Sage (Salvia officinalis; Labiatae)


An evergreen shrub, hardy except in severe winters and damp soil. Height: 2 ft (60 cm) with the same spread. Grey-green, wrinkled, slightly woolly leaves, with

purple or white flowers in early summer. Origin, southern Europe and the Mediterranean area, introduced in 1597 or earlier.


The strongly aromatic, slightly bitter leaves are much used in cooking, in particular with pork or duck. Sage tea is said to be good for gargling and as a mouth wash; it helps in the digestion, and in clearing a stuffy head if the steam from an infusion is inhaled.


The name comes from the Latin salveo, to save or to heal, and it was considered by the Romans to be a veritable cure-all, and very much the most effective of all the medicinal herbs. An Arabic proverb says ‘How can a man die who has sage in his garden?’ The Greeks regarded it as a sacred herb, and it was even thought, during the 17th century, to delay the onset of symptoms of old age.


Plant in spring in well-drained soil and a sunny place, in moderate fertility. A heavy wet soil is to be avoided. Easily grown from seed sown in late April, which takes about three weeks to germinate; also increased from 3-in. (8-cm) cuttings taken in August and put in a cold frame. Pot on singly and plant out the following spring.