From medicinal to culinary use, sage has long been an herb garden staple. This plant is most commonly grown for its flavor, but it also makes a tough, pretty perennial plant in the garden. Sage's light blue flowers and gray-green foliage help it combine well with other plants in a flower border or container.
Sage plants are multipurpose powerhouses with attractive foliage and pretty blooms in summer. Generally, these plants are grown for their edible foliage and many gardeners choose to pinch off the flowers. This encourages plants to use all of their energy on producing tender leaves instead of seeds. If you do let your plants bloom, cut back to below the start of the bloom stalks once they fade to encourage fresh growth. The flowers themselves can also be used in salads and other dishes the same way as sage leaves, while also adding a refreshing splash of color.
In the kitchen, add fresh or dried sage to traditional poultry dishes and stuffing, use it to rub meats before grilling, or fold into egg or cheese dishes. Sage accents fruit-based vinegars, creating mixtures with delicate aromas and flavors. Be careful to use dried sage sparingly in cooking; too much can yield a musty flavor.
Sage Care Must-Knows
The sage plant is a tough Mediterranean perennial as long as it has well-drained soil, because too much moisture will cause it to rot. Sage is very tolerant of droughts once established. However, if you plan on harvesting sage for its edible characteristics, supplemental watering will prevent foliage from becoming too tough and bitter. It is also best to keep sage plants in full sun. Anything less will cause plants to sprawl, and flavor will be lost.
Related: Herb Care Guide
As sage plants get older, they can get woody and tough. When plants grow very woody, overall growth may slow down and become sparse. Generally, it's a good idea to replace sage plants every 3-4 years or so if you are planning on using them for culinary purposes because plants become less productive in their later years.
It is best to pick sage throughout the growing season, removing individual leaves rather than plucking stems. If you plan to harvest stems for drying, wash plants the night before with a spray of water. Cut stems the following morning after dew has dried. Harvest the top 6-8 inches of growth on the plants. Then, bundle three to four stems together and hang upside down in a dark, dry place with good air circulation. Another drying method is to spread individual stems horizontally on a screen. When leaves are fully dry, crumble them and store in an airtight container. The flavor will generally keep for 3-4 months. Note that drying intensifies the flavor; use dried sage sparingly.
More Varieties for Sage
Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten' produces large, round, gray-green leaves that are more flavorful than common sage. It grows 2 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8
Salvia officinalis 'Icterina' is a colorful alternative to common sage and can be grown in an herb garden, a flower border, or a container. It grows 2 feet tall and wide. Zones 7-8
Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' has foliage splashed with green, cream, and purple. In sunniest locations, the cream deepens to pink. Zones 6-11
Garden Plans For Sage
Planting Plans Inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden
Grow a 4x12-foot version of the White House Kitchen Garden (designed by Better Homes and Gardens garden editors) on your own south (or east or west) lawn. All you need is a spot that gets six or more hours of sunshine each day.