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Garden Sage Salvia officinalis

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
SAL-vee-ah oh-fiss-ih-NAH-lis
Description

Common sage is an aromatic, edible, short-lived, bushy, spreading, semi-woody herbaceous perennial shrub that is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family.  It is found in many gardens and offers great texture and sensory observations with its furry grayish-green leaves. The species can grow up to 2 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Many cultivars may be shorter. The flowers are camphor-scented and may be bluish-lavender to pinkish-lavender and appear as upright spikes in the early summer. The flowers attract butterflies and bees.

The plant is native to the Mediterranean. They prefer the sunny and free-draining soils found along the coast, hillsides, and mountains near the Mediterranean in shrublands or grasslands. For many centuries in Europe, common sage was used both for culinary and medicinal purposes. Romans used common sage as a sacred ceremonial herb. 

The genus name, Salvia, is from the Latin word, salvare, which means "to save or heal." This references the medicinal properties attributed to the plant. The epithet, officinalis, references the plant's medicinal use and was sold in herb stores or pharmacies, The common names include culinary sage, common garden sage, or garden sage. The word "sage' means "wise."

Common sage prefers full sun and well-drained, medium to dry soils. It is intolerant to wet or poorly drained soil. It will tolerate drought and poor soils. Pruning is recommended in the spring and during the growing season to keep the plant from becoming leggy and to control flowering when used as a culinary herb. Tall plants may require staking.

The leaves of common sage may be used fresh, dried, or cooked. They are very aromatic. The leaves may be harvested in the spring and summer. For new plantings, it is best to harvest lightly the first year. The plant needs to become established before more aggressive harvesting. The edible flowers have an herbal, musky flavor and should not be eaten in large amounts.

This plant is excellent for herb or vegetable gardens. It may also be mixed with perennials in border plantings, cottage gardens, or rock gardens. Several cultivars are available in many leaf colors that contrast nicely with other brighter green plants in the landscape. 

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Summer    Foliage:  Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter

Quick ID Hints:

  • bushy, spreading, semi-woody, short-lived, evergreen, herbaceous perennial shrub
  • square green stems when young and become woody with age
  • aromatic grayish green, fuzzy, textured, ovate, opposite leaves with entire margins
  • whorls of camphor-scented, two-lipped, bluish-lavender, upright, spiked flowers
  • fruits are seed pods that contain small, round, brown, or black seeds

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Possible insects include leaf hoppers, slugs, spider mites, and spittlebugs.  Root rot, powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt can occur. Providing well-drained soil and good air circulation will reduce the possibility of pests and foliar diseases. 

VIDEO Created by Laura Barth for "Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Nuts", a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

More information on Salvia.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Pollinator and Culinary Garden Mostly Native Vegetable, Herb and Pollinator Garden Pollinator and Culinary Garden Mostly Native Vegetable, Herb and Pollinator Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Berggarten'
    rarely blooms, gray-blue-silvery round leaves, mildew resistant
  • 'Compacta'
    small leaves, compact habit, 10 inches tall
  • 'Icterina'
    ornamental, 1 foot tall with variegated chartreuse leaves
  • 'Purpurascens'
    purple tinged leaves, up to 1 foot tall, used in cooking, not winter hardy
  • 'Tricolor'
    not winter hardy and has green leaves edged with white and has rose streaks
'Berggarten', 'Compacta', 'Icterina', 'Purpurascens', 'Tricolor'
Tags:
#drought tolerant#perennials#wildlife plant#fragrant leaves#nectar plant#velvety#variegated leaves#rabbit resistant#food source wildlife#herb garden culinary#deer resistant#vegetable garden#sensory#rock garden#border planting#hairy leaves#edible garden#sensory garden#hairy stems#butterfly friendly#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#vhfn#vhfn-h#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Berggarten'
    rarely blooms, gray-blue-silvery round leaves, mildew resistant
  • 'Compacta'
    small leaves, compact habit, 10 inches tall
  • 'Icterina'
    ornamental, 1 foot tall with variegated chartreuse leaves
  • 'Purpurascens'
    purple tinged leaves, up to 1 foot tall, used in cooking, not winter hardy
  • 'Tricolor'
    not winter hardy and has green leaves edged with white and has rose streaks
'Berggarten', 'Compacta', 'Icterina', 'Purpurascens', 'Tricolor'
Tags:
#drought tolerant#perennials#wildlife plant#fragrant leaves#nectar plant#velvety#variegated leaves#rabbit resistant#food source wildlife#herb garden culinary#deer resistant#vegetable garden#sensory#rock garden#border planting#hairy leaves#edible garden#sensory garden#hairy stems#butterfly friendly#bee friendly#non-toxic for horses#non-toxic for dogs#non-toxic for cats#vhfn#vhfn-h#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Salvia
    Species:
    officinalis
    Family:
    Lamiaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Genus name salvia comes from the Latin word to heal as the plant is often sold for medicinal herbal purposes to help with skin and respiratory disorders. Sage has been used in traditional medicine for its antimicrobial, antidiabetic, and antioxidant effects.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Layering
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Northern Mediterranean
    Distribution:
    Native: Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. Introduced: Algeria, Austria Azores, Baleares, Bulgaria, Korea, Libya, Ontario, Portugal, Quebec, Romania, Sardinia, Sicily, Slovakia, South European Russia, Tunisia, Turkey in Europe, Ukraine, Uruguay, and the United States--AL, CA, CT, GA, ID, KY, ME, MI, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, TN, UT, VT, VA, WA, and WV
    Wildlife Value:
    Nectar in flowers is attractive to bees and butterflies.
    Edibility:
    Leaves as a flavoring, in tea, seasoning for meat, vegetable and egg dishes; stuffings.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 0 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Annual
    Edible
    Herb
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Habit/Form:
    Mounding
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are papery seed pods that contain small, round, brown or black seeds.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Blue
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Spike
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Lipped
    Tubular
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are delicate, one-inch-long, bluish-lavender or pinkish-lavender, 2-lipped, and whorled around upright flower spikes with green bracts that remain after the flowers fall off. The flowers are edible and are camphor-scented.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Gold/Yellow
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Variegated
    Leaf Feel:
    Soft
    Velvety
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are opposite, simple, oblong, and usually have entire margins. The leaves are grayish-green, hairy with white fuzz. The leaf surface is textured and has wrinkled with clear netted venation. They measure 4 inches long and are very fragrant. Some cultivars have serrated margins, variations of the leaf form, and may be variegated.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Cross Section:
    Square
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The first year, the stems are green but become woody the following year. They are fuzzy and square.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Container
    Patio
    Small Space
    Walkways
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Garden for the Blind
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Rabbits