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Sage

 

Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans and was associated with immortality. It was believed to increase mental acuity. Charlemagne had it grown in his royal gardens.

 

History

Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans and was associated with immortality. It was believed to increase mental acuity. Charlemagne had it grown in his royal gardens.

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The sage varieties used as spice stem from the Mediterranean and Asia Minor.

Although sage is an ancient spice, its importance today is quite limited; usage concentrates on the Mediterranean countries, where dishes spiced with sage are found from Spain to Greece.

Undoubtedly, the country which uses sage most is Italy; in this respect, sage resembles rosemary (which fragrance is remotely similar).

Italians most commonly use sage to flavour meat and poultry dishes; especially veal, which is often thought bland, can profit a lot from this herb.

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Saltimbocca alla Romana is probably the most famous dish owing its special character to sage: Very thin veal steaks are fried together with raw salt-cured ham (prociutto crudo) and fresh sage leaves and then deglazed with red wine (some recipes used white wine).

Sage species from Central and South America usually have a much sweeter and more fruity aroma. They are no suitable substitute for Mediterranean sage, but they might have same culinary value for themselves.

Despite their unique and most interesting fragrance, there are few uses for these herbs except occasionally used to flavour herbal infusions. They are more often grown as ornamentals for their large and colourful flowers.

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Growing Sage & Varieties

Sage has leathery, gray-green leaves on slightly woody stems up to 2 feet high. The stems won't always support the plant; it can get floppy. It produces attractive spikes of blue-purple (only occasionally white) flowers.

Growing Know-How- Plant sage in well-drained soil and full sun. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart. Cut back old stems in spring to encourage strong new growth to emerge. Divide every couple of years to rejuvenate plants.

Propagation - You can start the species Salvia officinalis from seed fairly easily. Sow the seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. You can also divide or take cuttings from existing plants.

Cultivars - You can buy brightly colored, but often less hardy sages. 'Tricolor' has white, rose, and green leaves. 'Purpurea' is a purple-leaved form and 'Icterina' is a golden variegated form.

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You can also grow dwarf, flop-resistant, silver-leaved sages. Or for a high-performance garden sage, look for 'Berggarten', which has larger-than-average round leaves and a bushy habit that stays full down to the base of the stems.

Potential Problems - Discourage rots and slugs with well-drained soil. Encourage good air circulation to prevent mildew and heat problems.

*Harvesting and Using - Sage has the best flavor when used fresh with cheese or chicken dishes and stuffings. Try rubbing a fresh leaf on a pork chop before grilling it. You can also use sage for tea, in limited quantities; it tastes better if mixed with peppermint.

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Related Herbs - Purple sage (S. o. 'Purpurascens') is a hardy cultivar that grows 18 inches tall. The purple leaves are strongly flavored and can be used in stuffings, omelets, and soups. Purple sage is also planted as an ornamental to complement yellow blossoms in the garden.

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Pineapple sage (S. elegans) is a perennial in zone 8; it is grown as an annual elsewhere. It has pineapple-scented foliage and spikes of red flowers in late summer and fall. Use its leaves for teas or potpourri, and in fruit salads.

Medicinal

Greeks and Romans used it to cure snake bites and to invigorate the mind and body. In the Middle Ages, people drank Sage in tea and used Sage to treat colds, fevers, liver trouble, and epilepsy. memory loss, eye problems.

Cooking

Sage is an herb with gray-green leaves that have a slightly bitter flavor and a distinctive aroma. It is sold as fresh sprigs or dried leaves.

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Store fresh sage in the refrigerator, wrapped in paper towels and enclosed in a plastic bag. Dried sage, found with other seasonings in all supermarkets, should be stored away from light, heat, and moisture for up to 1 year.

Crush dried sage in the palm of the hand to release its flavor. Use ground Sage sparingly; foods absorb its flavor more quickly than leaf Sage.

Sage enhances pork, lamb, meats, and sausages. Chopped leaves flavor salads, pickles, and cheese. It is one of the most popular herbs in the United States.

Sage is a wonderful flavor enhancer for seafood, vegetables, breadsticks, cornbreads, muffins, and other savory breads. Rub Sage, cracked pepper, and garlic into pork tenderloin or chops before cooking.

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Sage leaves fried in butter until the butter turns brown make an easy and interesting, but not exactly light, sauce to be eaten with Italian noodles (pasta), preferably gnocchi.

Sage is a very powerful spice and tends to dominate; its slightly bitter taste is not appreciated by many people. It is sometimes combined with garlic and pepper (preferably green pepper) for barbecued or fried meat.

Because of its strong taste, combination of sage with weakly aromatic or delicate herbs does not make much sense.

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