Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm
Sage is a popular plant for the herb or rock garden. But many sage owners do not even know how versatile the aromatic fragrant leaves can be used in the kitchen and home pharmacy. Few people are aware that not only the “real” sage with the botanical name Salvia officinalis can be cultivated in the garden, but that there are more than 800 sage species worldwide, some of which have unusual scents and aromas.
- 0.1 The location: Sage prefers to take a sunbath
- 0.2 Care and harvest time: When should sage be cut?
- 0.3 Boundless variety of sage
- 0.4 Sage is considered a strong medicinal plant
- 0.5 Prepare sage tea correctly
- 0.6 Myths and legends about sage: Awakening love with magic
- 0.7 Sage as a spice: dominant and unique
- 0.8 Recipes with sage
- 1 Author
The location: Sage prefers to take a sunbath
Although sage (Salvia officinalis) originates from the Mediterranean region, it can also be grown outdoors in our country. In unfavorable harsh locations, however, it needs some frost protection. The perennial woody shrub is quite ornamental: its evergreen, gray-green leaves contrast nicely with green-leaved perennials, and the beautiful, mostly blue-violet lip flowers attract many bees in summer.
Sage needs full sun, plenty of warmth and well-drained, dry as well as calcareous soil for good aromas. It is very frugal in terms of fertilization and moisture. It is therefore ideal for herb walls and herb spirals. It is even advantageous if it is hardly fertilized and stands relatively dry, because then it develops particularly many healing powers.
Care and harvest time: When should sage be cut?
Every three to four years you should cut the shrub back vigorously into the old wood in the spring, this ensures a compact growth and longer life expectancy. In autumn, however, in any case, no more pruning, because it worsens the winter hardiness.
The best time to harvest is at the beginning of flowering in May and June, when the aromas in the leaves are most pronounced. This cut has the highest content of essential oil. In August you can cut a second time; this cut is then particularly rich in tannins. The best quality is achieved if you dry the leaves uncrushed in the shade in a warm place. Sage leaves release water only with difficulty and therefore dry very slowly.
Boundless variety of sage
Within the genus Salvia, there are over 800 species of sage worldwide! Many of them are used for incense purposes, for example the Indian incense sage (Salvia apiana). Very many species come from the tropical regions of South and Central America and are therefore kept in our country only as container plants. They are sensitive to frost and have to overwinter in light. They are usually characterized by a very late flowering in autumn or winter. In addition, they love rather partial shade locations and need a lot of moisture. I would like to introduce some of these sage species here:
The fruit sage (Salvia dorisiana) from Honduras is large-leaved like an indoor lime tree. The leaves give off an intoxicating fragrance of pineapple, guava and mango. It can grow up to two feet tall and requires a lot of water. The pink flowers appear only in winter.
Honeydew melon sage (Salvia elegans) from Mexico and Guatemala has a fragrance between fully ripe honeydew melon and guava. The beautiful deep red flowers appear a bit earlier than the other American species.
Pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans) has gorgeous tubular red flowers and is native to Mexico. It, too, can grow nearly two feet tall in a large container. The leaves, as the name implies, smell of fresh pineapple.
However, there are also some recommended European sage species: for example, the biennial muscatel sage (Salvia sclarea), which comes from southern Europe. It forms a rosette of leaves in the first year, from which imposing inflorescences emerge in the second year. Unlike the true sage, however, snails love it. In the past it was used to give a muscatel aroma to wine. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. It is considered antispasmodic, relaxing, and is thought to have estrogen-like effects. Native meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) is also suitable as an ornamental and insect plant in home gardens. It can also be used as a herbal tea.
Sage is considered a strong medicinal plant
The Latin salvia comes from “salvus” (=healthy, healed) and “salvare” (= to save), which gives a clear indication of its esteem as a medicinal plant. The botanical species name officinalis is also an indication of its importance in medicine. Offizin is an old expression for pharmacy. Sage came to Central Europe in the luggage of the Benedictine monks, who established their first monastery gardens beyond the Alps in the 8th century.
At that time, it was even believed that sage could prolong life or even defeat death. Although sage cannot fulfill these expectations, it still has some healing properties worth mentioning. It is best known as a gargle for inflammation of the mouth and throat, because it has antibacterial and astringent properties. In addition, sage tea has antiperspirant and estrogen-like effects. This makes it a wonderful medicinal plant for relieving hot flashes during menopause. It is best to combine internal (tea) and external applications (washes). However, it is important that the tea is drunk cold or lukewarm in this case – never hot, because that would further promote the heat!
But that’s not all: sage also has digestive, anti-inflammatory and exceptional antioxidant properties, which is why it is also called a “free radical scavenger”. Favored by poor nutrition and environmental toxins, so-called “free radicals” are constantly formed in the body. These aggressive substances increase the risk of cancer, for example. The antioxidants in sage destroy the cell-damaging radicals.
Due to its antiviral effect, sage, like lemon balm, can also be used to treat cold sores (herpes simplex virus). Right at the first signs, i.e. a tingling or tightening of the lips, the affected areas are dabbed with sage juice. To do this, grind the leaves between the palms of your hands until juice comes out.
