Sage is one of my favorite herbs. Perhaps that is because we both have Jupiter as our ruling planet. Whatever the reason, we have a great relationship. The best time for harvesting sage really is in the spring just before the flowers blossom and I make my tincture then, but the fall cuttings are certainly still potent.
Sage has been used as a medicinal herb since the beginning of recorded history. Salvia means health. One of the earliest written Celtic references to its use can be found in a manuscript circa 72o A.C.E cataloging the healing herb gardens tended by Columbán monks.
Between 1151 and 1158, Hildegard Von Bingen wrote “Sage is warm and dry of nature… If a person abounds in an overabundance of phlegm or has a stinking breath, let them cook sage in wine, strain it through a piece of cloth and then drink it often.” Any nurse, or mom, out there who knows what I mean by “strep breath” might join me in wondering if that later symptom isn’t our blessed green lady’s reference to sage’s usefulness as a preparation for sore throats.
John Hill was convinced that growing the herb led to long life saying “Sage properly prepared, will preserve the faculties and memory” and “will long prevent the hands from trembling and the eyes from dimness.”
Culpeper goes on at length about garden sage mentioning that it helps with “all pains of the joints” and “diseases of the chest.”
Now maybe you see why given its long history of use, I sometimes feel sorry for sage as it has fallen to being known as that “herb you put in the stuffing at Thanksgiving.”
What to do with fresh sage?
As I mentioned, I make a fresh sage tincture and I infuse fresh sage in honey. I don’t even know why I make the honey, anymore. I never end up using it until I mix it into an elixir. I suppose it adds depth to your elixirs, for those who care about those things.
Infuse some sage in a pint of vinegar. It makes a great base vinegar for salad dressings. I like to put it in with the burdock root.
Make a fresh infusion. Fresh sage infusion is amazing. Throw a sprig of leaves in a covered pot with a slice of lemon and pour boiling water over it. Just a note though, when making infusions with fresh herbs, don’t expect the color change that you see from dried plant material. I once had a client tell me that their tea “didn’t take”.
Mix freshly chopped sage into butter and use it for flavoring vegetables.
Make an infused oil with sage. I actually mix sage and goldenrod which I use for aches and pains. I like to use fresh-wilted ingredients for that, but you can use dry in a pinch.
Fry few handfuls in butter until they are just crisp and snack on them. If you have any left you can go on to drying them.
Pick the sage on a dry, breezy day. Sage is one of those plants that can be cut back quite vigorously and still thrives the following year, so don’t be afraid of cutting back too much.
Shake the sage clean and pick out all leaves that have blemishes. Bundle the stems together and fasten them to a dowel. I use rubber bands for this. Twine works, too.
This is when my OCD kicks in, otherwise known as my attempt at good manufacturing practices. I know that you have all seen the lovely pictures of bunches of herbs hanging about to dry. I am certainly guilty of posting those, myself. I let the strewing herbs dry in the open air all that time, because they are so pretty and I always have my bunches of protective herbs hanging on the hearth.
However, if there is even a chance that what I am drying is going to go into a product for consumption, I put the bunches of herbs inside a brown paper bag to dry, as pictured above. This keeps the drying herbs from accumulating dust and from being exposed to light. They should never actually touch the wall, either, as that allows spiders, and other bugs, easier access. I also have a dehydrator that I use depending on how aromatic the plant is. I don’t like to lose essential oils to the heat, I generally use the dehydrator for roots, barks and berries. When the leaves have dried sufficiently that one can be crushed in my hand, I transfer them to clean glass jars to live in the dark of my herb closet.
You can also tie it up in little bundles to make smudge sticks, but I will cover that in another post.
What to do with dry sage?
Cook with it. It is great in stuffing but you can cook it in with the rice, too. You can add it to broths. You can also crumble up a bit to add to savory scones, or corn bread.
Make sage infusion with lemon and a dash of honey. There is an interesting variation of this recipe, in my family, which involves putting sage, a lemon and a glass of white wine in a pot and pouring a couple of quarts of boiling water over the ingredients. I believe the recipe calls for a bit of sugar or honey as well. I’ve never actually seen it, it is one of those things passed down.
Gargle it. When I want to use the sage infusion as a gargle, I make it much stronger and sometimes I add a bit of thyme to that, as well.
So there you have enough different ways to use sage that you might even run out. Have fun experimenting and if you have other ideas, add them to the comments!