Common sage

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Plants

iCommon sage
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Salvia
Species: S. officinalis
Binomial name
Salvia officinalis

Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a small evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region.

It is much cultivated as a kitchen and medicinal herb, and is also called Garden sage, Kitchen sage, and Dalmatian sage. In southern Europe related species are sometimes cultivated for the same purpose, and may be confused with the common sage. Although this plant was the one originally called by this name sage, a number of related species are now also called by it, and are described in more detail in the article on sage.

The uses and benefits ascribed to it are many and varied, and are often shared with related species. Uses of common sage include:

  • teas and infusions, which are considered to have a calming effect, to soothe a sore throat and as a digestive agent
  • preservative flavourings, for instance of cheese
  • as a cooking flavouring, such as in sage and onion stuffing

Common sage is also grown in parts of Europe, especially the Balkans for distillation of the essential oil, though other species, such as Salvia triloba may also be harvested and distilled with it.

A number of cultivars of the plant exist. The majority of these are cultivated more often for ornament than for their herbal properties. All these are valuable as small ornamental flowering shrubs, and for low ground cover, especially in sunny dry situations. They are easily raised from summer cuttings. Named cultivars include

  • "Purpurascens", a purple-leafed cultivar, considered by some to be strongest of the garden sages,
  • "Tricolor", a cultivar with white, yellow and green variegated leaves,
  • "Berggarten", a cultivar with huge leaves,
  • "Icterina", a cultivar with yellow-green variegated leaves,
  • "Alba", a white-flowered cultivar,
  • "Lavandulaefolia", a small leaved cultivar.

A medieval saying, sometimes attributed to Martin Luther, is: "Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?" ("Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?"). To which Hildegard of Bingen said: "Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden, if not because nothing can stand against death?"

Culinary uses

Painting from Koehler's Medicinal Plants (1887)
Painting from Koehler's Medicinal Plants (1887)

As an herb, sage is considered to have a slight peppery flavour. In Western cooking, it is used for flavouring fatty meats (especially as a marinade), cheeses, and some drinks. In Britain and Flanders, sage is used with onion for poultry or pork stuffing and also in sauces. In French cuisine, sage is used for cooking white meat and in vegetable soups. Germans often use it in sausage dishes. Sage is also common in Italian cooking. In the Balkans and the Middle East, it is used when roasting mutton.

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