Thursday, July 18, 2013

And a wise sage said unto me, Hey I go great on mutton!

Welcome to another fine episode of Lost in the Farmers Market, your weekly web log foray into permaculture, organic methods and sticking it to the man all in earth friendly format! Today’s topic is all about Sage, and while we plan to drop some wisdom on all you readers out there we certainly don’t mean an wise old guy when we say sage. Sage it self is one of the less regarded herbs in our daily life as it’s relegated to a background seasoning in most seasoning mixes and we really never stop to appreciate what precisely sage does. I have to admit the sage family is quite diverse, much like the Basil family, but its examples range into territories that the basils can’t even hope to reach. For the purposes of this article sage is considered in four groupings, Culinary, Herbal, Aromatic and Ornamental.  So now that the groupings have been decided lets start with the culinary group.

Culinary sage is best described as any sage that lends a distinct flavor to a beverage or prepared meal by means of the process of cooking or being cut up allowing the essential oils to mix in with the chosen food medium. That gives us five sage varieties to consider in this category. The five safe culinary sages are Common sage (Salvia officinalis), Berggarten Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’), White Dalmatian Sage (S. officinalis ‘White Dalmatian’), Pineapple Sage (S. elegans) and, Greek Sage (S. fruiticosa). The first three sages in this group may seem like a cop out, but all three are there because of the range of preference found for sage’s flavor qualities. The original seasoning Common sage goes well with lamb, but at times can be a bit bitter. Bergartten sage is about the same but has larger leaves making for an easier harvest. Dalmatian sage is the cultivated variety found in higher quality spices, and is far less likely to have any bitterness and thus works in more dishes. Pineapple sage is probably the work horse of the group as it’s crushed foliage adds a pineapple-melon flavor to any dish or beverage. Pineapple sage’s bright red flowers are favored by humming birds but it’s also a tender or herbaceous perennial in general. Greek sage is reportedly used like common sage but possesses a bitter-free flavor that has been said to fall between common and pineapple sage depending on who you ask.  Personally I like sage, it’s got a stately look in the garden with its seemingly fuzzy (P. sage) or ultra crinkled (B. Sage) leaves born on long strap like leaves. In most cases it’s evergreen, and although slow growing the flavor is very evident if used fresh. A dish served at the ranch using Berggarten Sage is a simple Omelet, with fresh paprika peppers, baby portabella mushrooms and a bit of freshly picked sage chopped as fine as possible. Season the eggs to taste but make sure to lightly sauté everything but the eggs separate then add to the omelet mix before pouring it into the frying pan. Respectively adding freshly picked Pineapple sage leaves to a batch of tea to be drunk hot or chilled to become iced tea later is very refreshing! Finely sliced Pineapple sage works in marinades, and as part of a salad if cut finely especially if a sweet salad dressing is used. On the internet you will find no shortage of rescipies for using sage in fresh and dried formats but those are my two, feel free to send in some or ask for that omelet one.

The second grouping of the sage family is the herbal group. Now one could ague that all sages are herbal and I would completely agree. The difference is seen with which ones are actually used to treat health issues most effectively and those are the sages referred to in the herbal group. That aside it is well documented that members of the sage family have value for their anti-sweating agents are antibiotic, stringent, antifungal, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic and have encouraging effects in fighting memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. I defy anyone to say that’s not an impressive list, however the best member of the family for this is the one that produces the most essential oils for which the easy guess are the culinary and aromatic sages. However the variety ‘Extrakta’ which is a cultivated form of common sage(S. officinalis)  produces the most essential oils and thus may be the best medicinally for getting all those nice effects from sage. Barring that Red sage (S. miltiorrhiza ) and Clary Sage (S. sclarea) are also noted to have had much medical use over the ages. On an unrelated note sage has been used as a preservative in meat for ages, and you may find it at your supermarket in ‘sage rubbed’ or ‘air-dried’ sausages in the meat aisle. The labels might not say sage prominently but the ingredient list should have it in there. The idea was that as a preservative, sage kept food from spoiling by means of what later people would learn was bacterial activity.

The third grouping of sage is the Aromatic types. Sage as an incense is a curveball most don’t expect because it only refers to two separate sage varieties, white sage (Salvia apiana) and Black Sage (S. mellifera) the latter of which can be grown in North Carolina! Both are known as sacred sage along with a third non-sage plant Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata). It is fair to warn you, all of these have a very…pungent aroma when dried and then lit as one would do with an incense stick. However in Native American tradition this aroma is used to expel malicious spirits and to cleanse ones own spirit. I do not know if white or black sage are edible, but at least the black sage is rather stately and while it seems to not grow very long in north Carolina for the time it does it’s the most unique sage in the yard! I personally would love to try some white sage, but have no where to get plants so if any of you out there know of a reputable nursery please comment.

