Salvia officinalis is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family.

Botany. A native of the North Mediterranean coast, sage is a hardy, perennial, erect shrub from 12 to 30 inches high. It has square, woody, wiry stems covered with down. Leaves are long-stalked, arranged oppositely, and about two inches long. They look pebbly and pucker-veined, are grayish green, softly hairy or velvety, with round-toothed margins. Whorls of four to eight flowers appear in late-spring through fall. The flowers may be pink, red, blue, purple, pale yellow, or white. They are tubular, one-half to three-quarters inch long, two-lipped with the upper lip straight or arched and a ring of hairs inside, with a purplish, bell-shaped calyx.

Use. Sage is widely cultivated for medicinal, culinary, aromatic, cosmetic, craft, dye, ornamental and companion garden planting uses. Sage is lemony, camphor like, and slightly bitter. Young leaves can be used dry in omelets, breads, marinades, and poultry stuffing. It combines well with meats, fish, and poultry, vegetables, citrus, garlic, eggs, and cheese. Sage is used as a natural preservative for meats, poultry, fish, and condiments. Sage also contains terpene, camphor, and salvene. As sage dries, the camphor and salvene overcome the terpene--so dried sage smells stronger than fresh or growing sage. Sage is an ingredient in many perfumes, soaps, lotions, aftershaves, and cosmetics. Foliage dries well and can be used in herb wreaths.

Climatic Requirements. Sage does well in full sun in well-drained, moderately rich clay loam soil. According to Simon, Chadwick and Craker the reported life zone of sage is 41 to 79 F and a soil pH of 4.2 to 8.3. Sage is fairly hardy and will withstand temperatures lower than 0F if protected by snow or a mulch of leaves or straw.

Propagation and Care. Because the foliage is the desired part of the crop, sage benefits from moderately high rates of nitrogen. Sage grows best in raised beds because it does not tolerate poorly drained soils or excessive watering. Prior to planting, test the soil for the presence of nematodes as sage is extremely sensitive to nematodes.

Sage seed stores poorly, so conduct a germination test on a small lot of seed before sowing a large amount. Drill seed about three quarters of an inch deep in rows three feet apart, as soon as the soil warms in spring. Germination occurs in 7 to 10 days at 60F. When seedlings are three inches tall, thin to 12 to 20 inches apart. Although a few leaves can be harvested the first year, large harvest should not be made until the following summer.

Sage is easily propagated from cuttings, divisions, or layerings taken from new growth on established plants in the fall. Transplant them 12 to 20 inches apart in rows three feet apart.

Water sage well until it is established. Keep foliage dry and bed well drained. Sidedress plants every spring. Water only sparingly in dry weather.

Harvest. Harvest or prune plants two or three times from spring through late summer. For fullest fragrance/flavor, harvest just before plants bloom. Cut the plant back about four inches above the ground. To dry leaves snip them from the branches, and spread them on cloth or paper out of direct light in a cool, well-ventilated area. They may also be dried in a forced-air drier at temperatures below 125F. When crispy dry, store leaves in an airtight, light-tight container. Dried sage has a stronger and slightly different flavor than the fresh. Sage leaves may also be frozen.

If plants are to be overwintered, make a light harvest no later than September, or the plant may be winter-killed.

After the fourth year, the plant becomes woody, less productive, and potency decreases markedly, so they should be replaced.

Yield. Yields from second-year growth range from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of dried sage per acre.

Postharvest Handling (section by Marita Cantwell). Increased use of fresh herbs for culinary and other purposes has also increased the demand for high quality. The successful marketing of high quality fresh culinary herbs requires extreme care and attention to postharvest handling conditions.

All the postharvest principles that apply to leafy green tissues apply to the handling of fresh herbs. Temperature is the single most important factor in maintaining quality after harvest. Despite the diverse botanical origin of the fresh herbs, the optimum postharvest temperature for fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, mints, sage, parsley, cilantro, savory, marjoram, dill, and tarragon is 32 F (0 C). Under controlled conditions, a shelf life of 3 to 4 weeks can be achieved at this temperature. With a temperature of 41 F (5 C), a minimum shelf life of 2 to 3 weeks can be expected. See Figure 1. If herbs are harvested early in the morning, the need for cooling is minimized. If harvested later, the appropriate cooling method depends on the type of herb. Most respond favorable to room and forced air cooling. Herbs have also been successfully vacuum-cooled. A simple forced air pre-cooler can be constructed for small operations that requires only an adequate coolroom, a fan, and some simple carpentry.

After temperature, prevention of excess moisture loss is the second most important postharvest factor affecting the quality and shelf life of herbs. Most herbs respond favorable with very high humidity (>95%). Some herbs can be held successfully in water (basil, mints, tarragon), whereas water loss in most can best be controlled by packaging and maintaining high humidity in the environment. Lowering the holding temperature to the recommended levels also greatly reduces water loss.

Herbs can be packaged in bags designed to minimize water loss. When herbs are packaged this way, it is particularly important to maintain constant temperatures, to reduce condensation inside the bag and the consequent risk of fungal or bacterial growth. The bags may be partially ventilated with perforations, or may be constructed of a polymer that is partially permeable to water vapor.

The relative humidly in the packing area, cold rooms, and transport vehicles should be maintained at a high level (>95%) where practical.

Ethylene gas is another factor which limits the shelf life of leafy tissues. Ethylene causes yellowing of leaves, and an increased rate of deterioration. It is possible to routinely find one to three ppm ethylene in the environment surrounding fruits and vegetables during commercial handling. Young growing herb tissue responds to ethylene (5 ppm), whereas little effect was observed in mature herb cuttings. In addition, holding the herbs at the recommended temperatures also greatly reduces their ability to respond to ethylene in the environment.

