Sage is in the Salvia genus, which includes plants with culinary, ornamental, and medicinal uses. These plants are prized in the garden for their aromatic, soft, wooly leaves and flower spikes which draw in pollinators. They prefer a well-drained soil and tolerate dry conditions well. Many cultivars have been produced that exhibit different physical characteristics, including variations in size and coloration. Sage has been used for thousands of years as a sacred herb and is often found in recipes for stuffing, squash, and egg dishes.
Tricolor sage is an ornamental variegated variety, reaching about 2′ tall with aromatic white, silvery-green, and pinkish-purple leaves, which will attract not only human passersby but also birds and butterflies. Although slightly less hardy than the common type, it still grows as an evergreen in warmer zones and perennial in cooler zones. Although not the type to flower often, sometimes you’ll see purple to blue flowers on the ends of spikes. Generally very easy to grow, plants like regular pinching back for best growth and will tolerate dry conditions and fast-draining soils, making them a great choice for water conservation and containers. It’s also deer resistant. Leaves can be used just as you would other culinary sage leaves.
Seed Depth: 1/8″
Space Between Plants: 16–24″
Space Between Rows: 20–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–70°F
Days for Germination: 10–21
Sow Indoors: 6–10 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks before average last frost.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by taking 3–4″ long stem cuttings. You can divide mature plants in the spring, which we recommend doing every 3 years for optimum plant health.
Grows best in a cool climate. It’ll grow as a perennial in USDA Zones 5–9 with some protection but will do better when grown as a cool season annual in warmer areas. It originated in a Mediterranean climate and will not tolerate extreme heat and humidity.
Natural: Full Sun. Will benefit from partial afternoon shading in warm climates to prevent leaf burn.
Artificial: Will grow well under full-spectrum artificial lamps. Needs at least 6–8 hours of light daily, but more is preferable.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy or loamy soils. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Cuttings will root in most soilless media including soilless mixes, well-rotted manure, perlite, vermiculite, and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in hydroponic systems including ebb-and-flow or continuous-flow media beds. Use perlite to grow sage because of its good drainage.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low levels of water once the plant is mature. Keep young plants consistently moist but reduce watering for established plants without allowing them to wilt.
Nutrients: Requires low to moderate levels of nutrients. Sidedress with compost tea 1–2 times per growing season.
Pruning: Benefits from annual pruning of the thick woody stems in early spring. You should also prune back flower stalks in the fall after they bloom.
Mulching: In cold climates, use mulch to protect plants during cold winters. In humid climates, mulch with pebbles to keep plants’ roots from staying too wet.
Companions: Grows well with rosemary, cabbage, and carrots. Avoid cucumbers.
Harvest: If grown as a perennial, limit your harvests during the first year to allow the plant to become established. Cut an entire stem near its base or pick just a few leaves at a time. Do not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at one time. If harvesting flowers for arrangements, garnish, or drying, cut the flowering stem near the base.
Storage: Fresh leaves and flowers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store dried leaves in an airtight container.
Coloration: Younger leaves of this variety are the ones that tend to have the most purple, but if the plant doesn’t get enough sunlight, expect to see less of that shade.
Preserve: Leaves and flowers can be dried for later use. Hang stems upside down in a dry and protected area with good air circulation. Once leaves are dry, remove from the stem and keep in an airtight container. Dried flowers are good for decorative use or in potpourri. Leaves can also be frozen. Chop whole leaves and place them in ice cube trays. Cover the leaves with water or oil and freeze.
Prepare: Leaves can be used fresh or dried. Commonly found in stuffing, gravy, casseroles, pasta, and stews. Give fresh leaves a quick rinse just before using. Edible flowers can be used as a garnish in fresh salads. If you have a bunch, try making some herb flower pesto!
Nutritional: Provides vitamin A and beta carotene. Leaves also contain phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties.
Medicinal: Contains flavonoids and phenolic acids with antioxidant properties. Traditionally, it has had many healing properties attributed to its consumption. These include memory enhancement (including use in Alzheimer’s disease patients), reducing inflammation, treating snakebites, increasing female fertility, treating pain associated with menstruation, managing a variety of digestive issues, and treating depression. Topically, applications of sage leaves are used for cold sores, gum disease, and mouth pain. Inhaling the scent of sage has also been recommended for asthma.
Try out this Sweet Potato Gnocci with Sage for a filling and delicious vegan dinner.