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Sage

 

Synonyms: common sage, garden sage

botanical name: Salvia officinalis


Salbei

 

The western Balkan countries, Greece, Turkey and possibly also other Mediterranean countries are the home of the sage plant. Sage is one of the oldest medicinal and spice herbs and was used several thousand years ago in Egypt. In Germany it appeared in cloister gardens in the 8th century.

Europe is one of the key growing areas, with a focus on the eastern Mediterranean. Larger growing areas are also found in India, Indonesia, South Africa and the USA. Imports come mainly from the Balkans, France and Turkey.

 

Availability

Sage is harvested for commercial purposes in June and August. It is also suitable for the private herb garden, and the fresh leaves can be picked from May to September. The best time for harvest is in June, shortly prior to inflorescence, when the leaves are most aromatic.

 

The dried herb is sold all year, and in some supermarkets fresh sage can be bought in small pots.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Sage is a highly branched perennial subshrub that grows to about 80 cm and belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Many different subspecies and types of this plant exist, some of which are considered separate species.

 

The upright sage stems are tomentose and have oval or thin elliptical leaves 3-10 cm long and up to 3 cm wide that are also covered with soft, velvety hairs. The leaves are somewhat convex, lightly crenate on the edges, and their surface has a reticulated profile. They may be olive-green to grey-green, but there are also varieties that are violet-green or multicoloured.

 

Florescence is from June to October. The blossoms are bell-shaped, also with downy hairs, and light violet, rarely pink or whitish.

 

Sage smells of pine and tastes spicy-bitter, a bit burning, camphor-like, and leaves an astringent feeling in the mouth. Dry sage leaves are more aromatic than fresh, but they can also taste bitter and soapy.

 

Ingredients

Sage contains 1.2-3.6% essential oil, the main components being thujone, cineol, pinene, borneol, limonene and camphor. It also contains bitter constituents and tannins, particularly rosmarinic acid, as well as triterpenes and flavonoids in the leaves.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Fresh sage leaves should be used immediately after being picked. In a plastic bag in the refrigerator they remain fresh for only a few days.

 

The leaves are most suitable for drying just prior to florescence, when they are most aromatic. Sage should be dried carefully in the shade or with artificial heat at about 40°C; the stems are removed before or after drying.

 

The dried goods retain their seasoning power if they are stored cool, dry and in the dark. In an airtight container sage keeps well; after 2 years half of its essential oils still exist.

 

Presumed effect on health

The botanical name with the term officinalis (= remedy) points to its use as a medicinal plant.

Owing to its bitter and aromatic taste, sage presumably stimulates the appetite and digestion. In natural medicine it is used for inflammation of the mouth and pharyngeal mucosa and for tonsillitis in the form of infusions, extracts or solutions of the essential oil. In addition, sage inhibits excessive perspiration.

 

In folk medicine sage is considered to be generally restorative in weakened conditions and is recommended to alleviate asthma, cough, headache and toothache. It is also supposed to help menstrual problems and to make weaning easier.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Sage is sold fresh, dried, cut or ground. It is a popular seasoning above all in Italy, Greece and France.

 

The leaves are usually used together with other herbs to season meat, fish and poultry dishes. Particularly pork, mutton, roast duck and roast goose are flavoured with sage. The extracts have a strong antioxidant effect and are able to keep the fat in meat products from becoming rancid for some time.

 

In Germany, sage is used above all in the preparation of eel. Also liver, game, ham dishes and sausages can be enhanced with this herb.

 

Furthermore, soups, stews, legumes / pulses, home-fried potatoes, rice and Italian polenta made from corn meal are seasoned with sage. Herb sauces, salads, mushrooms, omelettes and vegetable dishes, especially tomatoes, are likewise prepared with sage.

 

An herbal tea can be brewed from the leaves. The essential oil is used industrially to make flavourings and cosmetics.

 

Seasoning tip

Because of its strong seasoning power, the dried leaves of sage should be used only sparingly. Fresh sage tastes milder than dried and can be used more liberally. The leaves develop their aroma best when they are cooked with foods or sautéed in butter.

 

Sage can be combined with summer savory, garlic, marjoram, bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. The leaves also harmonize with basil, oregano, rosemary, lovage or mint.

 

 

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