Careful handling to avoid physical injury to the leafy tissue of the fresh herbs is also important. Rigid clear plastic containers such as those sometimes used for sprouts may be used for soft herbs. "Pillow packs" (plastic bags which are partially inflated when sealed) may be an alternative packaging technique. Careless handling results in tissue discoloration, as well as increasing sites for pathogen attack. Growth of microorganisms can also be reduced by proper temperature management and good hygienic practices in the field and packing station. Chlorinated water can reduce microbial load if water is used during handling.


Salvia officinalis - Broad Leafed or Common or Garden sage - used for seasoning.

S. o. 'Aurea' - Golden sage - 18 inches tall, striking gold and green variegated leaves, compact and dense growth, good border plant

S. o. 'Dwarf' - Dwarf sage - very compact grower, smaller leaf size, good border or rock garden or container plant

S. o. 'Holt's Mammoth' - Holt's mammoth sage - three feet tall, larger and rounder leaves than garden sage, grows quickly and is good for cutting and drying in bulk quantities.

S. o. 'Icterina' - Golden sage

S. o. 'Minima' - Dwarf sage

S. o. 'Purpurea' - Purple sage - to 18 inches tall, compact, aromatic, purple foliage, use like garden sage in stuffings, sausage, omelets, soups, and stews.

S. o. 'Tricolor' - Variegated, Tricolor sage - to two or three feet tall, decorative leaves variegated in cream, purple, green

S. clevelandii - Blue sage - to three feet tall, blue flowers, used in potpourris and recommended as a substitute for S. officinalis in cooking.

S. elegans - Pineapple sage - to two to three feet tall, pineapple scent, brilliant red flowers, used for drinks, chicken, cheese, jams and jellies.

S. leucantha - Mexican bush sage - to four feet tall, gray-green foliage, lavender flowers produced abundantly and dry beautifully, not winter hardy.

S. sclarea - Clary sage - to three feet tall, huge pebbly gray leaves with spectacular lilac and pink flowers, the most unusual and showy sage.

Seed Sources:

Abundant Life Seed Foundation, PO Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

Applewood Seed Co., PO Box 10761, Edgemont Station, Golden, CO 80401.

Bountiful Gardens, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits, CA 95490.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., 300 Park Avenue, Warminster, PA 18974.

Caprilands Herb Farm, 534 Silver Street, Coventry, CN 06238.

Comstock, Ferre & Co., 263 Main St., Wethersfield, CT 06109.

The Cook's Garden, PO Box 65, Londonderry, VT 05148.

De Giorgi Co., Inc., PO Box 413, Council Bluffs, IA 51502.

Gleckler's Seedsmen, Metamora, OH 43540.

Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co., Yankton, SD 57079.

Harris Seeds, 961 Lyell Avenue, Rochester, NY 14606.

Henry Field's Seed & Nursery Co., Shenandoah, IA 51602.

Indiana Botanic Gardens, PO Box 5, Hammond, IN 46325.

J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, PO Box 1058, Redwood City, CA 94064.

Johnny's Selected Seeds, 299 Foss Hill Rd., Albion, ME 04910.

Le Jardin du Gourmet, PO Box 75, St. Johnsbury Center, VT 05863.

Earl May Seed & Nursery Co., Shenandoah, IA 51603.

Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Hwy., Albany, OR 97321.

Park Seed Co., Cokesbury Road, Greenwood, SC 29647-0001.

Pinetree Garden Seeds, Route 100, New Gloucester, ME 04260.

Redwood City Seed Co., PO Box 361, Redwood City, CA 94064.

Otto Richter & Sons Ltd., Box 26, Goodwood, Ontario, Canada L0C 1A0.

Seeds Blum, Idaho City Stage, Boise, ID 83706.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 30 Irene Street, Torrington, CT 06790.

Stillridge Herb Farm, 10370 Route 99, Woodstock, MD 21163.

Stokes Seeds Inc., Box 548, Buffalo, NY 14240.

Taylor's Herb Gardens, Inc., 1535 Lone Oak Road, Vista, CA 92084.

Territorial Seed Co., PO Box 27, Lorane, Or 97451.

Thompson & Morgan, PO Box 1308, Jackson, NJ 08527.

Otis Twilley Seed Co., PO Box 65, Trevose, PA 19047.


Cantwell, M. and M. Reid. Postharvest handling of fresh culinary herbs. Perishables Handling No. 60: 2-4. Vegetable Crops Dept., UC Davis. 1986.

Joyce, Daryl; Micheal Reid and Philip Katz, "Postharvest handling of Fresh Culinary Herbs." in Parishables Handling 58: 1-4. Feb. 1986. Veg Crops Dept., UC Davis.

Kowalchik, Claire, et al., eds. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press. 1987. pp. 439-442.

Newcomb, Duane, and Karen Newcomb. The Complete Vegetable Gardener's Sourcebook. Prentice Hall Press. 1989. 408 p.

Organic Gardening Magazine, The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Press, 1978. p. 629-631.

Whealy, Kent. Garden Seed Inventory, Second Edition. Seed Saver Publications, Decorah, IA. 1988. 422 p.

Simon, James, Alena Chadwick, and Lyle Craker. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography 1971-1980. Archon Books, Hamden, CT. 1984. 770 p.

Figure 1. Effect of holding temperature on the quality of sage after 1 () and 2 (n) weeks storage in perforated polyethylene bags. Visual quality was assessed on a five point scale (9 high, 1 low). From Joyce, Reid, Katz 1986.

Figure 2. Sage growing near Hollister. Photo by Hunter Johnson.

The authors are: Yvonne Savio, Vegetable Crops Extension, UCD and Curt Robinson, University Extension, UCD

Reviewed by:Jeanine Davis 12/4/91

Betty Furuta11/7/89

Mike Reid12/19/89