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Exploring Sage: It's Not Just for Thanksgiving Day Stuffing

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

The history and beauty of sage extends beyond the Thanksgiving table.

The history and beauty of sage extends beyond the Thanksgiving table.

The Definition of Sage

Sage |’sāj| noun

  1. one (as a profound philosopher) distinguished for wisdom
  2. a mature or venerable man of sound judgment
  3. grayish to yellowish-green hue
  4. an herb used once a year for the preparation of Thanksgiving Day stuffing
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Just Once a Year?

In the United States, whether your Thanksgiving Day feast centers around a roast turkey or not, you will probably reach for sage when you are preparing your feast.

A Brief History Lesson

But the history of sage extends far beyond the yearly feast, and has nothing to do with roast turkey. The ancient Greeks believed that by eating sage they would gain great wisdom. They also thought it could impart long life.

Sage was not used as a seasoning until the 17th century but its therapeutic properties have been known for thousands of years. In fact, its botanical name, Salvia, is derived from the Latin salvare, which means to heal. Throughout the millennia sage has been used in countless concoctions, such as a cure for snakebites, a potion to increase fertility, and a balm to serve as a local anesthetic. Its importance even caught the attention of Charlemagne, who recommended that it be cultivated. Sage was also one of the ingredients in Four Thieves Vinegar—a blend of spices thought capable of warding off the plague.

Why should a man die when sage grows in his garden?

— University of Salerno School of Medicine

In 16th century England, sage tea was a common beverage. It was not until trade with China that Asian tea leaves were introduced and sage tea fell out of favor. The Chinese loved sage tea, and were willing to trade their green tea leaves for sage leaves at a ratio of 4:1.

Sage was a common plant in 18th century Colonial gardens and was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Early American cooks used the pungent herb in chowders, fish, roast poultry, and (as in England) in cheese-making.

How to Grow Sage

Sage is native to the countries that touch the Mediterranean Sea. This beautiful gray-green shrub grows from 8 inches to 24 inches in height, with spikes of purple, pink, white, or blue flowers. The leaves are downy and oval-shaped.

Sage is a bush, an evergreen perennial.

What does that mean? Sage does not lose its leaves in Autumn, and lives for many years. There are over 750 varieties of sage and it thrives in climate zones 4–9. Sage can handle Winter temperatures as low as 20° F.

For best results choose the sunniest spot in your garden (at least 6 hours of sun) for your sage plantings.

Sage “plays well with others”—it is a great garden companion for other herbs, rosemary, cabbage, and carrots. (However, many gardeners caution that you should not plant sage next to cucumbers, but no one can tell me why. Is it an old wives’ tale? I have no idea, but I’m not going to take a chance.)

Sage needs good drainage, so it grows best in sandy or loamy soil. It can be grown from seed or cuttings, but don’t plant seeds or put out cuttings until all danger of frost is past.

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Sage on the Grocery Shelf

If sage does not grow in your garden, you will need to purchase fresh or dried at your local grocer. So, where does it come from?

In the United States, if you are purchasing fresh sage, it likely came from Washington, Oregon, or California. Dried sage can be found in several forms—whole leaves, cut, or ground. The best-quality sage is grown in Dalmatia near the Adriatic Sea. There, sage grows wild and is harvested and then set in the sun to dry.

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The Mystery of Sage

What makes sage so amazing, so magical?

There is truly no other ingredient on earth that tastes or smells quite like sage. Take a fresh velvety leaf, crush it between your thumb and forefinger, and then breath in deeply. The first thing you will notice is a hint of pine, not unlike rosemary. Breath again; there is a hint of citrus. Not a grapefruit citrus, not orange, lime, or even lemon. It's a quiet, more earthy citrus, like lemongrass.

But that's not all. There is still another elusive note; what does that scent bring to mind? And then it comes to you—eucalyptus. Sage takes you to the distant corners of the earth and then back home with one gentle touch.

Some people complain that the taste is overpowering—blame the cook. Sage is best when used in moderation. A little bit goes a long way.

Turkey Breakfast Sausage Patties

Turkey Breakfast Sausage Patties

Turkey Breakfast Sausage Patties

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup spicy V-8 (or you could use Bloody Mary mix)
  • 1 pound ground turkey (please use 93% fat-free—the 99% fat-free is too dry)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Instructions

  1. Soak the oats in the juice for 15 minutes in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until very well blended. Form mixture into a 12-inch log. Wrap and freeze until firm enough to slice, about 1.5 to 2 hours. (Do not freeze solid).
  2. Cut into 32 slices (about 3/8 inch thick). Place on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm. Remove from cookie sheet and store in a zip-lock bag for up to 3 months.
  3. To cook, pan fry for 8-10 minutes—no need to thaw.

Note: You could substitute ground beef for the ground turkey, but the turkey version has less fat.

Triple Tomato Soup

Triple Tomato Soup

Triple Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup sundried tomatoes, (not oil-packed)
  • 1/2 (6-ounce) can tomato paste (no salt added)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chick broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Strain canned tomatoes, reserving juices. Spread canned tomatoes on a large baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast in oven about until caramelized, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, saute onion, celery, and garlic in large saucepan until softened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the roasted canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, sun-dried tomatoes, broth, sage, and bay leaf. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaf. Puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in chopped parsley and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Bountiful Split Pea Soup

Bountiful Split Pea Soup

Bountiful Split Pea Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup dry navy or white beans
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dry split peas
  • 2/3 cup dry lentils
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped, about 1 cup
  • 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
  • 1 small stalk celery, no tops
  • 3 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 medium potato, diced, about 1 cup
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. First, wash and sort* your white beans.
  2. Next, place your washed beans in an 8-quart stockpot. Add enough water to have about 2 inches of water above the beans (about 6 cups of water). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil 2 minutes and then remove from the heat.
  3. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. This soaking time will reduce the actual time the beans need to simmer and will help retain nutrients.
  4. Drain the beans after soaking and cover with 5 cups of fresh water.
  5. Return the stockpot to your stovetop; bring the beans to a simmer over low heat and cook for 90 minutes or until the beans are tender but still hold their shape.
  6. Now it's time to add the star of the show, the split peas, along with the next 5 ingredients.
  7. Stir gently, and allow to simmer for one hour. Stir in diced potato, tomatoes, and sage; cover and simmer 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

© 2015 Linda Lum

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