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Autumn is our time for harvesting sage, prior to drying it, in order to include a small amount in as many Christmas veg bags as possible. We have about 10 metres of it at Springfield and a couple of metres at Clissold and from September we harvest a bit every few weeks and then find every nook and cranny to dry it, be it in our sheds, glasshouses, or my radiators and shoe rack at home.
Our Salvia Officinalis at Springfield and Clissold are two of our oldest perennials on the sites. They provide wonderful foraging for bees during the height of the summer when they are laden with their beautiful purple flowers. Once the last flower has dried and the bees have left for food elsewhere, we cut back the flowers which helps the sage plants retain their shape. By September, after a full season’s growth, the sage has virtually taken over the main through path at Springfield so we start cutting it back, and gradually re-discover the path and are able to push our wheelbarrows down it again.
Sage can be cut back much harder than rosemary and lavender, right into the woody growth, so it has much less of a tendency to get leggy compared to the other two hardy herbals. By mid-November the sage is more manageable and there are only small amounts left to harvest. As we let it dry naturally (it is possible to speed up the process by using a dehydrating machine, but not an oven as it dries it out too fast) we need to stop harvesting by the end of November in order to leave enough time for the last sprigs to dry in time to go in the Christmas bags. We harvest several kilos but once dried it only comes to a few hundred grams – amazing how much water weighs. The lucky recipients get 10 grams of Hackney sage in their veg bags.
Sage can be propagated very easily by taking a 10cm cutting from a healthy plant in the spring or early summer (preferably before summer solstice) and planting it in potting compost. Once it has rooted (this usually takes several weeks) it can be planted in the ground (or into a pot). As a Mediterranean plant it prefers free draining soil, and, if possible, a sunny aspect – a bit of gravel in the hole it is being planted into will help with drainage and/ or the soil can be mounded the up. It is very hardy and not prone to pests or diseases.
Fresh sage can be used with soups, to make sage butter, with roast vegetables, or simply brewed with hot water to make a soothing herbal tea. It can also be used in outdoor fires to keep insects at bay. It is known to have anti-bacterial properties and another use of it is as a smudge stick which consists of tightly bundled fresh sage left to dry and then burned indoors where it can keep infectious bacteria, viruses and fungi at bay (important not to inhale the smoke, though) and some believe that it has a purifying effect, helping to reduce negativity in an atmosphere while creating a healing environment.
Sage is high in anti-oxidants and, although not medically proven, it may aid brain function, help with oral health and lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. I tend to use it whenever I have the inkling of a sore throat and having heard recently that it could be good for your memory, I am now taking it religiously in the hope that my terrible memory might benefit from it!
Happy sage days everybody.