However, sage contains relatively high levels of thujone in its essential oil. This substance is considered abortive and therefore should not be taken in high doses by pregnant women. However, this does not apply to sage tea or sage as a spice, but only alcoholic extracts (tincture) or the pure essential oil.
Prepare sage tea correctly
When preparing tea and dosage, it is important to know what you need the sage for, because this will control the active ingredient release. For internal use for colds or digestive problems, you need about 1 tsp to ¼ liter of water, while for use against hot flashes, double the dose (2 tsp). You steep sage for only 4-5 minutes to prevent too many tannins from entering the tea.
For external uses, such as gargling or treating wounds, use a strongly brewed tea (2 tsp), with the infusion time now being 10-15 minutes, as this is when the tannic effect is needed.
If you have sage in your own garden, take the fresh shoot tips from May to September to brew a tea. Tea made from fresh leaves is tastier and also less bitter.
Myths and legends about sage: Awakening love with magic
Sage also played a major role in medieval magic. Since it was also considered an aphrodisiac, it was very popular in love spells. For a rather simple recipe, Christian beliefs were mixed with magical actions: “To awaken the love of a person, take 3 sage leaves and write on the first Adam + Eve, on the other Jesus + Mary, and on the third your name and theirs. Burn these leaves into powder and teach this to the person while eating or drinking.”
Spells or magical acts have accompanied healing since ancient times, because magic and healing were inseparable. In this case, magic was even taken physically, which had to increase the effectiveness significantly.
In the Middle Ages sage was considered a panacea for all kinds of ailments. Very impressive is the tradition of a plague epidemic in Toulouse (France). When the plague raged there in 1630, four thieves looted the corpses of plague sufferers without fear of contagion. When they were caught, they were promised impunity if they revealed their secret. They then revealed the recipe of a vinegar in which they had extracted antiseptic herbs such as rosemary, rue, sage, thyme and lavender. They had rubbed themselves with this vinegar for protection, which went down in history as the “Vinegar of the Four Thieves”.
According to a Christian legend, the sage received its extraordinary power from Mary. When she was on the run from Herod with Joseph and the baby Jesus, the sage was the only shrub that offered them refuge. It arched over the fugitives and was rewarded with the following saying of Mary: “From now on, until eternity, you will be a favorite flower of men. I give thee power to heal men from every disease; save them from death, as thou hast done for me.”
Sage as a spice: dominant and unique
In the Middle Ages, sage was one of the most popular seasoning plants, but it has since become a spice of little importance. Only in Italy is sage indispensable in some dishes, for example in the dish saltimbocca alla romana, a specialty made of veal, spicy Parma ham and sage leaves. Sage leaves are highly aromatic, the taste is spicy-bitter with a hint of camphor scent. It has such an intense aroma that it is usually used as a soloist, as it drowns out partner spices anyway. Only garlic is suitable for combination.
If you use it sparingly, it brings a unique fragrance to dishes. The full aroma of the fleshy leaves develops only when sautéed in fat or when cooked. Sage is said to enhance the digestibility of heavy dishes. It is excellent in soups, stews, potato dishes, pork, veal, poultry and fish, but also in tomato, pasta, rice and egg dishes. Or use it to flavor oil, vinegar, wine and liqueur by pickling the leaves in it. Very young leaves from the shoot tips are milder than older ones and enrich salads, cream cheese and herb butter. Sage leaves dipped in a batter and fried have an old tradition in some areas. You can use the mildly spicy flowers that appear in June as edible food decorations. South American sage species such as pineapple sage contain sweet fruity flavors. They flavor blended teas, fruit salads, jellies, cakes and beverages. Especially their large flowers are suitable for decorating desserts.
Recipes with sage
Recipe for sage chüechli
- 2 eggs
- 150 g spelt flour
- 175 ml milk or beer
- 1 pinch of salt
- 30-40 large sage leaves
- fat for frying
Separate eggs and beat egg whites to snow. Mix egg yolks, flour, milk and salt to a liquid batter. Finally, fold in the beaten egg whites. Dip sage leaves into the batter and fry in oil or coconut oil until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. In Switzerland, chüechli are also called muesli (mäusle) because of their mouse-like appearance. If you like it sweet, you can sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top before serving.
Recipe for sage blossom wine
50 g fresh sage blossoms and some sage leaves
0.75 liters of white wine
Leave blossoms to infuse in white wine for 2-3 days. Filter, fill into small bottles and cork. Drink liqueur by the glass. Keep refrigerated and consume within 2-3 weeks. Sage wine is tonic and restorative and helps with nervous exhaustion and fatigue.
Recipe for the vinegar of the four thieves
- 0.75 liters of wine vinegar
- 20 g each of fresh shoots of sage, thyme and rosemary
- 10 g fresh lavender flowers
- 2 cloves of garlic
Roughly chop all the ingredients and put them in a sealable jar. Pour white wine vinegar over it and let it infuse for 2 weeks. Strain and pour into small bottles. This defense-boosting vinegar makes a wonderful herbal vinegar for salads. Or use it as a gargle for colds: dissolve 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm water and gargle with it.