Sage - The Thanksgiving Herb

Thanksgiving and sage. The two go together like birds of a feather. Haha! Seriously, though, sage is the classic Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing seasoning. It's reach, though, extends beyond the holidays into a year-round classic for other culinary delights and in herbal teas.


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 the herb garden in late spring/early summer and attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Sage is easy to grow. It's versatile since it can take full sun to part shade. It prefers well-drained, slightly dry soil and is drought and heat-tolerant. As a rule, herbs don't like wet feet and sage is no exception. Root rot can set in if it gets too much water, especially if grown in a pot. 

Sage can be grown from seed or cuttings from a mature plant. During the first year, be careful not to harvest too much of the plant, as it needs time to establish a healthy root system. 

Most sages are winter hardy but do appreciate a nice layer of mulch and protection from the extreme cold. In early spring you should back old, woody growth. Be careful, however, because it can take a bit for sage to leaf out. Once you're sure you are in the clear, go ahead and cut to alleviate legginess to allow for new growth.

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There are some fun varieties that are less hardy but offer great garden interest. ‘Tricolor’ sage is gorgeous with white, rose and green leaves. ‘Purpurea’ sage has soft, purple leaves with purple flowers. ‘Icterina’ sage is a beautiful golden variegated form that does not bloom.

My favorite sage is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans). Pineapple sage is not winter hardy so it's normally grown as an annual. (On a side note, I did have a pineapple sage come back in the spring after a harsh winter. It was definitely a pleasant surprise!) It can be propagated easily by cuttings. I normally take some cuttings in the fall; 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. Hummingbirds love the flowers! You can use the leaves in teas, potpourri, fruit salads and to flavor drinks and garnish desserts.

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