Recipes for survival!
Sage is a very useful herb addition for any garden and is an easy herb to grow. As a herb is has many uses in the home, from stuffing or forcemeat in roasted poultry and rolled roasts, to a deodoriser and aromatherapy tonic oil. It's large grey green leaves have an interesting velvet like texture which helps it conserve moisture. As a bush, it grows to about 80cm tall. It is a small perennial evergreen shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Sage is commonly grown as a kitchen and medicinal herb or as an ornamental garden plant. Spikes of purple flowers are borne usually in autumn and are attractive to bees.
A sprig of sage in flower.
Keep in mind that sage is a Mediterranean alpine plant, growing in stoney ground where water comes more often from mists than rainfall and will quickly evaporate in the strong sunlight, so do not over water or over fertilise sage.
Sage is also available as a purple leafed cultivar that makes a striking show in the garden.
Best known as an ingredient in poultry stuffing, Sage (edible sage or garden sage) has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Sage is a strong medicinal herb and should be used with caution, especially as an essential oil in aroma therapy. It is a uterine stimulant and must not be administered to pregnant women.
For thousands of years sage has been used for a variety of culinary and medicinal
purposes. It has been used in connection with sprains, swelling, ulcers, and bleeding. As a tea, sage has been
administered for sore throats and coughs. Herbalists have also used this herb for rheumatism, menstrual bleeding,
strengthening the nervous system, improving memory, and sharpening the senses.
Cleary Sage is considered one of the most useful herbs in the naturopathy arsenal,
for it's stimulating and fortifying properties and is usually administered as either an aromatic oil or as an essence.
Because of its antiseptic qualities, sage tea is used as a gargle for a sore throat
and is excellent for treating colds, mouth ulcers and sore gums. In Germany, sage is commonly used for upset stomach
and excessive sweating. In England, sage is used for some symptoms of menopause. Sage is a potent source of anti-oxidants.
To make a tea to ease a sore throat, pour a cup of boiling water over two teaspoons
of fresh chopped sage leaves. Allow to steep for ten minutes and add honey to taste. When using tea as a gargle for sore
throats, allow it to cool till just warm.
Herbal medicine is always better with fresh herbs and sage is available from the bush
all year round, however, should this not be possible you can freeze fresh leaves. To freeze fresh sage leaves, wash and pat
dry, remove leaves from the stems, and pack loosely in freezer bags to freeze up to 1 year.
For colds, add the juice of half a lemon to the sage tea as well and sip the tea slowly.
Sage oil contains the chemical substances alpha- and beta-thujone, camphor, and cineole as
well as other constituents including rosmarinic acid, tannins, and flavonoids. Even today, in many European countries sage is
used medicinally as a gargle for sore throat and inflammation of the mouth and gums. Clinical studies also indicate that the
substances found in sage oil may also offer antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects, explaining with modern science
much of its medicinal activity, that the old herbalist knew two thousand years ago.
Galen, the Roman physician in 190 A.D. described the healing properties of sage, that science is confirming today.
Sage contains relatively high levels of thujone which can cause digestive upset in large doses
however this is highly volatile and heating sage to make an infusion (or tea) eliminates much of the chemical, so the risk
from medicinal amounts is negligible, however you should not administer sage as a herbal treatment, to anyone who is pregnant,
lactating or who has a fever.
Sage prefers a sunny location with a dry, alkaline soil. It grows best in a warm climate but will withstand English winters if protected from the frosts. You can propagate sage from summer cuttings taken with a heel or by layering established branches in spring and autumn.
Sage seed is also available. To grow from seed, plant seeds 5mm deep in soil in a container and place on a sunny window sill to germinate. Water enough to keep the soil damp but not wet, while you wait for the seeds to germinate. You should see seedlings in about 14 to 21 days. After several weeks, thin out the seedlings and select the strongest ones for planting out in the garden or in containers. You should have large enough leaves to pick and use in cooking, a few weeks after planting out in the garden.
