Sage: The Herb of Thanksgiving

By Susan Belsinger

“Sage soothes both youth and age and brings the cook pleasing praise.”                                    Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger, Herbs in the Kitchen

The majority of recipes that we find for stuffing (cooked inside the turkey or other fowl) or dressing (generally cooked separately in a baking dish in the oven), use fresh or dried sage leaves for flavoring, whether the ingredients include sausage, oysters, mushrooms, nuts, dried fruit, traditional white breadcrumbs or cornbread. Besides its traditional uses with poultry, game, and liver, and in sausages, sage can add a rich and graceful note to vegetables, breads, and sweets.

Sage’s culinary use with rich dishes probably came from its reputation as a digestive. It was very highly held as a medicinal plant by the Greeks and Romans. Its principal use was as a calmative for the stomach and nerves. Regular use of sage tea was said to confer an even disposition to excitable natures and a healthy old age to everyone. Swiss peasants and American Indians used sage as a dentifrice, first chewing a few leaves, then brushing the gums with a twig.

Sage is much respected culinarily in England and Italy, where most country gardens have a sage bush, often fifteen years or older. The flavor from good sage stock does not deteriorate with age, however sage varies in flavor as much as some of the more delicate herbs, depending on the soil and weather conditions. Dalmatian sage from Yugoslavia is esteemed because the camphor odor is less pronounced than in sage grown in different climates. This aroma is also milder in the fresh leaf. The flavor of fresh sage has decidedly lemon rind tones over resin. The lemon flavor recedes and the camphor, and a pleasant muskiness similar to silage, comes forward when sage is dried.

Common sage (Salvia officinalis) seems to keep its aroma and flavor through cooking and drying. Dwarf sage ‘Nana’, white-flowered sage ‘Alba’, and purple-leaved sage ‘Purpurescens’ and the wide-leaved, German ‘Berggarten’ are all handsome varieties of common sage, with good flavor and aroma. The latter cultivar is very strong in flavor, so a smaller amount should be used in place of common sage.

Sage–it’s not just for turkey!

Tis the season for sage—so harvest and dry it—or bring it into the kitchen and get creative with your salvias! Here are just a few ways to use this cold-weather herb in warming winter dishes:

Turkey stuffing—I particularly like it baked in my cornbread, which I bake ahead and then crumble and let it dry out a bit.

Winter squash baked with sage, garlic, and drizzled with olive oil.

Oven-roasted root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips, leeks, and onions) diced and baked in a hot oven with sage leaves and olive oil, perhaps sprinkled with some ancho chile powder or smoked paprika.

Pinto, black, red and white beans are much improved by the flavor of sage and it works well with green chiles.

Pasta e fagioli wouldn’t be the most delectable pasta and bean soup without sage.

Hearty stews, cassoulet and chili benefit from sage seasoning, not to mention its antioxidant properties.

Both risotto and pasta are wonderful when combined with winter squash, sage leaves, and toasted nuts.scones pumpkin cranberries

Try fresh sage leaves in your biscuits or pumpkin scones.

Combine sliced sweet potatoes, apple slices, and onions (or not) in the crockpot with sage leaves and drizzle with a little maple syrup and add a few knobs of butter. Serve when meltingly tender garnished with toasted pecans.

My favorite seasonal fruits—apples and pears—are delightful with sage from sage apple cake, pear, and cranberry crumble to applesauce.

Sage honey is great for sore throats and coughs—taken by the spoonful or added to a cup of hot tea—I have some infusing now in local honey.

Cultivating Sage

Sage graces the garden with its soft grey-green foliage providing a pleasing contrast to the bright hues of most other culinary herbs. It will grow to a bush about four feet in diameter, keeping a well-rounded shape with little pruning in mild climates. All of the sages should have a well-drained or gravelly soil and some added calcium where it is lacking in the soil. Sage needs full sun and will survive through cold winters if well mulched. It should be pruned in the early spring to encourage new growth.

A good practice to follow is mulching sage with an inch or two of sand. That, and the careful sanitation of removing weeds and dead leaves will usually suffice to spare the plants from the soil-borne wilt diseases to which they are susceptible.

Harvesting and Drying Sagesage drying

Like most herbs, sage should be dried in a warm dry place away from sun. Once the leaves are completely dried they should be stored whole in airtight containers. Sage should be crumbled, never ground, as needed for cooking; grinding completely destroys the delicate lemony perfume and leaves the harsher resinous flavors.


Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photograph whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker.

Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching & writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.

