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The Homeowners Column
Some Sage Advice
State Master Gardener Coordinator
"When young sow wild oats, but when old, grow sage." - H. J. Byron. The herb sage has long been associated with increasing mental capacity, immortality, and longevity. It's also associated with Thanksgiving stuffing. So why is it when I eat too much stuffing I wonder why I wasn't smart enough not to eat so much stuffing?
Besides the interest in sage as a medicinal, sage has great culinary and ornamental appeal. It is used commercially to flavor beverages, confectionery, meat products and sauces and as a fragrance in soaps, detergents and colognes.
Sage can easily be grown in our gardens as an edible or ornamental, kind of an edimental. Its thick, bumpy, grey-green leaves add texture and color to flower gardens throughout the seasons. At two feet tall it is easy to find a place for sage. One quick brush of the leaves with your hands will reveal the luscious aromatic oils of sage.
It can be confusing when purchasing sage for culinary purposes. Many plants have sage as a part of their common name; however, the culinary sage is the species, Salvia officinalis. Check names closely for the correct sage.
Don't assume any smelly plant with the word sage in its name is appropriate for cooking. A woman called me once and just happened to mention she had used Russian sage in her spaghetti last night. After a long pause and short gasp from me I told her I wasn't even sure Russian sage was edible. Although they are both in the mint family, Russian sage is Perovskia atriplicifolia. She quickly did a head count and since her kids weren't showing any peculiarities beyond the usual we decided all was well but she shouldn't continue to experiment on the family.
Cold hardy sage may still be green in your garden. Perfect fresh or dried in recipes. Sage is a durable garden plant, but needs good soil drainage otherwise root rots set in. It prefers a full sun area, especially the colored leaf cultivars, but will grow in light shade. Sage plants form woody stems and should get a hard pruning in spring to keep them compact and lush. Or do light pruning so it produces its blue edible flowers in June.Here are a few of the more popular sage cultivars for ornamental and cooking appeal.
'Berggarten' has larger and broader leaves on a compact plant that grows to about 18 inches tall. The purple blue flowers are also larger. 'Berggarten' is a striking ornamental plant that can also be used in cooking.
'Holt's Mammoth' also has larger and rounder leaves than garden sage, however it does not flower. 'Holt's Mammoth' grows quickly and is therefore good for cooking and for harvesting and drying large quantities.
'Nana' is smaller growing about 15 inches tall with small narrow leaves for a rock garden or as an edging plant.
'Aurea' has showy green leaves with irregular yellow margins. 'Aurea' grows to about 18 inches tall and stays fairly compact and dense without pruning. I love it with black-eyed Susans or yellow marigolds.
'Purpurea' has purple-gray leaves as the name implies. It looks excellent with pink or blue verbenas or pink petunias.
'Tricolor' is one of my favorites with its variegated leaves of dark pink, cream and green. It looks lovely with pink flowers or plants with maroon leaves. 'Tricolor' tends to be less winter hardy than garden sage. If 'Tricolor' does make it through the winter, it will need a hard pruning in spring to keep it compact.
Check out http://urbanext.illinois.edu/herbs
Apply now for the Master Gardener program in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Training starts the end of January 2015 in three locations; Champaign, Danville and Onarga. Check out our website for more information and to apply online http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/ Questions? Call our offices: Champaign (217.333.7672); Danville (217.442.8615); or in Onarga (815.268.4051).