Winter is generally a difficult time for growing herbs, but one herb that is certainly worth nursing through this season is sage – SALVIA officinalis – especially because it comes in so handy when one is suffering from the colds and influenzas that are prevalent in winter.
The genus name ‘Salvia’ comes from salvare, which means ‘to cure’ in Latin, and is indicative of the fact that the herb’s healing powers have been recognised since early times. Interestingly, folklore associates sage with wisdom and now laboratory studies are suggesting that it may be useful in helping prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sage is an excellent antiseptic remedy for sore throats and mouth ulcers. An infusion, made from the leaves and flowers, can be used as a gargle or mouthwash up to three times a day.
Taken as a tincture it is a gentle but stimulating tonic that can help one overcome the after effects of colds and flu. A dilution of 2 ml of tincture in water can be taken twice a day for this purpose.
Fresh sage leaves can be rubbed onto stings and bites.
The ability of sage to reduce sweating, combined with its oestrogenic actions, makes it a valuable herb for women seeking relief from menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and dizziness.
Animals can also benefit from sage. To help alleviate digestive problems, constipation, obesity and loss of milk, and to combat infections, chopped fresh leaves or an infusion made from the leaves can be added to the food or water of the affected animal. Sage oil or sage ointment can be used to treat wounds, tumours, bruises and swelling.
Cooking with sage
Sage has a strong, slightly bitter taste so it should be used sparingly. Besides the traditional sage and onion stuffing for chicken, sage combines well with cheese, butternut, pumpkin and pork. Sage butter can be used to flavour pasta, vegetables and roasted meat. To make sage butter mix two tablespoons of finely chopped sage leaves with half a cup of room-temperature butter. Mould the butter into a sausage shape, wrap it in greaseproof paper or foil and store it in the fridge. Cut off slices as required.
Sage is an evergreen perennial that grows to a height of about 30 cm and flowers in spring. To keep plants in shape it is best to trim them after they have flowered. They generally need to be replaced every three to four years, or when they become woody. Sage is very sensitive to over watering. It does best in areas that experience a dry winter, especially if it is grown in a pot and kept in a sunny area that is sheltered from cold draughts. Sage grown in the garden needs full sun and soil that drains well, sandy loam is the best. If you have clay soil, rather grow sage in a pot. Once established, water sage plants infrequently (they really do best with a bit of benign neglect). If you harvest leaves regularly then feed the plants twice a month with a diluted liquid fertiliser.
More about sage
English sage (SALVIA officinalis) is a small, hardy shrub with thick velvety grey leaves and blue flowers. It is a good companion plant for strawberries, carrots and cabbage.
Tricolour sage is a beautiful, showy version of S. officinalis. It has green, purple and cream variegated leaves and bears blue, pink or white flowers. It is low growing and can be used as a ground cover or to form borders in ornamental gardens, however, special care must be taken to avoid over watering when it is incorporated into flower gardens. The leaves have medicinal properties and can be used for culinary purposes.
Purple sage (SALVIA officinalis ‘Purpurascens’) is a purple variation, with velvety-purple leaves and blue flowers. It can also be used medicinally and in cooking.
Cleveland sage (SALVIA clevelandii) is a small, woody shrub with oval-shaped, velvet-textured, grey-green leaves. This sage tolerates most climates but requires soil that drains very well and is slightly alkaline. The leaves are used in potpourri and in natural insecticides.
Pineapple sage (SALVIA elegans) is quite different to S. officinalis as it grows into a large shrub with bright green, furry leaves and fiery red flowers. It needs sun
and soil that drains well. It is fast growing and can be cut back after flowering. The leaves and flowers have a pineapple-like aroma and are used in fruit punches and fruit salads.