Two to three weeks after planting seedlings in the garden, you'll have leaves large enough to use in your cooking.
Keep the plant well pruned to encourage young shoots with a strong flavour. Pruning also keeps the plants from becoming leggy and twiggy. If you are growing sage for culinary uses, be sure to pinch out any flowers in order to encourage the tasty leaves.
Sage plants can grow in height from 15cm to 1.5 metres with a spread of 45cm or more. They can be anything from compact little plants to large specimen shrubs, depending on the variety.
There is even a variety of sage with three different coloured leaves on the one plant
Varieties of Sage
Because sage is one of the oldest herbs known to civilised man, over time we have created many different cultivars. There are in the region of 750 different types of sage, with a wide variety of leaf shapes from narrow lavender like leaves to almost heart shaped. As you can see with the golden sage below, the same can be said for the leaf colour and the flowers. This is partly due to the fact that sage is also prized as a decorative hardy garden shrub as well as a herb. It's ability to tolerate hot dry weather makes it popular for low maintenance gardens.
The golden leaves of Salvia Officinalis 'Aurea'
Sage is a popular hardy and attractive garden shrub and as a result of it's widespread popularity, plants have been selectively crossbred to create a wide variety of flower types too, from pure blues to reds to shocking pinks and vivid reds, like you see in the Blackcurrent sage flower below.
The flowers of the blackcurrant sage are brilliant red
Sages have many possible aromas to match their colours and leaves. These vary from the traditional strong camphor scent, through to fruity scents such as pineapple, tangerine and blackcurrant. There is even a sage that smells like eucalyptus (salvia blancoana).
Many cooks prefer to use dried rather than fresh sage. Dried sage comes in whole leaf or ground form. Ground sage is a fine green powder that quickly loses it's aroma - faster than whole leaf form. As with all dried herbs, store closed containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and use within 6 months for the best flavour.
Pick sage early in the day when the aromatic oils have not had a chance to evaporate in the sun.
To dry sage yourself, put in a paper bag, with holes for air circulation. Protect from dust and other pollutants and hang up in a warm dark dry place to dry. Once dry crumble the leaves into a dark glass jar and store in a cool dry place out of direct light. Unlike many other herbs, the flavour of sage increases with storage for the first few months.
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Sage has a strong flavour and should be used judiciously. It is traditionally used in stuffings for meats, especially pork and poultry, but is also used in a range of vegetable, fish and cheese dishes. It gives bread that country bake flavour and complements onion well (see the recipes section for Creamy Mushrooms with Shallots and Sage).
Sage adds a special flavour to biscuits or scones, as well as bread (see the Recipes section). It is most famed for mixed herbs-and-onion stuffing which accompanies chicken, turkey and roast pork dishes in Western cuisine.
You are probably most familiar with sage as one of the main herbs in mixed herbs, the main flavouring in stuffing for poultry.
Because of it's strong flavour, sage is an ideal herb for roasts. Try covering a pork roast with sage leaves before roasting. Sage, fresh milled black pepper and salt added to pork mince makes a great sausage roll filling. When roasting chicken or turkey, use your fingers to gently separate the skin from the breast meat. Then rub a little butter on the breast and under the skin and push a small sprig or two of sage. Pat down the skin, then roast and enjoy.
Sage can be used for dyeing wool and fabrics by using the tops of the plant only. Using different mordants gives a variety of colours. You get a yellow-buff colour when an alum mordant is added, yellow when a chrome mordant is added and greenish-grey when an iron mordant is added.
As well as its culinary and medicinal uses already discussed, sage can be used in cosmetics for fragrance, as an insect repellent and makes an excellent hair rinse for dark hair. Sage was also one of the herbs used for strewing in medieval times. It was scattered on the floor of churches and great halls so that passing traffic trampled it releasing the aroma as an air freshener. In poor churches this made up for the absence of incense.