Preserving Your Sage Harvest

salvia officinalis

The History of Sage

The name Sage is derived from the Latin word "salveo", which means "to save or heal" and was prized by many cultures for the healing tea made from the leaves. In the 17th Century the Chinese valued Sage tea so much that they would trade Dutch merchants three crates of their native green tea for one crate of Sage tea.

The Romans considered it a sacred herb, gathering it from the wild with great ceremony. A sacrifice of food was offered by especially appointed reapers wearing clean clothes and having clean feet. The gathering of the herb was done with a special non-metallic knive to avoid compounds in the Sage from interacting with the iron in common knives of the period.

Culinary Uses of Sage

Because Sage has such antibacterial and antioxidant properties, it has been used for centuries as a flavoring and natural preservative for cheeses, meats and meat products,especially sausage. Our early American pioneers made bread and rolls,topped with Sage butter and vinegars for marinades and sauces. Sage is a common ingredient in poultry dishes, including stuffings for the Thanksgiving turkey. It is a secret ingredient used in dry rubs for ribs, pork and poultry dishes, but it must be used sparingly at first, because the flavor can overwhelm the other ingredients in the dish.

Medicinal Uses of Sage

Sage tea was used in Crete as far back as 1600 B.C. to ease sore and inflamed throats, a common remedy used even today for laryngitis, tonsilitis and infected gums and mouth sores. Because of its ability to reduce sweating, it is used to reduce fever sweats from the flu. Sage has powerful hormonal effects making the tea useful in successfully reducing the pain of heavy menstrual bleeding and menopausal hot flashes.

Aromatheray Uses of Sage

Sage (salvia officinalis) essential oils have a large amount of thujone, a natural component that can cause convulsions or epileptic fits in some patients. It can be toxic, in large amounts, to the nervous system and must be used with extreme caution.

For this reason most aromatherapists use the essential oil of Clary Sage (salvia sclarea) instead.

Harvesting Sage

Sage is a perennial to zone 5 that is easy to grow from seed or cutting. It prefers full sun and a relatively sandy soil with good drainage. I have raised Sage in pots on the patio, to be brought indoors right before the first killer frost, that have lasted through the winter indoors, even blooming, to my astonishment!

When clipping the branches for use, make sure that you do not cut the whole branch off of the plant, cutting only the fresh lighter green leaves for fresh use. When cutting for the Fall storage, do not cut the plants down to the crown, but leave the parent stalks at least 3 or 4 inches from the ground to ensure proper, even growth in spring.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden Shears

Collection basket of some sort

METHOD:

1. Clip the young, green leaves in the early morning after the dew has dried off of the leaves, leaving the hard woody stems to generate more growth. This will encourage branching, for a bushier, well formed plant.

2. Alternate in various locations around the crown, leaving leaves to help feed the plant. This will assure a full crop for drying in the late Fall.

Preserving Sage

Drying Sage

Traditional Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden or Kitchen shears

Basket or other container suitable for Sage sprigs

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Rubber Bands

Clothes Drying Rack, Dry attic or porch

Small Brown Paper Bags (optional)

METHOD:

1. Gather your Sage harvest in the morning hours after the sun has dried away the dew of the night.

2. Gather the sprigs into small, loose bundles and secure the stems with rubber bands to assure that the bundles stay together as they dry. Be careful to alternate the branches to allow for good air filtration between the broad leaves.

3. If using brown paper bags, cover each bundle with the bags that have slits cut into the sides to allow for adequate air flow around the herbs. The paper bags keep dust off of the Sage as it dries and the sunlight from bleaching out the color. Care must be taken to make sure that enough air flows through the bag to keep the Sage from molding. Check occasionally to make sure, and, if need be either cut more holes in the bags or remove them. Sometimes the moisture builds up inside the bag, especially if the sun hits it, allowing fungus and mildew to form. Discard any molded leaves or bunches.

4. Hang upside down in a warm, dry place such as an attic or porch until the leaves are brittle to the touch, approximately 2 weeks.

5. Gather the dried bundles and place on a sheet of wax paper.

6. Crumble the dried leaves and separate out all of the tough stems onto the wax paper.

7. Store in an air tight container in the pantry for use in cooking.

STORAGE:

These air tight jars can be stored in a dry, dark place such as your pantry or cupboard, or even your freezer, with proper care.

USES:

Dried Sage can be used in sauces, gravies, dressings and all other recipes that require fresh Sage. Caution should be used when cooking with dried Sage, because, unlike many herbs, Sage does not loose it's flavor when dried, and some would argue, takes on more flavor! Use sparingly in the beginning until you learn your own tastes.

