Member of the family Lamiaceae
There exists several hundred sorts of sage, growing almost all around the world.
The sort for medicinal and culinary use is in Latin called Salvia officinalis.
The officina was the traditional storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored, and this explains the sort name.
The Swedish botanist Carl von Linné described the herb in 1753.
It is a perennial subshrub, which means it is low growing – most sage plants never grow higher than about 60 cm above ground. The seeds are dark brown, egg shaped and tiny. The leaves are silver green, elongated and somewhat egg formed. The leaves have a downy surface.The flowers are mostly purple, but can come in all shades between white and purple. It is indeed a very beautiful plant, and also a evergreen,which is a reason for its popularity as an ornamental plant. Sage has a delicious smell, and it is an easy plant to cultivate.
It is only the leaves, fresh or dried that are used for cooking. You can harvest the leaves all year, even if you are growing sage outdoors in a snowy climate, only brush the snow away and you can get your fresh leaves. Although “everyday harvest” is possible the leaves are best just before flowering in spring.
To dry the leaves, clean them and spread them on a drying rack in the oven set on low temperature and with a slightly open door for about 16 hours. It is advised to turn the leaves now and then during the drying process. When the leaves are completely dry you can crush them or not, and put them into dark glass containers. Some people advice to keep the leaves whole and crush them when needed. Dried sage in a way tastes more than fresh. It gets “something extra” during the drying process.
Sage has a long history of medicinal and culinary use. In old recipes from the Medieval Age sage is added to almost everything: Tea, wine, tobacco, bread, beer, honey, jam, steaks, sausages, beans,…. the list never ends.
Sage has the ability to in a way “eliminate fat”, and it is popular nowadays to add sage to different fatty dishes. Sage is best used alone. A famous chef once said: “Sage is like a primadonna who gets mean and insulted if she doesn’t get the stage for herself.”
Sage has been used since the time of Gilgamesh in old Sumer over 6000 years ago. It is found old clay tablets describing the herb. Egyptian hieroglyphs describes sage.
The ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs highly appreciated the herb. The old Greeks even called the plant abrosia deorum or food for the gods.
The name Salvia, after the Latin verb salvo – to heal – was given to the plant by the Romans. The Roman legions spread the plant all over the Roman empire, bringing its seeds to all its corners.
During the sixteenth century the Chinese valued sage so highly that Dutch traders got three chests of the finest Chinese tea in exchange for one chest filled with sage.
The Chinese believed sage was able to prolong life. A belief also found many places elsewhere. An Arabian proverb says: A man growing sage in his garden can never die.
The sage is also a symbol for domesticity. When it thrives in the garden it is a symbol for the reign of women in the house.
The honeybees love sage.