Standing up even to Southwest growing conditions, sage is one tough herb—but tender in your tasty dishes.
Of all of the herbs that can tough it out here in the Southwest, sage is probably the winner. Sage is an old healing plant, sacred to the Romans. And, not to constantly make fun of the Romans and their "herby-ness," but those folks really knew how to make the most of a plant. It was brought back from the Mediterranean by Roman Legionnaires and became scattered across Europe. The plant had widespread popularity as a panacea for almost any ailment; even its botanical name, Salvia, means "salvation" or "health." Sage was once thought to increase longevity and was associated with immortality. Perhaps this is due to the myth that a Roman trader was found in a desert area with a bushel of sage by his side, and travelers for 100 years thought he was waving at them when in fact he was completely mummified in a state of beckoning for help.
Sage continues to be one of the world's most popular herbs. Currently Yugoslavia is one of the largest producers of culinary sage.
Mashed Potatoes with
2 pounds Yukon Gold, fingerlings or small boiling potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes
5 ounces soft fresh chevre or garlic chevre with cracked pepper
1/4 cup whole milk or cream
2 tablespoons salted butter
4 teaspoons minced fresh sage, either tricolor, golden or gray
Sage sprigs for garnish
Cook potatoes in large heavy saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 10-12 minutes; drain well. Return to pan. Add cheese, 1/4 cup milk or cream, and butter; mash until smooth. Mix in minced sage; season to taste with salt and pepper. Re-warm over low heat, thinning with more milk, if too thick. Place potatoes in serving dish. Garnish with fresh sage sprigs.
Makes 4 servings.
Growing conditions for sage include full sun and moderately rich soil. As with all herbs, sage does prefer well-drained soil, so work that compost into the garden area before planting. Sage seed does not store well and needs to be tested each year before planting. It does germinate quickly so you'll find out fast whether you should purchase new seeds. You can sow the seeds into a tray in early spring and, when the seedlings reach about three to four inches high, transplant them into the garden at least 18 inches apart. Water them regularly; do not let them dry out until they are established. You can also propagate sage from four-inch cuttings taken from the plant in the fall. You will need to prune your mature sage plants aggressively in the spring; otherwise they will become woody and less productive.
There are several varieties of sage to choose from:
Fruit Scented Sage (Salvia dorisiana)—Tender perennial, height three to four feet, rose-pink flowers with velvety green leaves. Best used in teas.
Golden Sage (Salvia Officinalis Icterina)—Perennial, height one foot, blue flowers with yellow-green leaves, best propagated from cuttings.
Gray Sage (Salvia officinalis) Perennial, height two to three feet, bright blue flowers with gray-green leaves. Most popular for culinary use.
Honeydew Melon Sage (Salvia species)—Tender perennial, height three feet, bright red flowers with light green leaves. Attracts bees. Great in teas and fruit salads.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)—Tender perennial, height three to five feet. Bright red trumpet-like flowers, pineapple fragrance and taste.
Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis)—"Purparescens." Perennial, height two feet, blue flowers with purple leaves.
Tri-color Sage (Salvia officinalis)—"Tricolor." Perennial, height two feet, blue flowers with white pink, or purple on green leaves. Best propagated from cuttings.
True Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)—Biennnial, height three to five feet, blue flowers with broad dull gray-green leaves. Culinary uses in cooking and teas.
Culinary sage is highly aromatic and is best used fresh, when its flavor has been described as a mix of rosemary, pine and mint; when dried, it has a more camphor flavor. In the Southwest, it can be used fresh from the garden year round; it can also be stored fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Whole leaves can be frozen up to two months. To dry, hang sprigs of sage or place leaves on a screen in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight; be sure leaves are fully dried before storage and store them whole to be crushed just before using. The best way to crush sage leaves is to rub them between your hands—hence, the term "rubbed sage." The flowers of any culinary sage are edible and have a more delicate flavor than the leaves. Stems or leaves can also be bundled and tossed on hot charcoal, where they will add a wonderful aroma to grilled dishes such as pork or fish.
Russian Sage (Perovska atriplicifolia)—Perennial, height three to four feet, lavender-blue flowers, fine gray lace leaves. Ornamental use for cut flowers, fragrance and texture. Seen everywhere in New Mexico. It is an extremely fast grower.
Clary Sage (Salvia viridis)—Annual, height 30-plus inches. Flowers are blue, pink or white, with gray leaves. Ornamental used for dried arrangements.
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)—Tender perennial, height one foot, blue flowers with silver-gray leaves. Used in dried arrangements.
Sage is the essential ingredient in smudge sticks used in Native American ceremonies for spirituality and healing.
I would like to recommend a few books on growing and cooking with sage: The Sage Garden by Anne Lovejoy, A Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden by Betsy Clebsch, Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Rodale Press and A Treasury of American Indian Herbs by Virginia Scully.
Sage has an endless variety of uses in cooking. Try some of the following to enhance your recipes:
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