrow-leaved sage has two forms-one with pinkish and the other with white flowers.
To have sage in the garden it is more usual to start off with nurserymen’s plants and to propagate from them in due course. But narrow-leaved culinary sage may be propagated from seeds sown in shallow drills in the garden between late March and May. Thin the seedlings to 2 in. apart and move the plants to their final growing positions when they are growing well.
Plants should be obtained in the spring and planted at least 18 in. apart in any sunny and ordinary, though preferably well-drained, soil. If at any time it is desired to work up a further stock, cuttings can be rooted during August or September. Prepare these from firm young growths 3 or 4 in. in length. Sever each immediately below a joint, remove the lower leaves and insert in sandy soil in a frame or under a cloche, keeping shaded and well watered until rooted.
Red sage, S.officinalis var. purpurea, is more handsome than ordinary green sage and may be used, too, in the kitchen. There is a choice of a red sage (purple-leaved) which has flowers and of one which bears none. Red variegated sage has purple flowers and is a favourite in a collection of herbs for its attractive foliage display. Golden sage rarely firm ers but this, again, is an attractive foliage shrub for a herb garden.
Apart from its use in a stuffing mixture sage has no other modern uses in the kitchen. This herb should be added with discretion to stuffing mixtures because the flavour of sage can override that of other herbs. Sage tea is a medicinal herbal beverage to counter poor digestion.
Sprigs of sage for drying are taken lust before flowering starts in May and further pickings may be made on and off throughout the summer. Quick drying is very important and the process must be completed within a week. In really hot summer weather small bunches dry rapidly outdoors. In dull and cool weather bunches may be hung above the cooker in the kitchen or spread out in a metal tray above the stove. Rub the dried leaves from the stalks and store in a very dry place.
Some Garden Sages
There are many other sages but apart from pineapple sage which may be added sparingly to salads few are recommended for culinary use in lieu of common sage. The following sage varieties are, however, met with in herb collections and are worth considering if you aim at having a part of the garden devoted to garden herbs.
- Salvia ambigens. Hardy perennial. Height 3 ft.- 5 ft. Deep blue flowers, in September-October.
- S. glutinosa. Jupiter’s Distaff. Perennial. Height about 3 ft. Pale yellow flowers with greenish black markings are produced in July.
- S. grahami (syn. S neurepia). Grow this in pots in colder parts of the country and sink the pots into the garden soil in May. Height 4 ft. or so. It bears red flowers from July until the autumn.
- S. haematodes. Biennial. Height up to 4 ft. Heart-shaped leaves with light blue flowers from June to September.
- S. involucrata bet hellii. Height 2 ft.-4 ft. Rose-red flowers are borne in August and September. Not hardy in severe winters. In colder areas grow in pots as suggested for S. grahami.
- S. lavandulifoha. Similar to Salvia officinahs but with narrow and longer greyish leaves and an aroma suggestive of a sage/lavender mixture. Height up to 1 ft. It bears a few mauve coloured flowers in early summer.
- S. pratensis. Half-hardy perennial. Height about 30 in. Flowers blue to violet, borne in late summer.
- S. pratensisrosea. A rosy-purple flowering form of S. pratensis.
- S. rutilans. Pineapple sage. Half-hardy. Grow as a pot plant and house in a greenhouse at a temperature of 50°F (10°C) or more in winter. Move to the outdoor garden for the summer, in late May.
- S. X superba (syn. S. nemorosa, S. virgata nemorosa). Perennial. Height up to 3 ft. Flowers violet with reddish bracts. July and August flowering. The variety lubeca is 1 ½ ft. tall, but otherwise similar.
- S. uhginosa. Bog sage. Hardy perennial. Height up to 5 ft. Needs moister conditions than other herb garden sages. In very cold parts mulch around the plants with bracken or peat in November. Leaves are shiny green, flowers blue, borne from August to October.
- S. verticillata. Perennial. Height up to 3 ft. Flowers mauve. July to August flowering.
Sage and Onion Stuffing
There are many recipes. The recipe given here is simple and the amount of sage used may vary depending on the strength of aroma of the sage. This will depend on the sage variety and on whether freshly chopped or dried sage is being used. Bear in mind, too, that sage is highly aromatic and a sage stuffing containing a high proportion of the herb ma ^ suit the family’s palate but not that of guests. Fresh sage is more piquant than dried sage.
- 3 large onions
- 2 level teaspoons of dried sage
- 4 oz. of fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
Parboil the peeled onions and chop finely. Mix with the sage and breadcrumbs and bind with the beaten egg.