Sage





(Salvia officinalis, Linn.), a perennial member of the Labiatae,

found naturally on dry, calcareous hills in southern Europe, and

northern Africa. In ancient times, it was one of the most highly

esteemed of all plants because of its reputed health-insuring

properties. An old adage reads, "How can a man die in whose garden sage

is growing?" Its very names betoken the high regard in which it was

held; salvia is derived from salvus, to be safe, or salveo, to be in

good health or to heal; (hence also salvation!) and officinalis stamps

its authority or indicates its recognized official standing. The name

sage, meaning wisdom, appears to have had a different origin, but as the

plant was reputed to strengthen the memory, there seems to be ground for

believing that those who ate the plant would be wise.



Description.--The almost woody stems rise usually 15 to 18 inches

high, though in Holt's Mammoth double these sizes is not uncommon. The

leaves are oblong, pale green, finely toothed, lance-shaped, wrinkled

and rough. The usually bluish-lilac, sometimes pink or white flowers,

borne in the axils of the upper leaves in whorls of three or four, form

loose terminal spikes or clusters. Over 7,000 of the small globular,

almost black seeds, which retain their vitality about three years, are

required to weigh an ounce, and nearly 20 ounces to the quart.



Cultivation.--Sage does best upon mellow well-drained soil of

moderate fertility. For cultivation on a large scale the soil should be

plowed deeply and allowed to remain in the rough furrows during the

winter, to be broken up as much as possible by the frost. In the spring

it should be fined for the crop. Sage is easily propagated by division,

layers and cuttings, but these ways are practiced on an extensive scale

only with the Holt's Mammoth variety, which produces no seed. For other

varieties seed is most popular. This is sown in drills at the rate of

two seeds to the inch and covered about 1/4 inch deep. At this rate and

in rows 15 inches apart about 8 pounds of seed will be needed to the

acre.






Usually market gardeners prefer to grow sage as a second crop. They

therefore raise the plants in nursery beds. The seed is sown in very

early spring, not thicker than already mentioned, but in rows closer

together, 6 to 9 inches usually. From the start the seedlings are kept

clean cultivated and encouraged to grow stocky. By late May or early

June the first sowings of summer vegetables will have been marketed and

the ground ready for the sage. The ground is then put in good condition

and the sage seedlings transplanted 6 or 8 inches apart usually. Clean

cultivation is maintained until the sage has possession.



When the plants meet, usually during late August, the alternate ones are

cut, bunched and sold. At this time one plant should make a good bunch.

When the rows meet in mid-September, the alternate rows are marketed, a

plant then making about two bunches. By the middle of October the final

cutting may be started, when the remaining plants should be large enough

to make about three bunches each. This last cutting may continue well

into November without serious loss of lower leaves. If the plants are

not thinned, but are allowed to crowd, the lower leaves will turn yellow

and drop off, thus entailing loss.



For cultivation with hand-wheel hoes the plants in the rows should not

stand closer than 2 inches at first. As soon as they touch, each second

one should be removed and this process repeated till, when growing in a

commercial way, each alternate row has been removed. Finally, the plants

should be 12 to 15 inches apart. For cultivation by horse the rows will

need to be farther apart than already noted; 18 to 24 inches is the

usual range of distances. When grown on a large scale, sage usually

follows field-grown lettuce, early peas or early cabbage. If not cut too

closely or too late in the season sage plants stand a fair chance to

survive moderate winters. The specimens which succeed in doing so may be

divided and transplanted to new soil with little trouble. This is the

common practice in home gardens, and is usually more satisfactory than

growing a new lot of plants from seed each spring.



For drying or for decocting the leaves are cut when the flowers appear.

They are dried in the shade. If a second cutting is to be made, and if

it is desired that the plants shall live over winter, this second

cutting must not be made later than September in the North, because the

new stems will not have time to mature before frost, and the plants will

probably winterkill.



Sage seed is produced in open cups on slender branches, which grow well

above the leaves. It turns black when ripe. The stems which bear it

should be cut during a dry afternoon as soon as the seeds are ripe and

placed on sheets to cure; and several cuttings are necessary, because

the seed ripens unevenly. When any one lot of stems on a sheet is dry a

light flail or a rod will serve to beat the seed loose. Then small

sieves and a gentle breeze will separate the seed from the trash. After

screening the seed should be spread on a sheet in a warm, airy place for

a week or so to dry still more before being stored in cloth sacks. A

fair yield of leaves may be secured after seed has been gathered.






Uses.--Because of their highly aromatic odor sage leaves have long

been used for seasoning dressings, especially to disguise the too great

lusciousness of strong meats, such as pork, goose and duck. It is one of

the most important flavoring ingredients in certain kinds of sausage and

cheese. In France the whole herb is used to distill with water in order

to secure essential oil of sage, a greenish-yellow liquid employed in

perfumery. About 300 pounds of the stems and leaves yield one pound of

oil.





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