This article is by Edward Gillan of Avogel

Sage, Salvia officinalis, is one of our oldest medicinal plants and has been a popular food and medicine throughout history. It has been used to flavour beer and cheese and remains a popular garden and kitchen herb. Its generic name comes from the Latin, salvere, to be saved, and it was said that having sage in the home garden meant that no illness could prevail. It originates from the Mediterranean region.

There are many varieties of sage. It is a perennial shrub to 70cm (27in.) with rugose, glandular leaves that can be reddish or green and ovate. Violet flowers appear on terminal spikes in late summer to autumn and it is easy to cultivate. It likes to grow in well drained, rather limey soil in full sun. It does not like cold wet winters so it is worth growing it in a container that can be taken inside during the winter months.

It has long been considered one of the most important medicinal herbs. Early herbalists regarded sage, with its pretty purple leaves that sweat in the sun, as a sweat-regulator, helping with hot flushes accompanying a reduction in hormonal levels during menopause. Sage is one of the plants known as phyto-oestrogens.

The most common symptoms during the menopause are menopause hot flushes and menopause night sweats. Sage can be used to help cope with these debilitating symptoms and can do so without side effects and without interrupting the process of the menopause by interfering with hormone levels. Using an extract of sage, such as in sage tablets, can help relieve the symptoms of excessive sweating and night sweats.

Sage is commonly used to enhance the flavour of food. It goes very well with onions, especially in stuffings. The pungent flavour marries well with eggs too. If you have an abundance of sage leaves in your garden, why not reap the benefits of all that hard labour in your garden and give the following recipe a try.

Stuffed Sage Leaves

INGREDIENTS
Makes 20

BATTER:
1 small egg
50 ml beer
¼ tsp Herbamare® Original
25 g buckwheat flour
10 g butter, melted

FILLING:
5–6 sprigs of marjoram
200 g fresh cheese (see Tip)
¼ tsp Herbamare® Original
Freshly ground pepper
40 sage leaves from the garden
Olive oil for frying

1 Mix all the ingredients for the batter together and leave to rest for
30 minutes.
2 For the filling, chop the marjoram and mix with the remaining
ingredients.
3 Shake the sage leaves, do not wash if possible or if necessary clean
with a soft brush. Spread 1 tsp of the filling on the underside of
half of the leaves. Cover with the undersides of the remaining leaves.
4 Preheat a serving plate in the oven at 80 °C. Dip your pre-prepared
leaves in the batter and shallow fry in very hot oil on both sides for 3
to 4 minutes. Lay on kitchen paper and keep warm on the plate in the
oven.

Season with pepper and serve.

TIP For the filling, fresh cheese such as Philadelphia or
Gervais could be used.

About Eddie Gillan

Eddie BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Dist) qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has a busy practice in Glasgow. He has worked in the health industry since 1987 and currently combines her practice with the role of Education Manager for A.Vogel Herbal Remedies. Eddie lectures, trains and writes extensively on health issues, and is often to be found quoted in health magazines and on health-related websites.

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Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) is one of my (many) favourite herbs. I’ve been able to grow and propagate this plant quite easily but I am often asked by others why their plant’s leaves have turned brown/fallen off/wilted/it hasn’t survived as well as their other varieties of Sage.

There are many reasons these problems could occur but the main one to remember is that this is a tender evergreen perennial herb and really prefers to be outside in natural sunlight (preferably in a sheltered position for example near the house) during the late spring/summer and indoors into a cool room during the late autumn/winter where it will give you some spectacular flowers at a time of year when most herbs are not in flower. You can also rub the leaves to get their wonderful scent.

Other possible reasons for problems include over watering, sudden changes in temperature (eg when moving the plant from outside to a warm room inside), Leaf eelworm and red spider mites.

The leaves are similar in shape to the more common sage (Salvia officinalis) and it is part of the mint family and is sometimes known as scarlet pineapple. It has lovely tubular deep pink flowers in the winter and brightens up any room or conservatory in the early to mid winter. The leaves have the most delicious pineapple scent when you rub them gently. It is native to the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala.

Propagating Pineapple Sage

I have many pineapple sage plants grown from cuttings mainly because I tried it once a few years ago and it was so easy to do and other members of my family wanted the plant because of its scent and it proved popular when I sold herb plants on stalls in the past.

Now is a good time to get some cuttings established. All you need to do is fill a pot with a mix of equal quantities of compost/soil and sand, the important point is that it drains freely. Water the soil in the pot before putting the cuttings in. The cuttings from the main plant should be about 15 to 20 cm long from a healthy shoot (if it is late in the season and about to flower, pinch out the shoot to encourage root growth). Remove the lower leaves so that once you push the stem into the soil no leaves are in the soil where they could rot. Always use a sharp knife/secateurs to take the cutting.

As soon as you’ve taken the cuttings, push in three to five of them around the edge of the pot(s) and keep the soil damp but not wet. Leave in a cool, frost free place away from direct sunlight. In about a month you should have new growth.

Apparently you can also root cuttings in water but I’ve yet to try this although I know that method works well with rosemary.

