What is Sage?
Sage is native to the northern Mediterranean coastal areas of southern Europe and it still grows wild on hills in Dalmatia, a region of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea that is famed for the quality of its sage.
Sage has been cultivated for millennia, its therapeutic virtues being mentioned by Theophrastus, Pliny and Dioscorides who called it elelisphakon, one of sage’s many ancient names along with elifagus, lingua humana, selba and Salvia. The botanical name for its genus, Sabla, is derived from the Latin salvere, which means to save or to heal, so given to sage because of its medicinal properties.
In the ninth century, the emperor Charlemagne had it grown on the imperial farms in central Europe and during the Middle Ages, sage was considered to be an indispensable medicine. In sixteenth century England sage tea was a popular beverage before conventional tea became commonplace, and for those desiring something a little stronger, a brew called sage ale was made.
The Chinese were so fond of European sage tea that in the seventeenth century Dutch traders could command in payment for sage leaves, three to four times their weight in China tea. By the nineteenth century the benefits of including sage with rich and fatty foods were being fully appreciated and although some believed the flavor to be harsh, crude arid only fit for peasants, it found its way in varying proportions into most Western cuisines.
To the ancients, including the Arabians, sage was associated with immortality, or at least longevity, and it was credited with increasing mental capacit.y In the tenth century, the medical school at Salerno, Italy, coined the aphorism, “Why should a man die, when he can go to his garden for sage?” The genus name derives from the Latin for “salvation.”Later, the plant was used to counteract snakebite.
It was so prized for tea that the Chinese, of all people, were willing to trade their own fine green tea for it in a ratio of 4 to 1. In the ninth century, the emperor Charlemagne had it grown on the imperial farms in central Europe and during the Middle Ages, sage was considered to be an indispensable medicine.
In sixteenth century England sage tea was a popular beverage before conventional tea became commonplace, and for those desiring something a little stronger, a brew called sage ale was made.
By the nineteenth century the benefits of including sage with rich and fatty foods were being fully appreciated and although some believed the flavour to be harsh, crude and only fit for peasants, it found its way in varying proportions into most Western cuisines.
In Yugoslavia to this day, fields of sage are planted and harvested like wheat or hay, three crops a year, for cooking. American Indians, on the other hand, thought of it principally as a medicine, mixing it with hear grease for a salve they claimed would cure skin sores, as an infusion for rubdowns and baths, and as a sort of leafy, disposable toothbrush Americans of the 1800s said the herb cured warts.
Claims have also been made for sage as a cure for epilepsy, insomnia, measles, seasickness, and worms. It was thought to be especially good for stopping the flow of urine, milk, saliva, and, most of all, perspiration.
Preparation and Storage
Bunches of fresh sage are readily available from produce retailers, and when bought should not look wilted. A bunch standing in a glass of water will last for at least a week when the old water is tipped out and replaced with fresh every second day. Sage leaves can be chopped and put in an ice cube tray, just covered with water, and frozen until required (use within about three months). When buying dried, try to purchase Dalmation sage, as this is undisputedly the best for cullnarv purposes. If rubbed, it should be gray and woolly with a greenish tinge and have the characteristic balsamic aroma and savory taste of fresh sage. Store dried sage in airtight packaging and keep it in a cool, dark place.
Cooking with Sage
Sage has a pine-like flavor and aroma. It’s also often described as having eucalyptus and citrus notes. It’s best fresh; the dried stuff often ends up tasting bitter and musty. While some people may find the pungency of sage overpowering, its astringent, ‘grease-cutting’ attributes make it a perfect accompaniment to fatty foods such as pork, goose and duck.
Sage often gives the best result when used in moderation and in dishes that are being cooked for a long tune. Such is the power of sage, that its flavor is rarely diminished by exposure to extended cooking times. It pairs very well with chicken and other poultry, as well as pork and sausage. Sage and butternut squash are also a frequent combination, one of the few pairings of sage with a sweet ingredient.
Sage goes well with carbohydrates and for this reason it is an important ingredient in bread stuffings, dumplings and savory scones. Pea, bean and vegetable soups benefit from sage, as does a mash of potato or butter beans. Sage and onions are a well-known combination and moderate amounts of sage are excellent with eggplant and tomatoes. Sage is a traditional element of mixed herbs along with thyme arid marjoram. Sage will complement any full-bodied soup, stew, meat loaf, or roast meat dish. Deep fried sage leaves make a fashionable garnish.
Use an equal amount of one of these herbs for a sage substitute until you can get to the store: poultry seasoning, marjoram, rosemary, thyme or savory.
