Salvia officinalis

Discover the wonderfully savory herb known as garden sage.
Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis)

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Sage is a classic perennial grown for the unique, pungent flavor and aroma that its gray-green leaves produce. It sends up lavender flower spike in summer.

Stock your garden with fresh herb flavors by growing common sage. This shrubby plant is known botanically as Salvia officinalis and also goes by a host of common names, including garden sage and garden salvia. This is the culinary sage that’s used to season poultry and stuffing. Common sage has gray-green pebbled leaves that add a nice texture to plantings.  

Salvia officinalis is a Mediterranean herb, which means it likes soil on the dry side that drains well. Rocky, not-too-fertile soil is just right for garden sage to thrive. Wet, poorly draining soils can actually deliver a death blow to common sage. This salvia plant thrives in containers, too, and grows well in terra-cotta pots, which wick moisture from soil.  

Heat is garden sage’s friend, but plants don’t perform well in high humidity. In the sultry, tropical conditions of Zone 9 and warmer, mildew can develop on sage leaves. In these areas, grow Salvia officinalis as an annual. Otherwise, this sage plant is hardy in Zones 4 to 8, although its lifespan as a perennial usually winds down between three and five years.  

Garden sage grows 24 to 36 inches tall and wide. Plants produce green shoots each year that turn woody as they mature. Prune plants annually in early spring before new growth appears, cutting stems back to 4 to 6 inches. Aim to remove the oldest growth to make room for new shoots.  

The first year that common sage is in the garden, harvest only lightly, taking a few leaves at a time. After the first growing season, harvest freely from plants. Pick individual leaves, or snip 6 to 8 inches of green stem with leaves. Garden sage flowers in summer, and it’s best to harvest leaves prior to flowering.  

Salvia officinalis dries well for long-term storage. For best flavor, harvest garden sage in mid- to late morning, after dew dries. Essential oil concentrations are greatest in leaves near noon. Air dry leaves on stems spread on screens or laid in baskets, or bundle a few stems together and hang upside down in a dark place. Once leaves are dry, store them whole in air-tight jars with tight fitting lids. Flavor remains more intense if you don’t break up leaves until you need them.  

Look for different varieties of garden sage, including golden variegated sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’), with green leaves edged in gold. This bright sage plant makes an eye-catching edging in herb gardens where it’s hardy, Zones 7 to 8.  

‘Tricolor’ sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) brings a medley of colors to the garden. Its leaves are marbled with shades of grey green, cream, purple and pink. ‘Tricolor’ is hardy in Zones 6 to 9 makes a striking combination when planted to skirt purple-flowered mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea).

Next Up

Salvia farinacea

Turn up the color with the long-season blooms of mealycup sage.

Family Planting: Herb Border

A herb garden is a feature the whole family can enjoy.

How to Plant an Herb Bed

Forget your spice cabinet, and grow your very own herbs with this step-by-step planting guide.

Salvia hispanica

Discover the easy-to-grow plant that yields chia seeds.

Herbivore: Love It or Hate It, Cilantro Has Staying Power

This versatile herb pairs well with fish, chicken and other meats.

An Herb Garden Plan

Herbs are for more than cooking. Incorporate these versatile plants to help add spice to your landscape in this multi-season garden.

Herbivore: Get a Dose of Good Luck by Growing Oregano

A closer look at the history, lore and uses for oregano.

Herbivore: A Closer Look At Thyme

This popular herb is known for many uses beyond adding flavor to soups and stews.

Salvia apiana

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

How to Plant a Kitchen Herb Garden

Have some extra space in your yard or garden? Plant a fresh and simple herb garden only steps away from the kitchen.