|Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture|
Sage (Salvia officinalis). A sweet-herb, used for seasoning, and somewhat in domestic medicine.
For at least three centuries this shrubby fibrous-rooted perennial from southern Europe has been widely cultivated in kitchen-gardens for its aromatic whitish green wrinkled oval leaves. These are arranged oppositely on ascending or decumbent branching stems which seldom exceed 18 inches in height. In early summer the upper parts of these bear generally blue, though sometimes pink or white flowers, followed by almost black spheroidal seeds borne in the open cups. The name Salvia is derived from salvo, to save, in reference to the plant's use in ancient medicine; the name sage, from its supposed power to make people wise by strengthening the memory. In modern medicine it is but little used. In domestic practice, however, it is credited with tonic, sudorific, carminative, anthelmintic, and stomachic properties, and is frequently used as a gargle for aphthous affections of the mouth and pharynx. Its pleasant, though powerful-smelling, bitterish leaves are used for flavoring sausages and some kinds of cheese, for seasoning soups and stews, but mainly for dressings with luscious strong meats such as pork, goose, and duck. Among culinary herbs it ranks first in America, being more widely cultivated than any other except parsley, which is more largely employed for garnishing than as a flavoring agent. When possible the young leaves should be used fresh, for unless carefully dried they lose much of their aroma, which is due to a volatile oil and which even with careful curing rapidly dissipates. For best results the shoots should be gathered before flower-stems develop, because they are then richer and because later cuttings may be made. For drying upon a commercial scale, since this plan is thought to involve too much labor, the plants are cut in August if seed has been sown early, and the stumps, if not too short, produce again in late autumn; or if grown as a secondary crop, which is the common way, they are cut only once—namely, in autumn. Plants grown from cuttings (see below) will often produce three crops in a season. Upon a small scale, a warm airy room is best for drying, the plants being either laid loosely upon racks or the floor, or hung from the ceiling and walls. Upon a larger scale, a fruit-evaporator with a steady current of warm air at about 100° F. may be used. After drying, the leaves are rubbed to a powder and stored in air-tight vessels.
Sage does best in an open sunny aspect and a well-drained mellow loam of medium texture, rich in humus and nitrogenous matter. Stable-manure or a fertilizer containing potash, phosphoric acid, and nitrogen should be applied before the plowing, if done in the spring. Fall plowing is generally preferred when sage alone is to occupy the land. In each case plowing should be as deep as the surface soil will profitably permit. Thorough fining of the soil must precede, and clean cultivation follow planting, the plants being set in drills about 15 inches apart and 10 inches asunder for manual cultivation, or 18 to 21 inches apart and 10 inches asunder for power cultivation. The former method is, as a rule, more profitable though more laborious. After harvesting (see above) if the bed is to be permanent, northern plantations should be mulched with marsh-hay or other material free from weed seeds. For garden practice it is common to divide the clumps biennially, since the plants become straggling if left longer. Upon a commercial scale, however, it is better to rely upon cuttings or seedlings.
Propagation may be by seed, cuttings, layers, or division. Seed, the vitality of which lasts three years, may be drilled thinly in flats in greenhouse, hotbed, or coldframe in early spring; or out-of-doors as soon as the ground becomes dry enough, in specially prepared beds of fine soil, covering them about 1/2 inch deep. In the former case the plants must be pricked out and hardened off to render them stocky and hardy before transplanting; in the latter, they are taken directly to the field. This operation may be performed from mid-June until late July, the plants being not less than 2 to 3 inches tall. The former method, which is considered the better, is the common commercial practice. Cuttings may be of mature or of immature wood. With each, shade and moisture are essential to success. Mature wood cuttings, made in early spring, should be ready for the field in less than six weeks; immature, taken from outside shoots just before they would form blossom-heads, are left in the cutting-bed until the following year. Such plants are usually more prolific than those grown from mature wood or from spring seedlings, and are, therefore, best when sage alone is to occupy the land. But when it is to follow some early vegetable, mature wood cuttings or seedling plants will probably be found best, though little or nothing can be cut before September. As practised by market-gardeners in the vicinity of New York, each of the above methods has its advocates, but practically all agree upon the plowing and harrowing of the ground in June or July after harvesting an early crop, such as beets, cabbage or peas. About twice in the three weeks after setting the plants, the field is raked to destroy sprouting weeds and to keep the surface loose, after which, if well done, but slight hoeing is necessary. In September, when the plants crowd each other, each alternate plant or row of plants is cut for sale and the remainder allowed to fill the space. At the first cutting each plant should make about two marketable bunches; at the second at least three. This practice not only insures plants full of leaves at each cutting but at least doubles the quantity in the end.
In America the green broad-leaved varieties are in far greater demand than the colored and the narrow-leaved kinds. The best variety known to the writer is Holt Mammoth, which is exceptionally prolific of large leaves. It is said to produce no seed.
- Do you have cultivation info on this plant? Edit this section!
- Do you have propagation info on this plant? Edit this section!
Pests and diseases
- Do you have pest and disease info on this plant? Edit this section!
- Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, by L. H. Bailey, MacMillan Co., 1963