Sage: Holiday Herb and Natural Healer
Sage or Salvia officinalis has been recognized for centuries for it’s culinary and medicinal properties – it actually has one of the longest known history’s of any herb. Ancient Egyptians prescribed it as a fertility aid, while one early Greek physician used it to stop bleeding wounds and to clean ulcers and sores, and recommended the juice of sage, mixed with warm water to lessen hoarseness and quiet coughs. Throughout the ages, this versatile medicinal herb has been credited with a remarkable and extensive list of benefits, including being used as an astringent, an antiseptic, a tonic, for relaxing spasms, suppressing perspiration, slowing lactation, improving liver function, lowering blood sugar and aiding digestion, as well as serving as an anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and an estrogenic.
As a culinary herb, sage, a member of the mint family, is highly aromatic and is best used fresh. Its flavor has been described as a mix of rosemary, pine and mint, with a hint of citrus. When dried, it has flavor slightly reminiscent of camphor. In warm climates, it can be used fresh from the garden year round. It can also be stored fresh in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Whole leaves can be frozen up to two months. To dry, hang sprigs of sage or place leaves on a screen in a warm, dry place, and check carefully to be sure leaves are fully dried before storing them whole (to be crushed just before using them). The best way to crush sage leaves is to rub them between your hands. If you have ever seen “rubbed sage” on supermarket shelves, that is how it got its name.
The flowers of any culinary sage are edible, as well as beautiful, and have a more delicate flavor than the leaves. Try them in salads or in soups as a garnish. Sage stems or leaves can also be tossed on hot charcoal where they will add a wonderful aroma to grilled dishes.
Sage in your garden
Sage is an evergreen perennial sub-shrub with woolly grayish leaves that adds an earthy freshness to foods. Its blooms form spikes of purple/blue flowers that appear in mid-summer. Sage generally likes full sun, to slight shade and well-drained soil. It will grow to about one to two feet high and can be bushy reaching widths of two to three feet. Frequent harvesting and pruning helps to reinvigorate the plants. It can quickly become woody and will need replacing every 3-4 years. In addition to its culinary value, sage makes an attractive ornamental border.
Sage plants can be started from seed, root cuttings or transplants. Sage seed need to be sown while fresh. Growing the herb from seeds is not terribly reliable and plants can be difficult to establish. Sage can be propagated from root cuttings by laying the side branches down so that they are in contact with the soil. Fortunately, if you are just getting started, or want less hassle than growing the herb from seed, small sage plants are reasonably priced, and can be found in most garden centers in the spring.
Culinary sage contains generous quantities of vitamins A and C and can be used in a myriad of recipes. Because of its strong flavor, it can overwhelm a dish if you aren’t careful. Use sage sparingly, and unlike the more delicate herbs, it can be added at the beginning of cooking and pairs nicely with other strongly flavored herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, savory, and oregano as well as the lemon herbs.
Sage is a staple in some of our favorite holiday recipes. It goes well with fatty foods, such as pork, liver (or pate), and sausages, although we most commonly associate sage with stuffing for poultry or pork (or cornbread dressing, as we like to call it, here in the South). It has many uses in European and Mediterranean cuisines, especially Italian dishes, such as pizza, foccaccia, saltimbocca, gnocchi, and pasta.
Sage makes a great addition to biscuits and muffins, as well as cornbread or cheese straws. Try covering a pork roast with sage leaves before roasting. For a savory roasted chicken or turkey, with your hands gently separate the skin from the bird’s breast meat, rub a little butter on the meat, then place a small sprig or two of sage under the skin of each breast, pat down the skin, then roast-and wait for the rave reviews!
Lemon Sage Chicken
Try this new twist on a family favorite. Sage gives it the special flavor that can make a weeknight dinner a special occasion.
Note: Marinating budget-friendly chicken pieces in herb-laced lemon juice and oil allows this succulent lemon sage chicken recipe to stay juicy through the cooking process. Simple roasted or baked potatoes, a fresh chopped salad, and a plate of fruit turn this into a complete, wholesome meal.
Prep Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes Cook Time: 12 minutes Serves: 6
2 pounds chicken pieces
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 clove garlic, crushed and chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Stir olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour the lemon-sage marinade into a large glass baking dish; add the chicken to the dish, turning the pieces once to coat with the marinade. Cover the dish and refrigerate the chicken for 1 hour, turning the pieces every 15 minutes.
Preheat a grill or brush a large skillet with oil and place it on medium high heat. Arrange all the chicken pieces on the grill or place the chicken, in batches, into the hot skillet. Discard the marinade. Cook the chicken for 4 to 6 minutes on each side. The chicken is done when the thickest part feels firm to touch and tests 165oF on an instant-read thermometer. Serve hot as an entrée or refrigerate the chicken and serve it sliced in a salad or sandwich.