Sage is a small, easy-to-grow shrub that makes an attractive addition to any garden, while also offering a wide range of culinary uses. Available in purple and green variations, it's an undemanding herb that can often be as attractive as it is functional. To keep your plant invigorated, it's essential to frequently prune and harvest the sage.
What is Sage Used for?
Sage is a popular seasoning for many dishes, most notably for poultry and meat. It can be used effectively either fresh or dried. Sage is also used to create a tea that is said to be therapeutic in many ways. Many people use the sage leaves and branches for craft projects such as wreaths.
Step 1 - Harvest During the First Year
If your sage plant is in its first year of growth, you'll want to harvest it lighter than in subsequent years. Some recommend not harvesting at all in the first year, to ensure adequate growth and establishment. However, a light harvesting of leaves is generally acceptable. Select the larger leaves from your sage plant either before or just after the plant blooms, for the best leaves.
Step 2 - Prune Sage
Sage is very prone to becoming a woody shrub that can need to be replaced up to every three or four years. This can be avoided to some degree by frequently pruning and harvesting its leaves. Prune the sage plant back directly after it flowers every year, to prevent excessive growth and deter it from becoming too woody. Use pruning shears to cut back any flower stems after bloom, to encourage continued leaf production.
Step 3 - Harvest Sage
To harvest sage, simply remove leaves as desired. Select the fully mature leaves, which will be identifiable because of their greater size. Harvest as needed. Be sure to stop your herb harvesting in the fall, so that the plants are given adequate time to harden off for the winter. Try to harvest sage on clear days where the dew has dried on the leaves, so that the oils present are at their height.
Step 4 - Store Sage
Sage can be stored in several different ways for future use. For sage that will be used within a few days, storing it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator is the best way to keep it fresh.
If you want to store the sage for a longer period of time, the freezer is the best option to retain flavor. Place sage leaves in a plastic freezer bag and remove as much air as possible. This method leaves the sage looking rather limp and unattractive, so its use will be limited to those dishes where appearance is not important, such as stews or casseroles.
A final method is to dry the leaves for storage. To do this, place the leaves on a drying screen in a dry spot out of direct sunlight. Once dried, store in an airtight jar.