The Dangers of Growing Russian Sage

Russian sage in a field.
What You'll Need
Russian sage plants
Pruning tools
What You'll Need
Russian sage plants
Pruning tools

Russian sage is a beautiful perennial with small blue flowers that is neither Russian nor sage. Though it has the aroma of sage when the leaves are crushed, the plant is inedible and actually can be quite poisonous. The following is a guide to the dangers of growing Russian sage.

Dangers of Russian Sage

Because this plant is not related to the edible sage varieties, it should not be used in cooking or eaten in any matter because of its poisonous leaves. The effect on each person can vary greatly depending on your body’s individual reaction, but generally it is not considered toxic. Handling the plant has been known to cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction in some individuals. For this reason, you should always wear gloves when working with Russian sage.

What is Russian Sage?

A bee on Russian sage.

Russian sage, or perovskia atriplicifolia, is a late summer blooming plant that has gray-green leaves and silverfish-gray stems that creates a burst of vibrant color in a garden at the end of the summer. Its tiny purple-blue flowers cover the plant’s long stems with elegant tubular flowers. Bearing a resemblance to lavender, Russian sage grows in areas that are too cold to grow lavender. As a member of the mint family, Russian sage will grow well throughout zones 4 to 9.

Russian sage is native to Central Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet where it can grow at elevations of up to 8,000 feet. The plant has been in cultivation in this area since at least the mid-1800s.

    Where to Use Russian Sage

    Russian sage works well in the middle or back border of a garden or landscape. It looks great when paired with ornamental grasses as well as white or yellow flowering perennials. There are many plants that make good compliments to Russian sage including white phlox, black-eyed Susan, and coreopsis. Dark green foliage also makes a great contrast and blends nicely with other silver-leafed plants.

    The silver color of the plant’s leaves and its open and airy growth give a landscape a Mediterranean feel. Particularly effective as a filler plant, Russian sage can also be used to separate areas of strong color in a garden.

    Growing Russian Sage

    Russian sage in a field.

    Russian sage should be grown in areas with a lot of sun and well-draining soil. Plants should be spaced about 18 inches from one another. The plants should be watered well throughout the plant’s first growing season to ensure that they establish an extensive root system. Once established, it is very tolerant of droughts.

    Russian sage is quite easy to grow once it becomes established. To prevent flopping while young, the plant can be staked or planted in close proximity to other plants that will support it. Russian sage must be planted in soil with good drainage and aeration, as the plant’s roots will rot if the soil is too wet. Prune stems to about one foot in the spring to prevent the plants from becoming too woody. Fertilize before new growth in the spring.

    Dangers of Growing Russian Sage FAQ

    Is Russian sage a skin irritant?

    Russian sage is not a skin irritant to everyone but it can definitely be an irritant to some. Many people experience an allergic reaction to touching the plant with their bare skin, so you should wear gloves when handling this plant and be cautious.

    Are Russian sage roots invasive?

    Unlike many other foreign imports to U.S. shores, Russian sage is not an invasive plant. It is not prone to spreading out and will generally stay where you plant it and thrive in soil that is well-drained.

    Is Russian sage toxic to dogs?

    Many common household plants and foods are incredibly dangerous to pets and often, homeowners don't know they have dangerous garden plants until it is too late. According to the ASCA, Russian sage is not harmful to pets.

    While you probably shouldn't let your dog eat your Russian sage plants, the pup will not be exposed to poison if it happens.

    What can I plant instead of Russian sage?

    Russian sage is a very pretty plant with bright purple coloring. It's also a highly effective deer repellent, which makes it useful.

    But if you want an alternative to Russian safe, try Catmint. This plant is smaller but looks very similar and grows in the same conditions, which makes it a good substitute.

    What is the difference between sage and Russian sage?

    Russian sage is actually not a type of sage plant, or salvia, though the plants do look similar.

    Russian sage cannot be used as an herb. This is strictly a foliage plant that is grown for looks and for its deer-repelling qualities.