Sage advice

Posted on: 15 May 2019 by 50connect editorial

Sage is a fragrant and versatile herb - it's also suited to most UK gardens. Put your plot to work this summer and supplement your kitchen with this fresh favourite.

Sage

Common or garden sage, salvia officinalis, is an essential stuffing ingredient when paired with onion. It's traditionally used to aid digestion with fatty meats such as pork, goose or duck.

Sage has many other uses, however. It works well with beans or cheese, you can use it to flavour butter or vinegar, or make it into tea. The flowers make an attractive garnish or can be frozen in ice cubes. You can also craft a pretty rustic wreath from the plant.

Italian and Mediterranean cookery makes use of sage, which comes from that area. The Romans believed it was sacred, and the herb has been used for centuries as a natural remedy. It is reputed to reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, and can also be used to treat colds, wounds or diarrhoea. It’s important to seek professional advice before taking sage medicinally, because it can be toxic in large quantities.

Sage is supposed to purify the air, and makes a healing addition to a facial steam. You can use the herb as a mouthwash, and rub the leaves on teeth to clean them.

A hardy, evergreen shrub, sage doesn’t have to be simply a culinary plant, but can make a pretty addition to the garden. Summer brings purple flowers, there are also varieties with purple or variegated leaves, such as tricolor. The plant will attract birds, bees and butterflies to your garden.

sage flowersSage can spread to a couple of feet and grow up to three feet. A sage plant should be cut back in late summer to stop it becoming straggly, but it's best to replace it after three to four years as it will become too woody. If you want to raise your own plants, take cuttings in early autumn. You can also use layering, by pegging down branches and covering with soil, the plant will produce rootlets that can be cut and transplanted.

When planting sage, you can do so successfully is many different kinds of soil, so long as it's well-drained. A light dry soil, such as chalky, mimics its native Mediterranean habitat, but the herb will grow even in rich soil if it is not waterlogged. It could be handy if you are concerned about climate change because it is fairly drought tolerant. It likes full sun or partial shade, and will do well in a container.

To give the plant a chance to establish itself, in the first year either don't harvest or harvest lightly. You can use the leaves fresh, or cut the stems and tie in bunches. Dry them rapidly in a warm place then strip off the leaves and store in an airtight jar. You can also preserve the leaves by freezing.

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