With apologies to English teachers everywhere, I hope I caught your attention with the title. I used it to call attention to the fact that while many plants are called “sage,” only some of them should be used for food or culinary purposes.
What is in a Name?
The culinary sage you purchase in the store is Salvia officinalis. The name “officinalis” means that it was once considered the medicinal sage, not the “official” sage. The word officinalis is Latin for “of or belonging to an officina.” An officina was the storeroom of a monastery where medicines were kept.
Sage is a member of the massive Salvia genus, with over 1500 named species and varieties of herbs, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. Many of these salvia are used. Salvia are used for medicinal purposes, and in ritual, like the white sage (Salvia apiana). Some are used for food, like chia (Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariae) while many are used to bring us pleasure as cultivated garden ornamentals.
Plant Nerd Note: Like iris (Iris), the scientific name and the common name for salvia (Salvia) are the same, they just get capitalized when they are used as a genus name (or at the start of a sentence).
Salvia officinalis once had many medicinal uses, including to help ward off bubonic plague (thankfully not common ailment today). Studies done in recent years show that sage does have some medicinal value – including as a local anesthetic for the skin, as a hemostatic agent, and as a diuretic. Please remember to use plants safely – more here: Savor Safely.
Other Sages for a Southwest Landscape
In my garden I grow a slew of salvia. For use in the kitchen, I do grow some Salvia officinalis or true sage. Shrubby Salvia greggii (Gregg’s salvia, autumn sage) comes in vast array of colors (I have 7 different colors so far) and I keep it for the hummingbirds and for the edible flowers. The leaves are NOT edible. They contain compounds harmful to your liver.
Salvia coccinia, the scarlet sage, is non-shrubby and blooms in winter when the autumn sage doesn’t. The scarlet flowers are edible by humans and the hummingbirds hover within millimeters of the ground to sip the nectar. Leaves are NOT edible. They contain compounds harmful to your liver.
Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha. I have killed several plants of the Mexican bush sage because I do not cover my plants when it freezes. This semi-tropical Mexican native is not frost hardy.
Chia – Edible Sage Seeds
To finish on a positive note, both species of chia, Salvia hispanica, and Salvia columbariae grow well in my Sonoran Desert yard. Salvia hispanica likes containers with nice rich potting soil and some afternoon shade in summer. Salvia columbariae grows in the desert soil and comes back as a winter wildflower every year, especially if I sprinkle the soil with water once a week. We shared a chia pudding recipe as a tasty dessert to make in summer. We will repost what we can of material destroyed by hackers. Once posted we will link to it.
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More cooking and using Southwestern products in Chapter Five of Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute may get a few pennies.
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