It is a shrubby perennial plant. Sage belongs to the genus Salvia of the mint family (Limiaceae). Though in general terms sage refers to common sage i.e. Salvia officinalis. This genus includes approximately 700 to 900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals with almost world-wide distribution.
The center of diversity and origin appears to be Central and South Western Asia. Fresh, dried whole or powdered, sage is available throughout the year. In fact, sage is very useful both as a medicine, for the headache – when made into tea – and for all kinds of stuffing, when dried and rubbed into powder. Is known to have a soft, yet sweet savory flavor.
Sage is regarded very highly since the earliest of times for its culinary as well as medicinal properties. Its reputation as a panacea is even represented in its scientific name, Salvia officinalis, derived from the Latin word, salvere, which means “to be saved”.
Folklore and Legend
An ancient proverb states, ‘Why should a man die who has sage in his garden?’ The ancient Greeks used it to treat consumption, ulcers and snake bites. Sage was regarded as sacred by the Romans and was associated with immortality. It was believed to increase mental acuity. It was used in the Middle Ages as a healing herb to treat fevers and epilepsy, memory loss, eye problems, infection, and intestinal problems. Charlemagne had it grown in his royal gardens. Both the Roman and the Greek civilizations used it as a preservative for meat, a tradition that continued until the beginning of refrigeration. Arab physicians in the 10th century believed that it promoted immortality, while 14th century Europeans used it to protect themselves from witchcraft. The Chinese also were quite partial to this herb and 17th century Dutch merchants found that they would trade one chest of sage leaves for three of their tea.
The culinary sage is highly aromatic and is best used fresh, when its flavor has been described as a mix of rosemary, pine and mint, or citrusy; when dried, it has a more camphorous flavor.
The flavor of sage is very delicate therefore it is best to add the herb near the end of the cooking process so that it will retain its maximum essence.
- Mix cooked navy beans with olive oil, sage and garlic and serve on bruschetta
- Use sage as a seasoning for tomato sauce
- Add fresh sage to omelets and frittatas
- Sprinkle some sage on top of your next slice of pizza
- Combine sage leaves, bell peppers, cucumbers and sweet onions with plain yogurt for an easy to prepare, refreshing salad
- When baking chicken or fish in parchment paper, place some fresh sage leaves inside so that the food will absorb the flavors of this wonderful herb.