Untitled by Ingrid Neuhofer Dohm

Sage... For Colour, Culinary, and Cures

Marjorie Scharff

Sage is such a fabulous plant for so many reasons. Depending on the variety, it blooms in a delightful array of colors--coral, red, yellow, all shades of blue, white, purple and even in a creamy pink variety named appropriately "dreamsicle sage." It is easy to grow as long as you have full sun and not too much rain. The butterflies love it; the deer don't usually nibble it. It adds great flavor to our traditional dishes of breakfast sausage and Thanksgiving turkey dressing, and, get this, it can turn your gray hair brown and aid your digestion!

The sages grown for color are usually called salvias at the nurseries. The flowers are deep throated and two lipped. They like full sun, light, dry and well drained alkaline soil. They can be grown from seed but I would recommend planting them from one gallon pots so that you get the maximum effect of color more quickly. Plant these larger plants about 18 inches apart. However, you can grow your own sage easily by taking cuttings and inserting them in a shallow tray of perlite which you will keep moist at all times. In warm weather they will be ready in about four weeks to set outdoors. Sage does not like to have "wet feet." It takes less water than most flowers. Mulching is recommended to protect against the extended high temperature climates of some areas and also low winter temperatures in others. It is usually a perennial except in extremely cold areas.

Salvia greggii has tiny little dark green leaves that have an oregano flavor for cooking, with the plus that it has been hybridized to bloom in white, pink, salmon, red and purple. Its spicy flavor goes well in beans, stewed meats and wild game. The flowers look great in a fresh salad. Cut off the spent blooms and you will be rewarded with several new bloomings during the warm months. This also keeps the plant more compact and less woody.

Salvia leucantha is my personal favorite, just because it is such a stunning highlight plant in the flower and butterfly garden. The silvery-green narrow leaves on a large bush covered with six to ten inch long spikes of white flowers emerging from purple velvet calyxes take your breath away. There is also a variety that has purple flowers. I have seen them hosting black swallowtail, painted lady, viceroy, swallowtail tiger and tiny yellow butterflies at different times. It is called "Mexican Bush Sage" in Texas and the Southwest. It can grow to four feet tall easily.

Salvia officinalis is the sage best known for culinary and healing purposes. Its dull, gray-green leaves have an interesting pebbled texture. The flowers are unremarkable but can be used in a nice tea that is said to aid in digestion after a heavy meal. The time to harvest the leaves is just before the flowers appear. Select healthy leaves undamaged by insects. About an hour before collecting, on a sunny day, spray the leaves with a fine hose spray and after they have dried off, pick them from the plant. To dry in a conventional oven, turn on the light or use the pilot light and place the herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Leave the herbs in the oven overnight or until the leaves turn crisp. You can dry them in a microwave but watch them carefully so they don't burn. Place one layer of herbs between two layers of paper towels, setting the timer for l or 2 minutes. Check for dryness every 30 seconds and fluff them each time to help them dry evenly.

Cherry Tomato Topping for Bruschetta

1 1/2 lbs. ripe cherry tomatoes

1 fresh green Anaheim chile

1 large clove of garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 loaf crusty Italian bread, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tomatoes in quarters, place in a pyrex bowl with diced and seeded chiles. Combine olive oil, garlic and sage and pour over tomatoes and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss. Warm in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes or until hot. Brush bread on both sides with olive oil and grill until toasted. Serve tomato mixture on toasted bread and garnish with extra chopped sage leaves. Great appetizer!


The following information is not presented as anything more than herbal lore. Do not self-medicate for conditions requiring professional care.


To darken gray hair: Boil in an iron pot 1 ounce of tea, 1 ounce of dried sage and 1 pint of water. Let it stand for 24 hours. Rub into clean, damp hair and do not rinse out.


1/2 ounce of chopped, fresh sage leaves. 1 ounce of sugar, the juice of 1 lemon and 1 teaspoonful of grated lemon rind. Pour one quart of boiling water over all this and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain before serving. It may be served cold from the refrigerator or reheated for hot. This is reputed to help headaches, head colds, dyspepsia, delirium, nervous excitement, delayed menses, and lethargy!

MARJIE SCHARFF loves growing plants of all sorts, from tropical papayas to the living sculpture called cactus. She is a member of the San Antonio Botanical Society and is a Bexar County Master Gardener. She studied journalism at Texas Tech University where she edited the yearbook. She values nature, poetry, quilting and living in a peaceful life. Comments can be sent to Marjie Scharff at

About Moondance * Contents * Links * Editors

Please send comments and suggestions to Moondance. Please be sure to put "Moondance" in the subject line. Thanks!