Sage - The Thanksgiving Herb

Whenever I think of Thanksgiving, I think of sage, the classic Thanksgiving turkey seasoning. This is probably the homiest of the herbs. Its warm aroma is comforting and classic. In fact, you can crush a few leaves and boil them in water on your stove to let the fragrance drift through your house before holiday guests arrive.

Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) is the plant that’s familiar to most. Culinary sage has gray-green leaves and purple flowers that are beautiful in my herb garden in late spring and early summer. Sage is pretty easy to grow. It likes a sunny spot, but also a little protection from the sun at its harshest. And it likes well-drained, slightly dry soil. You can propagate sage from seed, but the cultivars are normally true if you take cuttings from a mature plant. They are winter hardy with a nice layer of mulch and protection from the extreme cold. You should cut sage back in early spring and again in the summer if it begins to look leggy and to allow new growth. 

Beyond the standard culinary sage, there are some really cool varieties that are less hardy but offer great garden interest. The ‘Tricolor’ variety is gorgeous with white, rose and green leaves. ‘Purpurea’ has soft, purple leaves with purple flowers. And ‘Icterina’ is a beautiful golden variegated form that does not bloom.

Overall though, my favorite sage is actually, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). This type of sage is not winter hardy so many people grow it as an annual. It can be propagated only by cuttings. So, I normally take some cuttings; root them and then plant them in containers outside in the spring once the chance of frost has passed. I love the pineapple-scented foliage and often walk by mine just to smell. Pineapple sage produces brilliant spikes of red flowers in the late summer and fall. My hummingbirds love them! You can use the leaves in teas, potpourri, fruit salads and to flavor drinks and garnish desserts.

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