The final grouping to consider with sage are the ornamental types, which is where we take a turn for new territory when compared to basil. Ornamental sage is a xeriscaping hall mark and often is tougher then nails. As with any perennial ornamental sage is only as good as it’s grower and so you readers out there should be vary of what you are buying. Generally it is agreed that the following perennials are ornamental sages for numerous reasons; Golden Sage (S. officinalis ‘Aurea’), Purple Sage (S. officinalis ‘Purpurescens’), Tricolor Sage (S. officinalis ‘Tricolor’), Meadow Sage (S. praetensis), Scarlet Sage (S. splendens), Black and Blue Sage (S. guarantica), Texas Sage (S. coccinea), Woodland Sage (S. nemerosa )and Lyre Leaf Sage (S. lyrata). Unlike the other categories there are far too many ornamentals ages to cover each one in any detail. What I will talk about briefly are the most commonly available ones and that brings us to Black and Blue Salvia, which is a fine perennial named for its black stems, bluish foliage and deep blue flowers which hummingbirds and pollinators love. Then there is Texas sage to consider which is a fine herbaceous perennial that is best known by it’s most common cultivar ‘Coral Nymph’ and ‘Hot Lips’ both of which are stunning shades of pink.  The Purple, Golden and Tricolor sages are in the ornamental group because of their reduced flavor value compared to common sage. Despite the lack of flavor in this color trio they can make for some stunning borders when combined with lighter or darker companions who have contracting foliage texture. Perhaps the most common ornamental sage on the market is Woodland sage. Woodland sage is often seen in the racks at lowes as a ‘water wise’ plant and often has it’s qualities over-emphasized to the casual home owners who don’t know any better.

To cap off this discussion on sage I have to briefly discuss how to grow and care for sage. The basic rule of sage is to try and allow the roots to dry out between waterings as sage hates wet feet. Further more sage does not like prolonged periods of moisture and thus you must try not to keep its foliage wet. The soil it resides in should be reasonably enriched but also well draining and of course sage absolutely prefers a full sun location with good spacing between its neighbors for maximum airflow. Sage is largely pest free and only suffers from bacterial rot or leaf spots if kept too wet. One should harvest sage by snipping off individual leaves with as much stem attached to the leaf as is possible using a sharp scissor or knife and only take what you need. Since sage is slow growing you want to leave enough for the plant to recover. I can’t say that fertilizers seem to do much good with sage outside of the herbaceous types as a really good soil mix seems to outshine any fertilizer in the long term. This concludes LITFM’s look into the sage grouping and now, we move on to this week’s plant list.

Well considering that the weather has leveled out a bit you can expect it’ll be a good time over at the farmer’s market.  After all there is nothing better then blue skies and farm fresh produce in the summer time! This week I’ll have plenty of good info on the info table, copies of Southward skies and all kinds of cool plants. The market runs from 9:00 am through 1:00pm and is located at 325 Franklin Street. Feel free to come on down and peruse the market or even ask any garden questions you might have. The below is this week’s plant list.

5x Burgundy Okra
4x Japanese Long Eggplant
4x Carolina Wonder Pepper (Sweet Red Bell)
4x Habenero Pepper (Hot!)
2x Tumbling Tom Tomato (Yellow Cherry)
6x Beefsteak Tomato (medium-large slicing)

8x Italian Parsley
2x Common Sage
1x Berggarten Sage
2x Hidcote Lavender
4x Cinnamon Basil
4x Sweet Basil
10x Egyptian Onion

Fruit & ground cover:
1x Galore Rose Strawberry

House Plants:
3x Pepromia verticilliata - Rotary Peperomia (house plant)
2x Sanseveria cylindrical – Spear Sanseveria (Houseplant)

-plus whatever else fits in the truck!-

With the herb of the week covered and the plant list posted this puts a cork in the bottle of another weekly episode of LITFM. Thank you all for reading and I hope to see all of you at the farmer's market on Saturday. If you have any questions about Sage or other Herbs (legal ones only please) feel free to stop on by and ask away. Next week we will be talking about common garden herbs in the Apiaceae family, oh believe me it's a trip you want to take! 

Remember folks keep 'em growing.

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