Health Benefits of Sage
The oils sage have antiseptic, astringent, and irritant properties. This makes sage useful in treating sore throats, mouth irritations, and possibly cuts and bruises. Experiments in 1939 showed it had estrogenic properties, which may have some connection to the herb’s reputed ability to dry tip milk. Research has shown it lowers blood sugar in diabetics.
Sage is used to relieve excess mucous buildup. It is beneficial to the mind by easing mental exhaustion, soothing nerves, and by strengthening the concentrating abilities. In a lotion or salve, it is useful for treating sores and skin eruptions, excessive sweating, and for stopping bleeding in all cuts. Chewing the fresh leaves soothes mouth sores and sore throats, as will sage tea.
It is good for all stomach troubles, diarrhea, gas, flu and colds. As a hair rinse, it removes and treats dandruff. Sage combined with peppermint, rosemary, and wood betony provides an excellent headache remedy.
It is used to regulate the menstrual cycle, to decrease milk flow in lactating women, aids in treating hot flashes, and is used as a deodorant. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy to cleanse and purify the air. In a carrier oil, it makes an excellent deodorant.
Sage also contains terpene, camphor, and salvene. An essential oil is extracted from freshly harvested leaves by steam distillation and this is used in seasonings for pork sausages, processed foods, perfumes, confectionery, naouthwashes and gargles.
Sage is a hardy, erect, perennial that grows to around 35 in. (90 cm) tall with wiry, green and purple-hued stems and a base that becomes woody over two or three years. Sage leaves are about 3 in. (8 cm) long and in. (12 mm) wide, gray-green, rough yet downy and pebbly-textured on top. The underneath is deeply veined and filigreed like an opaque cicada’s wing. As the leaves mature and harden their greenness turns to a soft, silvery gray Long sterns bear the purple, lipped flowers in autumn, a natural attraction to bees, which produce a much-valued sage honey in sage’s native Dalmatia on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.
Sage has a high pungency level similar to that of rosemary and thyme with an aroma that is fresh, head clearing and balsamic. The flavor is herbaceous, savoury and astringent with hints of peppermint.
Varieties of Sage
There are around 750 varieties of Salvia, however it is the garden sage that is of primary culinary importance. Clary sage is a sparser variety, little used these days, with foliage that is more rust-colored and has bluish-white to white flowers. Purple leaf sage is grown more for decorative purposes, as is a red flowering variety. Another red-flowered sage is the aptly named pineapple sage and there is even a garlic sage with tall, yellow-white flower clusters and a rank, garlic aroma.
Dried sage leaves retain the characteristic aroma and flavour of fresh sage so well, they seem just like a concentrated version. These are most often seen as ‘rubbed’ leaves, which are light-gray in color with a fluffy, springy texture. Because sage plants become extremely woody after a few years, even with regular cutting back, they need to be replanted every three years. Layering is an efficient method of propagating sage, when a section of long, lateral stem, still growing from the plant, is bent down and buried in the soil a few centimeters deep. When roots have formed, it is cut away from the main plant and replanted. In Dalmaua, sage is gathered before flowering and hung in dark, well-aired places to dry. The stems are then rubbed to remove the leaves. Due to their high oil content and the fluffy structure of the leaf, even when properly dry to less than 12 per cent moisture, rubbed sage leaves will not feel as crisp as many other dried herbs.
Sage plants can be started from seed, root cuttings or transplants. Sage seed needs to be sown while fresh. It does not store well and even fresh, is not terribly reliable and is slow to establish. Root cuttings can propagated by layering (Laying the side branches down so that they are in contact with the soil.) Fortunately, reasonably priced, small sage plants can be found in most garden centers in the spring.
Sage prefers a warm, sunny location, although it does not like extreme heat. It is not particular about soil, except that it be well-drained. Pruning after flowering will keep plants attractive and prevent them from getting too woody and leggy. Fertilize in early spring. Sage is very happy growing in containers. If you want to try growing sage indoors, you will need to provide strong, direct light. Few pests bother sage. It is done in more by excess water, not enough light and lack of pruning.
Harvesting: Harvest lightly the first year, as the plant becomes established.Harvest individual leaves as needed. Leaves can also be dried and stored for future use.
Arabic: Marameeah, Maramiah, Maryamiya, Marimih, Miraamih
Chinese (Cantonese): Louh meih chou
Chinese (Mandarin): Shu wei cao Croatian: Kadulja or Dalmatinska kadulja
Dutch: Salie, Tuinsalie, Selft, Franse thee, Selve Farsi: Mariam goli
French: Sauge, Thé de la Grèce
German: Salbei G
reek: Alisfakia, Faskomilo
Japanese: Sarubia, Sezi
Portuguese: Chá-da-Europa, Salva-mansa
Salvia officinalis Fam: Labiatae
Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay