Types Of Sage From Culinary To Colorful

Ed Wike
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What Is Sage?

Sage is a plant with a gray-green or gray-white stem. It is highly fragrant and used for seasoning dishes in cooking, as well as certain religious ceremonies.

The Latin name for Sage is Salvia, and it is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean. Sage has been used in cooking since the 1500’s.

Today, Sage, which is classified as a perennial in the Labiatae family, can be found growing in temperate areas throughout America.

There are two main types of Sage: Culinary sage and Russian sage.

Culinary Sage

How Culinary sage got its name is uncertain. Some believe it was named after a Greek island off the coast of Turkey, known as “Salvia Island.” Others think that it was given its name because it was often used in cooking, especially in ancient Rome.

The Culinary sage plant has a violet-colored stem, leaves, and flowers. It is a perennial plant, which produces clusters of white and lavender flowers.

If you are looking to use Culinary Sage in your dishes, consider planting it in your garden this fall.

You can also buy it at local nurseries or through several online stores. You can use Culinary Sage in many dishes such as pasta dishes, chicken, meats, egg dishes, sauces, and salads.

Culinary Sage Types

Although it's known as the common sage it is actually verbenoneestablishes verbenoneas its principle organic compound. The name, however, comes from the latin word “Salvia” for “to care for” and it is a member of the mint family.

The culinary sages are generally divided into two varieties: Broad-leaf or common sage and the narrow leaf or bush sage. The two are similar and both are used for their scent. If you’ve actually ever picked up a sage plant you can notice that the leaves of both varieties are different. The broad leaf version has broader leaves. These varieties are quite easy to distinguish but their flavors are virtually similar.

  • Common or broad leaf sage
  • Bush or narrow leaf sage

The two varieties are widely found throughout the central part of the Mediterranean so it is considered a type of food and herb in the Middle Eastern region. At one time, folks would gather wild sage and as it spread it acquired many uses. Eventually, it was common in many cultures as a medicinal plant. It was used to aid with infections and to cleanse the body from infection.

Salvia officinalis

Culinary Sage Marjoram, Clary Sage, Purple Or Broadleaf Sage, Garden Sage, True Sage, and Culinary Sage are all names for the same plant Salvia officinalis.

This has been in the forefront of my mind as I have been working my way through an herbal course.

You see, the first phase in herbalism is to learn the four main categories of herbs: medicinal, culinary, fragrant, and dye.

The medicinal herbs are the ones that treat disease; the fragrant herbs are the ones which smell nice and are often used in ceremony or for spiritual cleansing; the dye herbs are the plants that are used to color items.

And then there is the culinary herb. They have the simplest and most utilitarian focus of all. They are for eating.

The flavor and color that sage adds to foods is is as complex and nuanced as the history of this medicinal plant.

Of course, you are probably familiar with the culinary sage Salvia officinalis. This herb has many names, including Culinary Sage, Marjoram, Clary Sage, Purple Or Broadleaf Sage, Garden Sage, and True Sage.

It is a member of the Lamiaceae family of herbs, a family of medicinal plants that includes basil, thyme, lavender, oregano, and mint.

Salvia elegans

Although Salvia elegans can be grown indoors, it is a hardy plant and prefers full sunlight. A good area to grow it is the back porch or balcony. When grown outdoors it will need at least 6 hours of sunlight.

Known by the common name of Emerald Forest sage, it is found in the western part of the United States, up to Southern Canada. They tend to form a small bush and get around 15 inches tall. The beautiful lavender flowers that are produced from March to October attract hummingbirds.

A member of the mint family, the shrub releases a slight citrus scent when crushed or rubbed. Salviaregens grows best in well-draining, moist soil. It is difficult to maintain moisture in the soil during dry seasons, so you will need to transplant it every few years.

Salvia elegans are used for drying, to make button wreaths and make candles. It can also be used for ornamental purposes.

Salvia melissordora

Salvia melissordora, also known as bee sage is native to Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Western China, and South Africa. It is a perennial shrub that grows up to 5 feet tall and is pretty easy to grow. Bee sage is aromatic, with a wonderful lemongrass scent. This is the best variety to grow for culinary uses. Its leaves have a lemony flavor and are used in all kinds of dishes. There are no seeds, but it can grow from buying new cuttings.

Salvia fruticosa

Called Fragrant or Chinese sage, has culinary applications, too, and it smells good. It is also good in containers or used as an accent plant in native plant gardens. The hairs of the leaves are a little longer and more visible than other sages, but this is easily overlooked.

Its color is white with the characteristic purple to blue flower. The flowers are a sight to behold when massed in early summer.

According to The California Native Plant Society, "This is the best native salvia for a rock garden."

Salvia sclarea

Not just any sage, but clary sage is known to be traditional for aiding in pregnancy, cleansing the womb, and as a dream maker. In the Middle Ages, the herb was burned to help evil spirits. Clary sage was used to ward off the plague and purify the air in 20th century Europe. In aromatherapy, the herb’s scent is calming and sedative which will help get you to sleep faster and aid in getting a restful night’s sleep.

Flavor/Customary Use

The delicate, honeyed flavor of clary sage is tied to its floral scent, which is traditionally used in fruit compotes, syrups, and liqueurs. You’ll find it in a classic gin and tonic, a unique substitute for the standard citrus trees.

Clary sage is most often associated with women’s reproductive systems. The herb’s cleansing properties are believed to tone and cleanse the womb and uterus. Sage was used as an emmenagogue … an herb that aids in the process of menstruation and/or childbirth. In particular, clary sage was used to ease the birth of a child with twins or two children. The herb is also linked to being used to guard against cancer of the uterus and cervix.

Salvia dorisiana

The Salvia splendens are mostly grown for their foliage. It's a variety of Salvia. The plant is native to the Sonoran desert. It only grows to about 3 feet and is a tiny little bush. They make great container plants. It needs very well-drained soil, but will do great in full Sunshine or part shade. Water it often but avoid getting the plant wet. Growing them indoors is recommended for Salvia splendens.

The name describes a lot of the Salvia splendens' foliage. In fact, the Salvia splendens loves the sun. And its foliage will literally glow when it receives lots of sunlight. It is generally a blue plant, but in bright sunlight, it almost glows white. So if you take these plants outdoors, then make sure the have full sunlight. Otherwise, you'll not see the blossoms' true color. You can also use it in flower beds, where you want it to be in the background.

The leaves have a strong sage smell on their own. But if you crush them, you will smell something quite different. It has a peppery smell, with which you can make your own incense for ceremonial use.

Salvia gesneriiflora

(Anise-scented Sage)

Salvia gesneriiflora is a sage belonging to the Lamiaceae family, one of the largest families of aromatic perennial herbs. It is a member of the mint family (not the basil family, as is often incorrectly stated.)

Salvia gesneriiflora most commonly grows from 6"-48" with the leaves ranging from sky blue to deep green. It is typically used as a filler, with a 3' stem that creates a natural filler for many designs. It has a shapely form, drapes beautifully, and its colors are perfect for many types of decorating.

The leaves of Salvia x superba are a very dark green with a deep maroon backing and silver hints, making it stand out from the green foliage in the landscape. Its leaves are a good size for baskets and centerpieces and it is a hardy perennial that will re-flower if the stem is not damaged. The stems are sturdy to put in a container or a vase and they will last for several months.

Salvia lanceolata


Salvia lanceolata is a plant that can grow up to 2 feet tall. It comes with beautiful green to purple leaves. It grows in sunny conditions. This plant grows very well in Mediterranean zones.

Salvia elegans, is another beautiful sage. It’s a bright purple with a purple underside and green underneath the purple. This sage can reach up to 5 feet tall and it grows very well in USDA zones 3 to 9.

Salvia coccinea is the most popular sage. It comes with a variety of colors like purple, deep red and magenta. It can reach up to 2 feet. They are mostly eaten by the bees. The seeds from this sage are taken from its flowers. This sage also has showy blooms.

Salvia apiana is another beautiful purple sage. It only grows to reach 12 inches. The plant’s purple flowers are often rubbed onto paper to help preserve them. The paper is then placed around clothes to give them a fresh scent.

Salvia microphylla

This is the most popular culinary sage. It has grayish green leaves that have a light aroma and flavor that is slightly more delicate in flavor than the darker Salvia. Some say the flavor is reminiscent of a combination of thyme and mint. It is a great sage for novice cooks who don’t want too much sage flavor in a dish. The flavor is also not overpowering, making it a good sage for sauces and soups.

Salvia apiana

Culinary Sage

Salvia apiana, commonly known as “culinary sage”, is a perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean region. It grows approximately 3 feet tall and has a grayish color that is turning to green as it matures. Its relatively small leaves are attractive and often used in garnishing dishes. This plant can be easily grown in well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight. It is non-fussy about temperature, type of soil, and is drought tolerant once its established. As an added bonus, it is almost non-toxic to humans.

The leaves are used mostly for its tasty, aromatic oils. When dried, the leaves undergo a process called distillation, which takes its oils, and leaves behind its flavor and color. Then this process is used to make what is most commonly known as “herb.” This is most often used for flavoring and to keep food from spoiling.

Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariae

Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariae are two types of sage that are grown for their seeds. The seeds of Salvia hispanica produce a unique and subtly sweet tasting oil which is mainly used in cooking.

This oil is also used in aromatherapy due to it's flowery smell and it is believed to relieve inflammation.

The leaves of Salvia hispanica are commonly sold as Mexican sage.

Salvia columbariae is an ornamental plant; its fragrant, waxy flowers are commonly used for making colorful and pigmented teas.

Probably the most popular sage, a perennial plant native to South America, is the also known as the common sage and Salvia officinalis.

Common sage is more often used in cooking nowadays, but it is also used in making perfume.

It is also believed that common sage has healing properties, such as reducing menstrual cramps, helping with toothaches and helping with depression.

See more about ornamental sages in this blog post on the best ornamental sages.

Ornamental Sage Types

There are several different varieties of ornamental sage. The varieties listed below are most commonly used in landscaping, but they also make good companion plants in the vegetable garden.

Salvia haenkei

Salvia haenkei has beautiful blue flowers in a tight bud that open to have a wonderful display of color. This sage variety does well in zones 8-11.

Salvia haenkei requires minimal care and water. Winter hardy, robust, and adaptable to many conditions, this plant is great for a variety of situations. This variety provides attractants for butterflies and bees in your landscape, and the sage flowers attract hummingbirds as well.

Salvia sonomensis

Also known as Seaside sage or Sonoma sage.

This plant is native to California and can tolerate coastal conditions so it is a natural choice for coastal gardens.

This shrub grows to 4 feet tall and can reach a width of 6 feet.

It grows well in partial shade, in average soil and can be drought tolerant in the right conditions.

There are several cultivars of this plant which have been selected to offer different colors of flowers for bouquets to take advantage of this plants characteristics.

Salvia Blossfeldiana Also Known as Salvia Blossfeldiana and Blossfeldiana

This type of sage is native to Brazil. The leaves of this plant are smaller than other sages, and it produces beautiful purple flowers that are excellent to use in bouquets.

This shrub is great for growing in pots and other containers that can be placed indoors for decorative purposes.

Salvia Splendens Also Known as Shellflower Sage

This plant, which is native to Mexico, offers showy pink to red flowers that are stunning to look at.

It is a low growing shrub with over arching leaves that produce a very colorful display as it blooms.

This delicate plant is great for growing in containers and as an ornamental shrub in the garden.

This type of sage can look spectacular in containers and in the natural landscape where they trail over rocks and other structures.

Salvia greggii

Salvia greggii is a tender perennial that varies in height from about one to eight feet, depending on the climate you are growing it in. It produces purple flowers in clusters on the top inch of its stalks, from spring to early fall. This colorful foliage plant is native to northwestern Arizona.

It is a member of the mint family, or Labiate; but this large leaf plant is rarely used in cooking. It is used more for beautifying and living with your landscape.

It is the hardiest of all sages; some have made claims of growing it in zones 6 or 7 without protection. It flourishes well in well amended garden soil that is very well drained.

If you are in zones 8-10, this will grow very quickly when compared to other plants in your landscape. It has low water requirements, is drought tolerant, and is beneficial to all types of wildlife.

Salvia guaranitica

How about some sage that repels mosquitoes, makes a great tea, and grows to be about five feet tall? This is the one to plant in the front of the garden area to keep pests away. It can also repel rabbits and mice and serve as a great ornamental plant. When the leaves are dried, they add a wonderful flavor to a variety of dishes.

Salvia schiedeana, otherwise known as pineapple sage, adds a subtle sweetness to dishes and is a wonderful addition to fruit salads. It is beautiful in the garden, and the flowers are a deep rose color and very fragrant. It grows about two feet tall.

Salvia chamelae, known as the chameleon sage, is a beautiful, compact plant that reaches about a foot and a half tall. The leaves are variegated with a beautiful pearl finish.

Salvia elegans, or the purple sage, adds a beautiful winter color to the garden with purple leaves and purple flowers. This plant reaches about three feet in height. It is edible and makes a nice addition to salads and stir-fry dishes.

Salvia microphylla, otherwise known as Geranium sage, has a unique taste and floral aroma. It grows to be about two feet tall. The leaves will turn a lovely bronze in the fall. It makes a great addition to any herb garden.

Salvia leucantha

This native of Mexico is called the Desert Sage and has a scent that is somewhat reminiscent of chamomile flowers. It is a perennial that prefers well-drained soil, and sun. The woody stems grow up to three feet tall and are easily sustained year-round indoors with plenty of bright light. The lime-green elongated leaves are about five inches in length, and they blossom in the summer with purple flowers.

This sage is not actually purple, but it is often grown for the color distinction it offers to home and garden. It is a very low-maintenance plant, and it will grow to fill the space in which it is grown. This sage makes an excellent addition to any flower garden. It also attracts butterflies to the garden, especially the Painted Lady butterflies and the Monarch butterflies.

Pest Control: The leaves of this sage are cut and used as an external treatment for a variety of skin problems, such as dry chapped skin.

This sage works well with a number of other plants in the garden, providing shade and shelter for smaller plants. It attracts a variety of pollinating insects and rarely needs any care.

Salvia van houtteii

Is exactly the type of salvia I had in mind when I used to dream about a tropical island.

It doesn’t look like much when it is growing in the garden. It is a plant that loves a lot of water. But when you use it in teas, it makes a heavenly smell.

You can use it in all sorts of teas like gin and tonic and it’s also good in a fruit salad. Or just in a normal salad with any kind of dressing. It’s so good and it’s healthy for your liver to eat sage.

In colder climates, you should keep the plants indoors or under a large glass container. It’s a perennial plant, so you should be able to grow it. It doesn’t like a lot of sun in cold climates. With the right type of care, it should survive through the winter.

Salvia clevelandii

This form of sage is native to the eastern Great Plains; it has many names and many purposes.

This sage is a very fragrant variety, which can be used in cooking. The foliage is a bit more durable than its more well-known cousin, providing a neat and attractive plant to add to a garden bed. This variety of salvia is also very heat tolerant, especially in full sun. It is used by horticulturists for its resistance to disease and pests. Even when this plant becomes exposed to insect damage, it will typically recover and grow more quickly than some other varieties.

The other popular use for Salvia clevelandii is simply as an attractive, fragrant herb. For this purpose, the plant will do well in a container. It is one of the better varieties of salvia to add some color and fragrance to any landscape.

This type of sage is not only very attractive, it is very aromatic. The foliage has a sweet, fruity scent that tends to be most noticeable in the early fall.

The plant is very easy to maintain; it looks like a weed to some and can be left to its own devices. For a more controlled appearance, the plant prefers full sun, but can tolerate some shade. It will thrive in almost any well-drained soil.