A non-profit organization dedicated to education with regard to the culture and use of herbs
line decor
 MHS Herb of the Year   
line decor


2015 MHS
Herb of the Year
- Sage

Sage: More Than Just a Thanksgiving Herb!

By Bonnie Kulke, Joyce Pohl, and Carrie Wilkey

Overview of Sage

Salvia officinalis is the botanical name for common sage, a plant or shrub that belongs to the genus Salvia, of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). Salvia officinalis is also known as garden sage, common sage, culinary sage, or just plain “sage.”

Salvia means health or salvation. Officinalis means medicinal. And indeed, sage has long history as a healing herb.

Plants in the genus Salvia are easy to grow, bloom abundantly, and are beautiful to have in your yard or garden. There are more than 800 types of Salvias, including culinary, medicinal, and decorative varieties, although not all Salvias are culinary “sage” plants.

What is Sage?

Sage is a hardy, woody, perennial shrub that can grow to about 12–24 inches tall and wide. Sage can be erect or grow along the ground. Like other Lamiaceae plants, sage has a square stem and opposite leaves. Common sage leaves have a pointed, oblong shape, and are generally silvery-green in color, with tiny silver hairs. Leaves of different kinds of Salvia vary in color—from gold to cream, red, purple, or green, and there are variegated varieties, too.

Springtime blooms appear on the long stems with purple whorls and two-lipped corollas that attract bees and hummingbirds. The most common color of the sage flower is purple, but other salvias may have blue, pink, or white blooms. Common sage frequently fails to flower, but when it does, the flowers may be blue, lilac, or even purple.

Sage has a pungent fragrance and flavor of camphor and mint. In the edible varieties, both the leaves and flowers may be eaten.

Popular Varieties of Sage

Gardening with sages is exciting, with so many different varieties to try. Large-leaved varieties include Mammoth Sage or the pretty Berggarten with its round leaves. Purple sage, golden sage, golden variegated sage, and tricolor (purple, white, and pink) make dramatic statements.

Non-edible varieties that are popular as flowering annuals in our region are usually called salvias and come in floral hues of red, blue, purple, and white. The violet spikes of Salvia Farinacea are particularly striking, as are the big, pinkish spires of biennial Clary sage (salvia sclarea). Note that so-called Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is “neither Russian nor a sage,” though it is a pretty perennial.

  • Common or Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis): 12–18 inches in height, greyish-green oblong leaves, purple flowers that bloom in August, the most familiar kitchen garden plant.
  • Blue Sage (Salvia Clevelandii): 3 ft. in height, blue flowers, can be used in place of garden sage in potpourris. This southwestern native lends its scent to the chaparral country.
  • Pineapple Sage, sometimes called Honey Melon or Tangerine Sage (Salvia elegans): 2-3 ft. in height, pineapple scent, red flowers in late summer and fall, can be used in drinks, jams, jellies, chicken, and cheese. Can be grown indoors in good light.
  • Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha): 4 ft. height, gray-green foliage with spikes of lavender flowers. Not winter hardy; abundant flowers dry well.
  • Golden Sage (Salvia offininalis ‘Aurea’): 18 inches in height, striking gold and green variegated leaves. Compact, dense growth makes a very showy border plant.
  • Dwarf Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Dwarf’): 18 inches in height, more compact grower, smaller leaf size. Makes a good border, rock garden, or container plant. • Holt’s Mammoth Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Holt’s Mammoth’): 3 ft. in height, grows quickly, good for cutting and drying in bulk quantities.
  • Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurea’): 18 inches in height, compact, aromatic, purple foliage. Use like garden sage in stuffings, sausage, omelets, soups, and stews. Pretty for wreaths.
  • Tricolor Sage (Salvia officianlis ‘Tricolor’): 2–3 ft. height, variegated leaves in cream, purple, and green. Very decorative in landscape plantings and crafts. Clary Sage (Salvia Sclarea): 3 ft. in height, biennial. Huge pebbly gray leaves, spectacular lilac and pink flowers. A most unusual and showy sage, its essential oil is used flr perfumes, flavorings, and aromatherapy.

If you like thematic gardens, there are many Salvias to consider.

  • Kitchen gardens: varieties of common sage should be primary herbs for any kitchen garden.
  • Fragrance Garden: pineapple sage is fruit-scented, tasty, and produces handsome foliage and beautiful red blooms.
  • Cosmetic Garden: use sage to create hair rinse, aftershave, cologne, foot soaks, and more
  • Tea Garden: make tea blends that include sage tea, or add sage to savory dainties for an afternoon tea.
  • Medicinal garden: sages have long been used to cleanse the body and the spirit.

How to Grow Sage

Harvesting and Preserving Sage

History and Folklore of Sage

Cooking with Sage

Household, Cosmetic, and Garden Uses of Sage

Medicinal Uses of Sage




2014 - Mediterranean Herbs

2012-13 - Basil
Ocinum basilicum

2011 - Mint
Labiatae (aka Lamiaceae)

2010 - Dill
Anethem graveolens

2009 - Bay Laurel
Laurus nobilus

2008 - Scented Geraniums and Edible Flowers
Scented Geraniums - Pelargonium

2007 - Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence
Lavender - In Your Kitchen and Throughout Your Home

2006 - Rosemary
For centuries, rosemary has been used as a symbol of friendship, love, loyalty, and remembrance.

2005 - Oregano/Marjoram
There are 36 different species of Origonum, which includes many fragrant and ornamental herbs.

2004 - Lemon Herbs
For the 2004 Madison Herb Society Herb of the Year, we’re revisiting Lemon Herbs. There are many and they come from a variety of herb families.

 2003 - The Alliums
The Alliums - an Introduction - learn the basics of edible alliums Onions, Onions, Onions - Culiinary uses for and growing onions.
Garlic - a culinary favorite, growing and harvesting garlic
Chives - an overview of this tastyherb

2002 Herb of the Year - Dill
Dill - Anethum graveolens
(a-ne thum gra ve o lenz) - is a member of the carrot (Umbellelliferae or Apiaceae) family that also includes parsley, fennel, and caraway.