The sage we grow for cooking is generally referred to as “common sage” or “garden sage” (alvia officinalis). The name “sage” is also used for a number of related and unrelated species, covering over 400 species of both edible and inedible varieties from Russian and Jerusalem Sage to Sagebrush and Coastal Sage Scrub and is ultimately part of the same genus as mint.
Common sage is a perennial, evergreen shrub growing up to half a metre or so high, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. Although native to the Mediterranean region, it grows throughout the world and whilst preferring a sunny position in the garden, is quite drought and frost resistant.
Historically, it was used medicinally for everything from healing snakebites, increasing fertility, as a skin anaesthetic and even warding off both evil and the plague! As a result, it was often called “sage the saviour” and grown by monasteries and royalty – the name sage comes from the Latin salvere meaning “to save”. Although common sage is generally be used herbally, Clary sage is also often grown as an essential oil and in perfume.
Sage is also one of the ‘masking’ herbs that gives off strong scents which mask the scent of the target plant to confuse or deter insects. More about masking herbs in Insect-repellent Plants.
From a culinary perspective, sage has a savoury, peppery flavour and is commonly used in European cooking (particularly Italian, British and Eastern European) and in American cuisines. Interestingly, despite their love of herbs, it is rarely found in French cuisine. Sage can be used in many dishes for a savoury lift.
Find sage in the communal herb garden, or to grow your own, a small cutting taken and planted will be ready for use in about three months. Try these uses for sage:
- Soften some butter, then mix in chopped fresh sage for a delicious sage butter and serve on meat, chicken or trout
- Infuse honey with sage
- Add to lamb burger patties
- Make a sage and lemon stuffing for roast chicken
- Steep in olive oil and add to pasta – or try fresh sage and goats cheese on gnocchi
- Use in addition to other herbs in tomato sauce for pasta or pizza bases
- Roast pumpkin on a bed of sage
- Place whole sage leaves prosciutto and wrap around veal, fish or chicken (or a sweet potato), pan fry and finish in the oven