Herbs are a very important part of any garden, and sage is one of the oldest we have in America. Sage is a member of the mint family and native to the northern Mediterranean shores. It is essential for Italian cooking. It is also used for flavoring for pork, veal, chicken, pasta and pizzas. There are more than 80 species and 750 varieties of the herb, which has a slightly bitter, woodsy, mint-like flavor that complements fatty meats. Sage also acts as a digestive for those fatty dishes. Sage is a perennial and can be grown very easily in Minnesota. Purchase plants from a good grower or herb farm. Common garden sage, Salvia officinalis, is a perennial to Zone 3. It grows like a small shrub to about 2 to 3-feet tall. Sage can easily be started from seed; start plants in the spring indoors. Select a site in full sun with good drainage. Sage is widely used in cooking; it is especially good with poultry and dressings. The gray-green leaves contrast nicely in a flower garden or perennial border. Sage leaves are also attractive additions to herbal wreaths. Sage is a woody shrub and should be in full sun, Keep it evenly moist and fertilize regularly when it is growing in the summer. Replace sage every four to five years as the plants become woodier with less foliage. Mulch the first year or two to get established. Fertilize sage regularly when it is growing in the summer. Harvest the leaves anytime they are available. They can take some cold and may last a while in the fall. Sage likely made its way to America when the Pilgrims arrived on the eastern shores in the early 1600s. The medicinal properties were a reason that it was popular with the English. Sage was thought to bring clarity. It was probably used in the first Thanksgiving as it was an important part of the Pilgrims cooking habits. Basic culinary herbs the English used about the time of the Mayflower included sage, mint, parsley, marjoram, tansy, pennyroyal, rosemary and chamomile. Rooted cuttings were mostly likely stuck in root vegetables to help them survive the 66-day trip. According to mayflowerhistory.com only five women survived the first winter in the New World. They prepared simple dishes seasoned with European and native herbs. Home cooks should use sage wisely and sparingly, a little goes a long way and fresh is always best. Many cooks make the mistake of buying dried sage and keeping it for months or even years. It has a very short shelf life. Use it quickly or it will become bitter. It smells musty even in a day if you are using fresh sage. Clean out your old sage every Thanksgiving if you have not used it up. Better yet, buy fresh and freeze the leaves. Lay the leaves on a cookie sheet on a piece of aluminum foil and brush them with olive oil. Place the sheets in the freezer. When the sage is frozen, store in freezer bags or containers and peel off the leaves as needed. Sage was named herb of the year in 2001 by the International Herb Association. Southeastern Europe is the principal producer of sage. The Chinese use sage in teas. American Indians use it for medicinal purposes. Sage combines well with rosemary and thyme. The flavor holds on for a long time, which makes it good for a crockpot, soup or stew dish. Sage, bacon and cream make a good sauce for pasta. Sage-flavored butter is a good topping for mashed or baked potatoes. Tuck leaves underneath the skin of turkey before roasting it or tuck them into slits made in a pork roast. Sauté with garlic and butter and toss with hot pasta, add grated cheese. Add a bit to cooked beans as a side dish. With all these ideas to use sage, why not use it more than once a year for your stuffing? Consider planting some sage in your garden next spring. You will be glad you did next fall so you can have some fresh, homegrown sage to use the entire winter. Send me your questions on gardening and cooking to email@example.com.
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