Sage is an herb that is prized for its strong herbal aroma and earthy flavor. It is used in savory recipes and is a common ingredient in Thanksgiving stuffing. The herb is sold both fresh and dried and is available year-round. In addition to culinary use, it is used medicinally and as an ornamental plant.
What Is Sage?
Sage is an evergreen shrub part of the mint family. It has oval, dusty gray-green leaves with woody stems. Because of the fine, velveteen hair-like projections on sage leaves, they have a slightly fuzzy or fluffy appearance and cottony texture, which can make it unpleasant to eat raw. There are many varieties of sage, but the species used for culinary purposes is known as common sage, garden sage, kitchen sage, or Salvia officinalis.
Sage has a unique flavor that brings warmth and complexity to dishes. It works well when combined with other herbs and complements a variety of foods, from meat and seafood to lemon and butter. Both the leaves, fresh and dried, as well as rubbed and powdered versions are used in recipes.
Sage has a very long history and has been used since ancient times for several purposes, from warding off evil to boosting female fertility. It originated in the Mediterranean and was noted as being one of the most important herbs of that time period. Sage was utilized by the Romans to assist in digestion and was also used to treat ulcers, wounds, and sore throats.
The French turned sage into a tea, and once the Chinese tried it, they sought out the herb and traded large amounts of Chinese tea for just a fraction of the sage. In the early 800s AD, sage was considered an important crop because of its medicinal properties as well as lucrative trade business.
Fresh vs. Dried
Sage is an herb that retains much of its flavor once it is dried. However, it will not have the same brightness that is found in fresh sage. Drying concentrates the flavor and can give the herb a slightly bitter taste. Therefore, when cooking, less dried herb is added to the recipe than fresh.
There are two forms of dried sage: rubbed and powdered. Rubbed sage is created by rubbing the leaves together until they develop into coarse flakes. Powdered sage is a very fine texture that does not retain the flavor well, and therefore should be used in a timely manner.
The versions can all be substituted for one another, but since the potency of each is different, the measurements will have to change. Calculate that about seven leaves of fresh sage are equal to 2 teaspoons of rubbed sage or 1 teaspoon of powdered sage.
What Does It Taste Like?
Sage is a pungent herb that adds a feeling of warmth to dishes. It has an earthy taste, combining the scents and flavors of citrus and pine. The fresh version is more vibrant and less bitter than dried.
Cooking With Sage
To cook with fresh sage, remove the leaves from the stems, rinse with cold water, and dry well. Cut according to the recipe instructions; sage leaves are often sliced into chiffonade, chopped, or minced. Dried rubbed sage and powdered sage can be measured out and simply added to the recipe. The large leaves of sage can also be deep-fried to yield a flavorful, crispy chip that can then be used as a garnish or seasoning on a variety of dishes.
Whether you use fresh or dried sage will determine when the herb should be added to the recipe. Although fresh sage can be incorporated at the beginning, as it is strong enough to retain its flavor throughout the cooking process, it is best to add the herb toward the end to capitalize on its unique taste. Dried sage should be added at the start so the flavor has time to mellow. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way—if you've never used sage before, add just a bit at first, sprinkling in more to taste.
Sage is often paired with other herbs such as thyme, marjoram, and rosemary and harmonizes well with garlic, onion, oregano, parsley, and bay leaf.
Recipes With Sage
Sage is perhaps most notably used in the preparation of holiday stuffings and sausage, although it pairs well with any meat, especially poultry. The herb is also commonly used to create a flavorful butter sauce for delicate pastas.
Where to Buy Sage
Fresh sage is usually sold with the stem intact to preserve freshness. It is available in the produce section of the supermarket either in a bunch or in a plastic clamshell container. Look for bright-colored leaves that seem sturdy and aren't wilted; they should be devoid of spots and dried-out edges. Dried sage can be found in the spice aisle of the grocery store.
When kept refrigerated and wrapped in plastic wrap or in the original plastic clamshell container, fresh sage should stay good for up to one week. Once fresh sage has wilted, the flavor will be diminished and changed significantly. Fresh sage can also be frozen for long-term use. Dried sage should be kept in an airtight container away from heat and moisture. When stored properly, dried sage should maintain good flavor for up to one year.
Health Benefits of Sage
This herb not only has a distinctive taste but also several nutritional benefits. Sage is high in vitamin K and is a good source of vitamin A, fiber, calcium, iron, folate, magnesium, and manganese. It also boasts high doses of B vitamins, vitamins C and E, and copper and thiamin. Sage is also loaded with antioxidants that have been shown to improve brain function and memory.
Lopresti AL. Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects. Drugs R D. 2017;17(1):53-64. DOI: 10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5