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Salvia officinalis

English sage


Salvia officinalis

Salvia officinalis (English sage) is a popular, culinary sage with pale, grey leaves and soft, purple flowers. It grows well in containers. According to Margaret Roberts, “A big pot of gently simmering water containing fresh sage sprigs will disinfect the whole house and deodorise cooking and pet smells.” (Source: The Essential Margaret Roberts: My 100 favourite herbs.)

Salvias – or sages – bloom for months on end and, planted en masse, create so vivid an effect it borders on horticultural lewdness. These herbaceous perennials are a floral feast for any gardener looking for plants that flower from spring to late autumn. The diversity of types, different flower colours, aromatic leaves and ease of growth are probably the main reasons why they are considered so worthwhile. The salvia genus is widespread globally, with an estimated 900 species – 500 of which hail from Mexico and 27 occuring naturally in southern Africa. Historically, sages were used to treat fever, sore throats and nerves. There is also one psychoactive plant, Salvia divinorum (Diviner’s sage, Seer’s sage) which is hallucinogenic.

Growing salvias successfully

  • Sages dislike too much water once they are established. All types are very water-wise, but they need well-draining soil.
  • Some salvias are able to tolerate very low winter temperatures, sweltering heat in summer and strong coastal winds. Others are tender. Be sure to choose the right type for your specific climate.
  • Most salvias need full sun to grow well, but there are tropical types like S. buchananii (Buchanan’s sage), S. mexicana ‘Limelight’ and S. splendens ‘Van-Houttei’ (Brazilian sage) which prefer afternoon shade in hot climates. These ones are also frost-tender.
  • Apart from preparing the soil well with compost and bonemeal before planting, salvias do not need any additional feeding. However, a topdressing of kraal manure or compost after flowering is beneficial.
  • Deadhead spent flowers regularly and prune the plants when their flowering season is over – for some this will be in late autumn and for others it will be in spring.
  • Salvias are known for their resistance to most pests and diseases and the bonus of these beauties is that bees, butterflies and birds will be attracted to your sages all day long.