Pick leaves as required
Sage is a fantastic culinary herb. With its silvery evergreen leaves and pretty flowers – from intense blue to magenta – it’s quite at home in the ornamental border. It tastes good, too. And, with literally hundreds of different types of sage to choose from, there’s one to suit every situation.
How to grow sage
Grow sage in well-drained soil in full sun. Annual and biennial sages can be grown from seed, while perennial sages are best grown from young plants. Many sages do well in pots. Harvest the leaves as and when you need to and trim back perennial types after flowering.
More on growing sage:
Where to grow sage
Sage does best in full sun, which brings out the flavour of the leaves. Choose free-draining soil or compost – sages can die in waterlogged soils in winter. Add grit to the planting hole if you have heavy soil.
Sages do well in pots, again, only if they do not become waterlogged in winter.
How to care for sage
After flowering, give sage plants a gentle prune to stop them getting woody. Don’t prune into old wood because it won’t regrow.
Some sages need frost protection, others will survive outside as long as their roots don’t become waterlogged.
At the start and end of summer, sprinkle a couple of handfuls of bonemeal or other slow-release fertiliser around the sage plants, gently working it into the soil.
Perennial sages can be short-lived. Take cuttings every couple of years to insure against losses.
Follow Monty Don’s video guide to keeping sage alive over winter, by planting rooted cuttings in the greenhouse:
Growing sage: problem solving
Sage is usually trouble free, although it can suffer from red spider mite and leafhoppers, which can discolour the leaves. Blast them off with a jet from your hose or spray with a soap-based organic insecticide if necessary.
How to propagate sage
Annual and biennial sages are easy to grow from seed in spring. Start them off indoors ready to plant out after the last frost has passed.
Seed-sown perennial sage is slow to get going so it’s best to buy young plants instead. You can also take ‘soft tip’ cuttings (the tip of a young shoot just below a leaf joint), which are quick to root in pots of damp sharp sand on a sunny windowsill.
In this video guide, Monty Don demonstrates how to propagate Mediterranean herbs, including sage, from semi-ripe cuttings. Find out how to select suitable cuttings material, how to prepare it and what potting mix to use, then how to plant the cuttings and what aftercare to provide:
How to harvest sage
Perennial sages are evergreen so you can pick fresh leaves all year round. For the best flavour, pick them before the flowers appear and wait until late morning or early evening when the aromatic oils are concentrated in the leaves.
Pick the leaves of annual and biennial sages before they flower.
Cooking with sage
Sage can be used in a variety of dishes, from stuffing, casseroles and soups. In winter, bring out the flavour of the leaves by placing them in a sieve and pouring boiling water over them. This stimulates the volatile oils inside the leaves, and makes them taste better.
How to store sage
Use sage fresh when you can. It also dries well but develops a musty flavour if stored for too long.
Sage varieties to try
- Salvia officinalis – hardy evergreen with aromatic, grey-green leaves and pale-blue flowers
- Salvia lavandulifolia – neat, very aromatic and frost-hardy with mauve flowers
- Salvia microphylla var. microphylla (blackcurrant sage) – frost-hardy perennial with cerise flowers and blackcurrant-scented leaves
- Salvia viridis var. comata – a half-hardy annual with red, blue and pink flowers that are great in salads
- ‘Tangerine’ – frost-hardy perennial with red flowers. Its tangerine-scented leaves make a great addition to fruit salads