Salvia apiana

Discover the ghostly beauty of white sage, also known as bee sage.

White Sage (Salvia apiana)

White Sage (Salvia apiana)

White sage (Salvia apiana) is a woody native shrub hailing from the Southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Its fragrant leaves are often used in incense-making. White flowers appear on 3- to 4-foot-long stalks in spring through summer, attracting bees and other pollinators.

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Stir up a chorus of buzzing bees by planting Salvia apiana in your landscape. “Apiana” translates from the Latin as “of or belonging to bees,” and that aptly describes this sage’s blooms, which beckon bees to the garden. Salvia apiana is also known as bee sage. This salvia has another common name, white sage, which gives a hint about the plant’s white leaves. Sacred sage is a third name for Salvia apiana, referring to the plant’s role in Native American ritual ceremonies.

Salvia apiana is a woody shrub native to desert areas of the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Leaves unfurl grey-green and shift to white as they age. White sage leaves are crinkly at first, then become smooth and waxy as they mature.  

Packed with aromatic oils and resins, Salvia apiana leaves are used in Native American culture in making incense. This is why the plant is known as sacred sage. Salvia apiana leaves are a common choice for making smudge sticks for sweat lodges or apartments. To make a smudge stick, several long, leaf-filled branches are bundled and wrapped together.  

The resinous properties of white sage leaves have also made them useful choices for herbal teas and shampoos. When the leaves are distilled into essential oils, they combine well with salves and oils. You can also use Salvia apiana to make an expectorant rub, headache remedy or treatment for colds and flu.  

Flower spikes appear on Salvia apiana in late spring through summer. The stems can be 3 to 4 feet long and produce hundreds of individual blossoms along their length. Flowers are white and fade to a shade of lavender-pink. Bees flock to the flowers, earning this salvia plant the name of bee sage.  

Grow Salvia apiana in full sun in well-drained soil. Plants thrive in gravelly and scree-type conditions. Wet winter soil kills white sage. This salvia plant is hardy in Zones 8 to 10. With its desert heritage, Salvia apiana doesn’t grow well in areas with high humidity. In colder zones, tuck white sage into a container that you can overwinter indoors.  

Plants take a long time to establish in the garden and reach a mature size of 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. In areas where white sage is hardy, give plants additional water the first year of growth only. After that, Salvia apiana should survive on rainfall.  

Cut the white leaves of bee sage for use in flower arrangements—fresh and dried. Dry stems by hanging upside down in a dark place. Leaves retain their color after drying. White sage makes a great addition to holiday displays, blending well with traditional greenery.

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