Whether as an ingredient in Mediterranean dishes or as a soothing tea, sage (Salvia officinalis) in particular has many uses. However, to enjoy fully aromatic leaves, a few points should be observed when harvesting sage. For example, the right time of day plays an important role, especially if you want to preserve the herb for winter storage. Also, not every type of sage is edible. Here you can read interesting facts about harvesting sage and how to ensure that the full flavor is preserved.
Harvesting sage: The most important tips
- Young sage leaves can be harvested continuously into the fall and used fresh.
- For tea and spice storage, sage is best harvested just before it blooms. This is when the essential oil content is highest.
- Harvest sage on a warm, sunny day. The optimal time of day is late morning when the dew has dried.
- Pick individual leaves or cut whole, young shoots with a sharp knife or scissors.
- To preserve a larger sage harvest, you can dry or freeze leaves and shoots, for example.
When and how to harvest sage properly?
Sage has a distinctive spicy flavor, and you can pick its leaves almost year-round – from bud break to fall. That’s the beauty of this evergreen half-shrub. Even the flowers are edible and spice up many a dish. What’s more, the fresh herbs taste delicious at any time, so you don’t necessarily have to wait for a special moment to harvest them.
However, if you want to dry your sage, for example, to stock up on spices or use it as tea, it is advisable to wait for the optimal time to harvest it. The concentration of essential oils in sage is at its highest just before flowering, between June and August. The leaves are then particularly aromatic, which is why the flavor can be preserved very well.
However, the content of valuable ingredients in sage leaves also varies throughout the day. Therefore, it is best to harvest the culinary herb on a dry, warm day, in the late morning, when the dew has dried off. If the leaves are damp, it can negatively affect the following preservation process: For example, if the wrong place is chosen for drying, leaves and shoots may become moldy.
However, do not wait until the midday heat. It ensures that the essential oils evaporate slowly. Depending on your needs, you can pick individual leaves or use a sharp knife or scissors to cut whole, young shoots. Proceed with caution: Crushed leaves and stems quickly turn brown and don’t taste as good.
Bring your harvest out of the sun immediately afterward and dry the sage directly to avoid loss of flavor. Freezing sage is also a good way to preserve the delicious flavors.
After harvest pruning before flowering sage sprouts again and once again provides fresh leaves. But annual pruning of the half-shrub also contributes to a rich harvest. Therefore, it pays to follow the common pruning tips for sage: Namely, if you cut back the plant every year in the spring after the frost period, you will ensure vigorous and compact growth. In addition, the leaves, which you can then harvest in the summer, are particularly tasty. However, be careful not to cut into the woody area. Otherwise, the sage may resprout only weakly.
What types of sage can be harvested for consumption?
There are numerous species and varieties of sage, but not all of them are edible. Some of them, with their colorful flowers, are simply pretty garden ornaments and insect food. Therefore, before harvesting, see which sage grows in your garden or on the balcony. For example, the tumbleweed sage (Salvia nemorosa) and the flour sage (Salvia farinacea) are closely related to the true sage, but both are purely ornamental perennials. Their dark purple and blue flowers are real eye-catchers in the garden.
The muscatel sage (Salvia sclarea), on the other hand, is a species that can be eaten. Its spicy aroma goes well in jams and fruity desserts, among other things. Its flowers are also edible. The meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) is less aromatic than the true sage but is still used to flavor fish dishes or as tea.
The varieties of the true sage can be used for culinary and health purposes: Salvia officinalis refines meat dishes, among other things, and when drunk as a tea helps, for example, with respiratory diseases or inflammation of the gums. You can also easily make sage tea yourself.
The flowers and leaves of the numerous tropical sage species are popular ingredients in smoothies when freshly harvested, but also taste good in fruit salads or with cheese, for example. Pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans) is probably the best known. If you want to enjoy tropical varieties like tea, it is best to harvest the sage in full bloom.