Salvia Apiana: Growing White Sage

| 10/31/2011 4:36:51 PM

H.CardenasHeidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources. 

White sage (Salvia apiana), also known as bee sage and sacred sage, is a large herbaceous perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It has silvery light green foliage with long leathery leaves and white or purple flowers. Don’t confuse Salvia with Artemesia, sometimes called white sagebrush, as both are used to make smudgesticks for burning, but are two different plants. I have wanted to grow white sage for a long time, even though Lake County, Illinois is hardy in Zone 5 and white sage is hardy in Zones 7 to 10, or areas with a warmer climate without hard frosts or freezes. White sage attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and is considered sacred by Native Americans.

10-31-2011-white sage
Photo by Dionysia/Courtesy
Wikimedia Commons 

10-31-2011-potted white sageThis year, I planted white sage in the garden and in a large ceramic pot, and I’ll have to bring the plants inside before the temperatures drop too low. Since white sage is a large shrub, I was hoping to see more growth than my sage seedlings produced. They are only about a foot high, and did not flower at all. If I had cold frames or a hoop house, I would transition them in a shelter like that before bringing them inside so they wouldn’t be shocked by the sudden change in temperature and light. But since I don’t have either of those garden structures (yet … ), I will put them under grow lights in the basement and hope for the best.

I would like to cut some branches with leaves to dry and bundle into smudge sticks, but I think I’ll wait until next year since my white sage plants aren’t that big.  I will wait until they are, hopefully, shrub size to harvest any part of the plants. Traditional Native American uses for white sage besides burning smudge sticks in purification ceremonies included using the leaves for tea as a cold remedy and steeping leaves to make a hair rinse to provide shine and prevent gray hair. They also used the seeds as a food source, grinding them into meal for soups and flour and hot cereal.

White sage is rich in cineole, an antiseptic with a pine or camphor scent found in eucalyptus that is also a property of rosemary. Besides its antiseptic properties, cineole also has antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain reducing properties, making it a powerful ally in any medicine cabinet. Cineole, ingested as tea or inhaled from burning leaves, works to break up mucus, relieve sinus and lung congestion, increase blood flow and stimulate clear breathing. It has been used through the ages as a cleanser, both in the body and in the environment.

1/28/2018 8:21:49 PM

But how do you grow it! I don't want history, I already know this. How do you grow it!

Sydney McKinney
6/25/2016 3:16:46 PM

Hi: I would love to know how to take care of my white sage plant? I picked up a potted white sage plant in Morongo Valley, CA. 25 miles No. of Palm Springs, CA.. I picked it up in Dec.15th. I have put it in a bigger pot, around April, it's growing good. But I'm not sure how to water it in the winter, & or summer time. I live in Lake Havasu City, AZ.. It was 122* last week here. It's now around 110* to 120* for the summer. I've been watering my plant's once a week in the summer, & once every other week in the winter. I killed my lavender plant by watering it. It was a year old. Please help me. Thank You; Sydney

4/23/2015 8:14:39 AM

I planted a White Sage plant in a pot last spring and it did quite well over the summer. I'm in Zone 7B. I brought it in for the winter and all the leaves dried up. I was very careful not to over water. I've cut it back a bit and it's outside again, but it doesn't seem to be putting on new growth. Do you think it's a gonner?