DRIED SEEDS: Clip the seed heads from the mature Sage plant as soon as you notice that the flower heads starting to set seeds. Seeds usually mature rather quickly, so act soon. Gather the clipped seed heads into loose bundles and secure with a rubber band. Cover the seed pod bundles with paper bags and hang upside down in an airy, dry place to dry. The seed should separate from the seed heads within a few weeks. Shake the dried pod bags to loosen any other seeds and pour onto a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. Remove the stems and any other debris to separate the seeds and pour into a small spice container for planting in the Spring!

Quick Drying Method

Sage can be dried in the oven at the lowest temperature, or, if you have a gas stove with a pilot light, spread out on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper in a single layer.

Special Note: If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to loose its bright green color.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or good chopping knife

Chopping board or block

Parchment Paper

Cookie Sheet

Oven

1. Wash and gently spin dry the fresh Sage sprigs.

2. Pick out the discolored leaves and woody stems.

3. Preheat your oven to lowest temperature setting.

4. Chop or clip herbs into 1/4" pieces onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet or place the whole leaves on the paper.

5. Place in oven on top rack for 2 to 4 hours or until Sage crumbles easily between your fingers. Drying times may vary according climate conditions and relative humidity.

6. Gather up the parchment paper into a funnel and place smallest end over the mouth of a clean, completely dry jar and seal tightly.

STORAGE: Place jar in a dry, dark place such as your kitchen cabinet, pantry or even your freezer.

Freezing Sage

Ice Cube Method

The traditional method of freezing Sage is to chop the herb up fine and suspend the chopped herbs in a little water before freezing.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or chopping knife and chopping board

Ice Cube trays

Measuring spoons

INGREDIENTS:

Chopped Sage

Fresh tap water

1. Pick through the fresh Sage removing damaged leaves and tough stems and rinse. Gently spin dry or pat dry between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Chop up the Sage, removing tough stems, and place a teaspoon or two into each compartment of the ice cube trays.

3. Top off with water and freeze in the freezer.

STORAGE: Once the ice cubes have frozen, remove the herbed cubes and store in an air tight freezer bag or jar in your freezer.

USES: These Sage ice cubes can be used in sauces and soups. To use the herb as fresh in salad dressings or dishes with little liquid content, place the cube in a glass of room temperature water until melted and strain through a sieve to remove the Sage from the water. Add to the recipe as required.

Vacuum Sealer Method

This method allows for great color, texture and flavor retention by keeping the sprigs whole and air tight. I feel it is the best way to store pungent herbs such as Sage.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Vacuum sealer with appropriate bag material

Salad Spinner or clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or paring knife

METHOD:

1. Wash and gently spin dry or blot with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Snip or cut off tough woody stems and discolored or damaged leaves.

3. Make a bag from the roll material large enough to hold the sprigs of Sage and allow space between the herb and the final seal and seal one end.

4. Label bag with contents and date sealed.

5. Place herb sprigs into the bag.

6. Place bag end into the sealer and vacuum seal.

7. Place in the freezer flat. After the bags have frozen solid, they can be stored upright, taking up little space in the freezer.

Sage Herb Vinegar

Cold Method

This method uses the bottle that the vinegar is purchased in, so be sure to buy a high quality vinegar with an attractive glass bottle.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

1 bottle of good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Small bowl

3 or 4 sprigs of fresh Sage, washed and patted dry

1 clove garlic, optional

3 or 4 pepper corns, optional

METHOD:

1. Pour a small amount (approximately 1/2 cup) of the vinegar into a small clean bowl to reserve for later use after the herb sprigs have been added.

2. Place the fresh Sage sprigs in the bottle of vinegar.

3. Top off to fill the bottle with the reserved vinegar and seal tightly.

4. Place the bottle on a sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to mix the flavors of the herbs.

5. Soak off the manufacturer label and relabel with a decorative label.

STORAGE: These herbed vinegars are quite attractive and can be stored on the counter top, pantry or kitchen cupboard.

USES: This flavored vinegar is great in marinades for meat and poultry, in salad dressings and many other recipes requiring vinegar.

Sage vinegar makes a great natural rinse to add shine to dark hair!

Hot Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Small Bowl

Wooden Spoon

Fresh Sage Sprigs

Chopping knife and chopping board

Large clean wide mouth jar with tight fitting lid

Sheet of plastic wrap

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

Good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of apple cider or wine vinegar

1 cup of chopped Sage

METHOD:

1. Place the chopped leaves in the bowl and gently crush with a wooden spoon.

2. Heat one cup of the vinegar until warm, but do not boil.

3. Pour hot vinegar over the crushed Sage in the bowl and stir to mix well.

4. Crush the Sage a little more to release the herb oils.

5. Leave to cool.

6. When cooled, add the remaining cup of vinegar and pour into a large jar and cap tightly.

7. Place on a sunny window sill and shake every day or so to distribute the flavors for two weeks.

8. Store as is or pour through a double layer of cheese cloth into a funnel over a clean decorative bottle.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Sage into the bottle for decoration and identification purposes.

