Sage, meaning safe or wise, comes from the word sauge and is described in this way by my dictionary: "Any of a genus (salvia) of plants of the mint family, having two lipped corolla and two stamens. Sages are cultivated for ornament (as the scarlet sage) and for flavoring (as the garden sage)."
There are a large number of plants which are referred to as sage or salvia. I have had the pleasure of growing a good many of these including purple spires, pineapple, clary, Jerusalem, Mexican bush, Victoria, chia, greggi, scarlet and garden.
This column is primarily about garden sage (Salvia officinalis) that is used to season our sausage and holiday dressings or stuffings. This herb is a native of Europe. It is now cultivated throughout temperate North America and has naturalized in more than one area.
I found it is easier to grow sage in containers here and protect it from heavy rainfall. Years ago, my grandmother grew sage in a corner of her garden. She tended it carefully in order to have this herb available for seasoning. She couldn’t easily pick up a container of prepared sage from the spice section of a supermarket as I can.
Sage contains elements which aid in food preservation and tend to retard spoilage. A person might possibly avoid food poisoning by adding this herb to foods that will not be refrigerated for a time. (This bit of trivia was more important before electricity became a common luxury.) This same seasoning might also prevent indigestion.
Since salvia, the generic name for sage, comes from the Latin word which means "to heal," we can see that this was once a popular healing herb.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman statesman/naturalist of the first century AD, treated snakebite, epilepsy, parasites and some women’s problems with sage. An early Greek physician considered it a diuretic as well as a curative for women’s problems. He also used sage leaves to bandage wounds.
To some ancients, sage was thought to promote longevity. In some cases, they even thought it could provide immortality. This reputation resulted in this age old proverb, "How can a man die when he has sage in the garden?"
This statement is credited to Winston Churchill: "We are happier when we are old than we are young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage."
My youth provides me with memories of hog killing and delicious homemade sausage, which of course contained sage. And, of course, Mother’s wonderful holiday chicken and cornbread dressing.
As you sprinkle sage into your sausage and holiday foods, try to remember that this health-providing herb can be used in moderation to season foods the year round. There is a possibility that this seasoning will strengthen your concentration, improve your memory and relax your nerves.
If anyone would care to share an old fashioned home-made pork sausage recipe, please send it to me.