An Herbal Craft – Pressed Flower and Herb Note Cards

By Dianne Duperier, HSA Membership ChairDianne finished product

These pressed flower cards are a great idea for preserving the beauty of the flowers and herbs growing in your garden before Jack Frost has a chance to get to them. There is no limit to your imagination when creating these beautiful cards. Use the cards to remember birthdays or any other special occasion. Or—to sell at your next herb event. Or—to use as gifts. Be sure to make plenty! They will be in demand.

SUPPLIES NEEDED

  • Clean, dry, and pristine herbs, leaves, or flowers (woody and succulent stems do not press well)
  • Paper towels
  • 8.5”x11” 20/50# text stock or paper (for pressing)
  • 8.5”x11” 65# cover stock (for note cards)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Thin brush
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Fine-line ink pen
  • Herbal/garden quotes
  • Optional cut printed stock overlay (Scrapbook pages sold at Michaels or Hobby Lobby)
  • Plastic note card gift boxes or fabric bags (Available at Amazon or Uline)
  • #5.5 invitation envelopes (Available at Amazon)
  • Ribbon to trim finished product

PREPARING SPECIMEN

Dianne preparingdianne flowerpressDiane labeling

Select clean, dry, and perfect specimens of herbs, flowers, or leaves. If moist, pat specimens dry by pressing with a paper towel. A flower press can be used or you can use paper and books to press your specimens.

If using books to press your leaves and flowers, fold an 8.5”x11” sheet of text stock paper in half and lay the specimens on the paper. Try not to overlap. Put inside another folded 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet to protect the pages of the books used for pressing. Continue until all of the specimens are done. Press for several weeks or months until ready to assemble.

Unless you know the names of all your herbs, flowers, and greenery, I suggest labeling them before pressing.

PREPARING NOTE CARDS

Dianne coverstockDianne overlay

Cut an 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet into fourths.  Trim if needed. This is the best use of a sheet of 8.5”x11” cover stock. The envelopes and plastic boxes suggested in supplies are based on this size. If making a different size card you would need to order envelopes and boxes/bags to fit that size.

If using a printed overlay, cut a piece of overlay to the desired size and glue to the front of the card using a thin layer of glue. (Some people water down the glue.) Let it dry. Press if needed.

ARRANGING SPECIMENS ON CARDS AND GLUING

Dianne arranging dried productDianne herbs on card

On a large table, lay out your specimens with proper identification.  Assemble 3-5 specimens per card. With a thin brush, lightly apply glue to the back of each specimen and arrange on the card. You may need to blot to remove any excess glue. Let air dry and then weigh down and allow to dry overnight.

FINISHING NOTE CARDS

Dianne inside cardDianne Herbs-With Overlay1 (1)Dianne herbs on card 1

Using a ruler, sign your card, and add the year. Using a ruler, write a message on the top or side of the card. Insert a quote, if desired. (Herb, garden, and seasonal quotes can be found online.) Select five assorted cards and five envelopes for packaging.

PACKAGING NOTE CARDS

Dianne finishedDianne packaging

Insert in plastic note card gift boxes or recycled boxes and secure with ribbon. Another option is to package your cards in fabric drawstring bags.

Herb Cook Gift-Giving Idea: Drying Rack

I’ve asked five blog contributors to share their favorite herb-related gift ideas.  HSA’s blog will be running one per day during the first week of December. – Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA Member

herb drying rack 2Drying my herbal harvest often takes over my home. No more eating on the dining room table because baskets of herbs are gathered en masse; guest beds hold large, drying baskets.

A few months ago on a leisurely day I settled in to check out my Instagram  account and as I scrolled, up popped a photo of a hanging black mesh, tiered,  cylinder herb-drying rack filled with a herbal harvest.  The source was not given but from that moment on I was hooked on finding my own drying rack.

I googled Amazon and to my delight up popped many choices of mesh drying racks.

I researched each choice for my needs and decided on a four-tiered model with zipper closures. A week later my holy basil and passion vine blossoms had a perfect place to dry and my dining table and guest beds were swept free of drying baskets.

I hung my cylinder drying rack in an out-of-the-way corner in an entry porch room that usually stays cooler year around; perfect place to dry my herbs and a great place to check on them as I come and go about my day.

I’ve gifted myself and my herb gardening friend for her birthday; we both are smitten.  I can’t think of a better holiday gift to give an herb gardener, wish I had been introduced to this nifty drying rack 20 years ago perhaps my husband would have welcomed my herbal harvest!

Gift giving contest