Sage (Fr. sauge), the name given to species of salvia, of the labiate family, and especially to the common or garden sage, S. officinalis. The genus salvia (Lat. salvare, to save, in reference to reputed medicinal qualities) is a large one, containing more than 400 species, distributed in nearly all parts of the world, and including plants which are very unlike in external appearance, and mainly distinguished by the structure of the anthers, which have the two cells widely separated by a transverse connective, one cell being perfect and producing pollen, while the other, at the opposite end of the connective, is deformed and abortive. There are two native species in the middle states, four others in the southern, and several others in the far western and southwestern states.
Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis).
The garden sage, the best known species, is a hardy, half shrubby plant from the south of Europe; its oblong-lanceolate leaves are rough with a fine network of veins, minutely pubescent, and of a dull hoary green color; the flowers are in whorled spikes, usually blue, but the varieties present other colors. The plant has a peculiar aromatic odor and a warm and bitterish taste. Besides the common form, there are broad and narrow-leaved varieties, and variegated forms, one of which, under the name of salvia tricolor, is cultivated as an ornamental plant. Sage has been used medicinally since very early times, its Latin name indicating the esteem in which it was formerly held; besides being an aromatic stimulant, it has tonic and astringent properties, and its infusion is frequently given in domestic practice; it is a useful gargle in sore throat with relaxed uvula. But its chief use is as a condiment or seasoning for stuffings, sausages, and other cookery; and it is sometimes used to flavor cheese. The market gardeners around New York cultivate sage entirely as an annual; seeds are sown in a bed in April, and in June or July the plants are set out in rows 12 in. apart, on land from which cabbages, peas, or other early crops have been removed, and the plants are cut in September or later.
Where sage is dried and pressed into cakes for market, it is treated as a perennial; the flower spikes are cut out as they appear, and the leafy shoots gathered and dried. - Clary is a species of sage (S. sclarea), with much larger leaves than the common, with a strong and to many persons unpleasant flavor; it is rarely seen in our gardens, but is used in Europe for flavoring soups.
The scarlet sage, S. splendens, from Brazil, is a common and much esteemed garden plant, usually called by its botanical name, salvia; it is a smooth and much-branching species, with dark green ovate leaves, and long spikes of flowers of the most brilliant scarlet; the calyx is of the same color with the corolla, and each flower is subtended by a conspicuous floral leaf or bract, also scarlet; as these bracts remain after the flowers have fallen, much of the effectiveness of the plant is due to them. It is a tender perennial, but will flower the first year from the seed; it is often treated as an annual, but it is most frequently raised by cuttings from plants kept in a greenhouse for the purpose. A sport from this has pure white flowers, and there are several garden forms, one more dwarf than the type. S. fulgens, from Mexico, and S. coccinea, from Central America, are scarlet-flowered species, sometimes cultivated. The blue sage, S. patens, from Mexico, has flowers of the most charming blue, but the plant has a coarse weedy habit.
The silver-leaved sage, S. argentea, from the Mediterranean, with very large ovate or roundish, radical leaves, covered with white woolly hairs, is sometimes cultivated for its foliage only; the flowers are white, and not showy. - Some of the native species suitable for the garden are S. azurea of the southern states, 2 to 4 ft. high, with fine blue flowers; S. Pitcheri, growing from Kansas to Texas, covered with a soft down; and S. farinosa, of Texas, white-hoary, with light blue flowers.