What's in a Name? Growing the Best Sage Varieties

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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her bloghttp://lemonverbenalady.blogspot.com.   

If I had not picked Lemon Verbena Lady as a name, I really should have been known as Salvia Lady. I love my sages in the herb garden, although because of our humid and damp weather sages are prone to root rot and they can be lost easily. Over the years I have had numerous common sages (Salvia officinalis). If you plant a sage so that it has excellent drainage, you will have your sage for a number of years. I am not going to say a long time, because in my experience, it does not happen. I always try to keep the flowers pruned once they flower and trim cuttings for bouquets on the table. No matter what I do, the sage plants always get woody, old and eventually need to be replaced.

When we got back from our vacation this summer, I really noticed how beautiful the sages were. Some years the four-lined plant bug really makes a mess of the sage leaves. This year they were not as big a problem and the herbs seemed to grow out of their damage very quickly. Maybe because it was hot and fairly dry. Here is the common sage after ten days of rain! Not going to clean this up now, because we are getting closer to frost. If I trim it now, it might force new growth that may get frosted. I’ll wait until spring.

I have tried various combinations of sages through the seasons like the compact sage ‘Nana’ and the light gray sage ‘Nazareth’. Some of my local garden centers are now selling more unusual herbs thanks to growers like Sal Gilbertie in Connecticut. I got a chance to visit Mr. Gilbertie’s operations a number of years ago. He is passionate about growing great herbs and unusual ones as well.  Here is a photo of the combination of ‘Nana’ and ‘Nazareth’. I started with five or six of the ‘Nazareth’ sages and I only have two left. ‘Nana’ has taken a hit over this summer as well and I will have to trim it back hard in the spring.

Two other sages that are staples in the herb garden are the golden sage ‘Aurea’ and ‘Berggarten’. I love the golden sage because it gives a pop of color in an otherwise green landscape.

‘Berggarten’ is a standout because it has oversized leaves. It is shorter, but has a broader reach than the common sage. You can use all of the sages I have discussed in this post as you would regular common or garden sage.

Since it is never too early to get ready for the holidays, I thought this recipe might be perfect for your upcoming holiday dinners. We always seem to have asparagus as our go to vegetable. Here is a recipe that I thought we would try this year from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld (Scribner, 2000).

Warm Roasted Asparagus with Sage ButterSERVES 6

• 2 pounds fresh asparagus
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
• 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
• Salt
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 30 fresh sage leaves, patted dry
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears at the point where they turn pale and tough. If the spears are medium to thick, peel the lower 2/3 of the trimmed spears with a sharp vegetable peeler. Thin spears do not need to be peeled. Place them in a bowl and toss with the chopped sage, olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt. Spread the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until the spears are slightly limp when you hold them from the bottom, 4 to 8 minutes depending on their thickness. They will continue to cook once you remove them from the oven. 

2. While the asparagus are roasting, melt butter in a small (8-inch) skillet over medium-low heat. Add sage leaves and cook, stirring often, until the butter begins to brown slightly and the sage gives off a nutty, toasty aroma, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Transfer the asparagus to a warm platter and spoon the sage leaves and lemon butter on top. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano shavings. 

I did make it over the weekend and the sage becomes crisp and crunchy and delicious. The photo shows just one piece of sage that doesn’t look too good, but trust me is wonderful! I also couldn’t stop eating it before I took the photo! So much for the sage decoration!

Photos by Nancy Heraud 

I have not even talked about the sages that aren’t hardy for the Northeast part of the United States!  There are lots of passionate people who love the Salvia genus! I hope you are one of them.  Caleb Melchior wrote a really great article on Sage for the August/September 2010 issue of The Herb Companion. As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon!

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