Once they become established, make sure you pinch out the tops to encourage branching otherwise it will just get tall with very few leaves.

Cooking With Pineapple Sage

The leaves can be used in your cooking in the following ways:

  • added to fruit salads or salads
  • brewed as a refreshing tea
  • added to chicken or pork recipes for a pineapple flavour
  • try chopped in sponge cakes for flavour and scent
  • add to drinks as you would with mint leaves
  • make pineapple sage syrup to use on pancakes, waffles, fruit salads, ice cream
  • make pineapple sage flavoured jelly
  • try it in a banana smoothie with a dash of cinnamon
  • Pineapple Sage Pound Cake is still on my list to try out too!

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    Most herbs can be harvested in early to late summer. The best time is a dry sunny day about mid-morning, when the dew has dried but the sun isn’t at its hottest. The very best stage is before the herb plant flowers or just before the flowers open. It is best to dry the herbs as quickly as possible to preserve their properties.

    There are 6 items that can be harvested: leaves, flowers, seeds, berries, roots and bulbs.

    If you have a young evergreen plant (one year or less) it is best to let it become more established, you could take just a few trimmings but it is unlikely that you can have a large harvest until the second year onwards.

    For biennial plants, the leaves can be harvested in the first year and they usually produce flowers in the second year which is also the time to harvest their roots as well.

    Annual plants can obviously be harvested in that year but the timing depends on which part you require.

    When harvesting make sure you use sharp scissors, a sharp knife or secateurs; do not pull, break or tear off stems or branches. Always choose healthy foliage and take the chance to give the plant a light trim if necessary at the same time.

    The following herbs dry well- bay, lovage, lavender, marjoram, oregano, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme.

    In my opinion the softer leaved herbs including basil, chervil, chives, dill, marjoram, sorrel and tarragon are not worth drying or should be dried as a last resort and are better preserved by freezing.

    Parsley also doesn’t dry well but this herb can normally be harvested all year round so you don’t really need to dry or freeze it. However if you want to it is in its most useful form if ready chopped then frozen in small quantities either in ice cubes or small plastic bags or containers in the freezer. It will thaw very quickly.

    Basil, Chervil, Dill, Fennel and Tarragon leaves can be placed in small plastic bags or chopped then mixed with water and poured into ice cube trays for freezing. You just take the cubes as needed and melt them into stews, soups, sauces.

    You can also freeze chopped herbs in ‘oil cubes’ for use in frying, just mush them up with a little oil.

    Herb butters also freeze well and are a useful addition during the winter months eg a slice of herb butter on a grilled meat or added to flavour noodles, pasta or steamed vegetables is delicious. Pesto also freezes well.

    How and when to harvest

    The plants should be at least 15 cm tall (6 inches) before you start harvesting them, in the case of young perennial herbs eg lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, you might want to allow the plant to become more established and wait until the following year. Once the plant flowers there is less flavour in the leaves. Pinch out any flowering tips to maintain flavours for culinary use.

    Leaves – These should be picked fresh and preferably before flowering throughout the growing season. They are best picked on a dry sunny morning after the dew has evaporated and just before the sun gets too hot (If you pick after this, the flavour of the leaf which comes from the oils in it will evaporate).

    Make sure you choose healthy leaves ie with no pests or diseases on them. Try not to bruise the softer leaved herbs such as basil because this will affect their flavour. When I say leaves I mean cut the stem with leaves attached in the first place if it is a small leaved herb. For larger leaves such as bay leaves you would cut them individually.

    Always use a sharp, clean, knife or secateurs. Remove lower leaves from the stems you have harvested; they may become damaged, then attach bunches of herbs together around the stems with elastic bands. The length of stem removed will vary depending on how much you need to use/want to dry. It is best to pick small quantities so that they are not left lying around waiting for you to use them or preserve them. The plant will wilt and lose many of its properties if not used or preserved in some way shortly after cutting.

    If you are harvesting from a perennial herb, try not to take more than a third of the leaves because these plants are slower growing than the annuals. Eg rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, lavender. For annual herbs, picking will boost leaf production and you will need larger quantities because the flavour is milder than the perennial herbs.

    Tip – You could have a few pots of annual herbs which you rotate so that there is always one plant with some leaves to harvest on it. The best way to achieve this is to sow seeds every 2 to 3 weeks for plants such as coriander, basil, parsley, chives and chervil.

    If you harvesting several herbs try to keep them separate to avoid transferring flavours between them. Once picked you can use them fresh, dry them (which makes the flavour stronger which is why you use less of a dried herb than its fresh equivalent), freeze them or preserve them in olive oil or use the leaves to flavour vinegar or oil.

    Evergreen herbs can be harvested at any time in the year so don’t really need to be preserved just in the summer like other herbs.

    Copyright 2008-2011 Madeleine Giddens All rights reserved.

    The article above is an edited extract from my herb gardening e-book which also covers the main methods of drying or you can see it in the online shop.

    If your herb plants are already flowering or have been for a while, you could try pinching off part of the flowering stem to promote more healthy fresh leaves – there’s still time before autumn! I know this works well with basil and mint.

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