Sage is the common name for a large group of plants in the genus Salvia. There are around 900 species widely distributed around the world. Many species are grown as ornamentals because of their attractive flowers or foliage, and there are, of course, the ones grown for their culinary uses.
Common sage is a native of the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a hardy perennial, an erect shrub growing from 12 to 30 inches high. Its downy stems are square, showing it to be a member of the much larger mint family. The 2-inch long leaves are long-stalked and arranged on opposite sides of the stem. They look pebbly and pucker-veined and are grayish-green in color, softly hairy or velvety, with round-toothed edges. In late spring through fall there are whorls of '4 to 8 flowers appearing in colors of pink, red, blue, pale yellow, or white, depending on variety. These very small flowers are tubular, % to % inch long, 2-upped with the upper lip straight or arched, and a ring of hairs inside.
Sage does well in full sun in well-drained moderately rich clay loam soil. It benefits from moderately high levels of nitrogen since the foliage is the desired part of the crop. It does not tolerate poorly drained soil or excessive watering, so you might consider planting it in raised beds. As soon as the soil warms up in spring, sow the seed inch deep. They should sprout in 7 to 10 days at 60 degrees. When the seedlings are 3 inches high, thin or transplant to 12 to 20 inches apart. The first summer, harvest a few leaves, but large harvests should not be made until the following summer. Besides sowing seed, sage can be propagated from cuttings, divisions, or layering s taken from new growth on established plants. Water your new sage plants well until they are established. Try to keep the leaves dry and water only sparingly during dry weather.
On established plants, harvest or prune them 2 or 3 times from spring through late summer. To get the best flavor and fragrance, harvest just before they bloom. Cut the plant back to about 4 inches and snap the leaves from the branches. Spread them on a cloth or paper out of direct sunlight in a cool, well-ventilated area. When crispy dry, store them in the air tight dark container. You can also freeze the leaves. If you are going to keep your plants over winter, make a light harvest in September or the plant may be winter-killed. After the fourth year, the plant will become woody and less productive. The potency of the fragrance decreases markedly, so you should probably replace them.
Sage has many uses--medicinal, aromatic, cosmetic, craft, dye, ornamental, culinary, and in companion planting. It is lemony, camphor-like, and slightly bitter. Dried leaves can be used in bread, omelets, poultry stuffing, and marinades. Sage goes well with fish, beet pork, poultry, vegetables, eggs, and cheese. It is used as a natural preservative for meats, poultry, fish, and condiments. It is an ingredient in perfumes, soaps, lotions, aftershaves, and cosmetics. The foliage dries well and makes a nice addition to herbal wreaths. In companion planting, sage can be planted with tomatoes, strawberries, cabbage, and carrots to enhance their growth.