All About Sage: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Sage, Storing Sage, and Cooking with Sage

SageThere are plenty of reasons to grow sage. Available in shades of green, purple, gold, and silver, sage is an attractive and fragrant addition to the garden, and the pretty purple, blue, white, or pink flowers attract beneficial pollinators. Sage is easy to grow, requires very little care, and can be harvested year-round in most climates.

What are the health benefits of sage?

Sage is a source of health-promoting antioxidants, so it may help to protect against cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Sage extracts have been found to boost memory in young, healthy people and to reduce agitation and improve cognition in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown that sage leaf extract may reduce blood glucose in diabetics and bad cholesterol (LDL) in those with high LDL. In addition, because it has anti-inflammatory effects, sage may also be beneficial for those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and bronchial asthma.

When can I plant sage?

Sage is typically grown from transplants or cuttings rather than seeds because the seeds take a long time to germinate (2-3 weeks in good conditions). Both seeds and transplants are usually planted outdoors in the spring, though you can start seeds indoors up to 2 months before the last frost. As a perennial, sage comes back year after year, so once you have an established plant, you can get more plants by dividing it, growing new plants from cuttings, or saving and planting seeds.

How big do sage plants get?

Sage plants typically grow to 1-3 feet in diameter, but you can keep them more compact with regular pruning. Allow at least 2 feet between plants.

What type of soil does sage need?

Sage grows best in well-drained soil with some organic compost mixed in. If the soil is too wet, sage plants will usually rot. You can improve drainage by mixing some perlite or vermiculite into the soil before planting.

Can I grow sage in a container?

Like other herbs, sage grows well in containers. The container should be at least 8 inches deep and wide enough for the plant to spread out. Sage does particularly well in clay pots, as they wick moisture away, keeping the soil from becoming waterlogged.

Can I grow sage in the shade?

Although full sun is usually recommended for sage, it will grow well in partial shade (just a few hours of sun per day). I’ve found that my sage plants do best with morning sun and afternoon shade.

What ongoing care does sage need?

Established sage plants can tolerate dry soil, don’t usually require fertilizer, are rarely bothered by pests, and generally thrive on neglect, so sage is a great choice for busy gardeners and those who have trouble keeping plants alive (the exception to this rule is pineapple sage, which requires a lot more care and attention). However, young sage plants may need regular watering to keep the soil moist because they’re not as drought-tolerant as established plants.

Established sage plants require almost no care. Just prune occasionally to keep the plants looking tidy and cut them low to the ground in the spring to encourage fresh new growth, but otherwise leave them alone. Note: some garden experts say that pruning too aggressively can kill sage plants, so you shouldn’t cut them right down to the ground the way you can with herbs such as mint.

Some gardeners recommend tossing a little compost onto the soil around their sage plants each spring.

One of the few things that will kill sage is very cold temperatures. If you live in a cold place, you may want to grow your sage in a container and bring it indoors for the winter.

If your sage plant gets very woody (which often happens after a few years), you can divide it and replant only the most vigorous sections.

Some garden experts recommend removing the flowers from sage plants to encourage more leaf growth. However, the flowers are also edible and they attract pollinators, so many gardeners don’t bother removing them.

When can I harvest sage?

You can snip sage leaves off as needed. Sage grows well year-round in most climates (assuming it doesn’t get extremely cold in the winter), so you can harvest fresh sage even during the cold seasons.

How do I store sage?

Sage can be dried and it keeps its flavour well in good storage conditions, but it grows throughout the year in most climates, so if you have a plant, you shouldn’t need to dry any for storage.

If you would like to dry some sage, just cut some stems and place them in a paper bag or on a sheet of paper, or hang them in a bundle somewhere warm and dry until the leaves are dry and crumbly. Then remove the leaves from their stems and store them in a sealed jar in a cool, dark, dry place. Don’t crumble the leaves until you’re ready to use them, as keeping them intact preserves the flavour more effectively.

You can also freeze sage leaves. Options for freezing include spreading leaves on a tray to freeze and then placing them into sealed bags or containers for long-term freezer storage or blending the leaves with oil, freezing the mixture in ice cube trays, and then removing the cubes and adding them to sealed containers for long-term freezer storage.

How long will sage keep?

According to StillTasty.com, fresh sage will keep 10-14 days in the refrigerator (wrapped in a damp paper towel) and 4-6 months in the freezer. Dried sage will keep for around 6 months stored in an airtight glass container in a cool, dry, dark place.   http://www.stilltasty.com/fooditems/index/18228

How do I save sage seeds?

If you want to try growing sage from seed, wait for it to flower and then for the seed pods to dry. Collect the seeds either by gently pinching the seed pods to release them or placing sage stalks upside down in a paper bag and letting them release their seeds into the bag when ready. Kept in cool, dark, dry place, the seeds should last for approximately 3 years.

How do I cook with sage?

Sage is most often used in dishes with cheese, eggs, beans, squash, mushrooms, or tomatoes, and in soups, sauces, stews, risottos, marinades, stuffings, and pasta dishes. The leaves can also be made into teas, which are believed to have medicinal uses, such as soothing sore throats, and the flowers can be tossed into salads or used to make sage blossom vinegar.

For sage recipes, see Eating Well’s Healthy Sage Recipes pageSunset’s 6 Tasty Recipes with Sage page, and the Epicurious sage recipes page.

For more vegetable and herb gardening articles, see the main Gardening page.

References

    • Greenthumb. (2010, 21 November). Saving Sage Seed. GrowingHerbsforBeginners.com.
    • Herriot, C. (2010). The Zero-Mile Diet: A year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing.
    • Jabbour, N. (2012). The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
    • McGee, R. M. N., & Stuckey, M. (2002). McGee and Stuckey’s the Bountiful Container. New York, NY: Workman Publishing.
    • The George Mateljan Foundation. (2016). Sage. WHFoods.com.
    • The National Gardening Association. (2016). Growing Sage. Garden.org.
    • Tozer, F. (2013). The New Vegetable Growers Handbook. Santa Cruz, CA: Green Man Publishing.
    • Ware, M. (2016, 16 February). Sage: Health Benefits, Facts, Research. MedicalNewsToday.com.