10. Label and store in the pantry, cupboard or counter top.

Sage Infused Oil

Cold Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or clean kitchen towels

Medium bowl

Wooden spoon

Large wide mouth jar

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Fresh Sage sprigs

1/4 or 1/2 dry measuring cups

2 cup liquid measuring cup

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of Sage leaves

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Pick the freshest herbs, wash and gently spin dry or blot between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Place the Sage leaves in the bowl and crush slightly with the back of the wooden spoon to release plant flavors.

3. Pour half (1 cup) of the oil over the bruised leaves.

4. Stir and crush again slightly to release more of the plant oils.

5. Add remaining cup of oil and stir well to blend.

6. Pour into the large mouth jar and cap tightly.

7. Set on a sunny window sill for two weeks, shaking gently every day or so to mix the flavors.

8. Strain oil slowly through a double layer of cheese cloth set into a large funnel in the opening of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Sage for decoration and identification purposes and label.

STORE: Keep the flavored oils out of direct sunlight after the seeping process in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. Oils tend to go rancid if left in the sun too long. The shelf life of flavored oils is approximately six months.

Hot Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Medium kitchen bowl

Wooden Spoon

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

2 cup or larger liquid measuring cup

1/4 or 1/2 cup dry measuring cup

Large wide mouth jar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

Decorative bottle

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh chopped Sage

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Wash herbs and spin dry or pat between two kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Pick out tough stems and damaged or discolored leaves.

3. Trim and chop the Sage and measure 1/3 to 1/2 cup, depending on the intensity of the flavor desired.

4. Place chopped Sage into the bowl and crush slightly with the wooden spoon.

5. Pour one cup of the oil into the sauce pan and heat, but do not boil.

6. Pour heated oil over the crushed Sage in the bowl and stir with the wooden spoon to mix well.

7. Slowly add remaining oil into the bowl and stir to mix.

8. Once cooled, place in the large mouth jar and seal tightly.

9. Place jar on sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to blend the flavors.

10. Slowly pour the liquid a little at a time into a funnel lined with a double layer of cheese cloth set on the top of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

11. Add a few fresh sprigs for decoration and identification and label, including the date.

USES: Flavored oils can be used in almost every recipe that uses oil, from meat, poultry or fish marinades, sautes, sauces, herb flavored mayonnaise, and salad dressings.

STORAGE: These oils will store up to six months in a dark cupboard or pantry.

Sage Savory Butter

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Small Kitchen Bowl

Chopping Board

Kitchen Shears or Good Chopping Knife OR Food Processor

Wooden Spoon or Spatula

Set of Measuring Spoons

Wax or Parchment paper

Ice cube trays or small muffin tins

INGREDIENTS:

1 Stick (8 Tablespoons or 1/4 Pound) of Sweet butter, softened

1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of chopped Sage

METHOD:

1. Set the stick of butter out on the counter to warm up and soften.

2. Wash and spin dry to remove as much moisture as possible from the Sage, picking through the leaves to remove woody stems and damaged, discolored leaves.

BY HAND:

3. Gather the herb sprigs into small bunches and finely chop with the chopping knife or snip in small pieces over a piece of wax or parchment paper.

4. In a small bowl, combine the soft butter and the chopped Sage with a wooden spoon until well blended.

IN FOOD PROCESSOR:

3. Place 3 to 5 sprigs of Sage into the bowl of the processor and pulse several times to chop fine, scraping the bowl down with the wooden spoon or spatula between each pulse to assure even chopping.

4. Add the softened butter to the processor bowl and pulse, again, scraping the sides of the bowl between each pulse to mix ingredients well.

5. Divide the butter by Tablespoons into the ice trays (for cube shaped butter patties) or small muffin tins (for round butter patties) and freeze in the freezer.

6. Once frozen, remove the butter patties from the trays or tins and store in an air-tight container such as a freezer bag or glass jar in the freezer.

NOTE: You can also remove the butter from the bowl onto a sheet of wax paper, and, as it starts to set up, gently roll it into a roll with the help of the paper. Once the roll has formed, add another layer of wax paper and twist the ends to seal tightly. Place the roll on the freezer shelf to freeze. To serve, these rolls can be unwrapped and sliced into discs for serving with savory toasts, over mashed or baked potatoes or new potatoes and a variety of other applications requiring butter.

Sage Honey

Honey is perhaps one of the best natural preservative ever discovered, having remarkable shelf life, and was even found in tombs in Egypt, still viable!

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid

Salad Spinner or Two Clean Kitchen Towels

Kitchen Shears or Chopping Board and Good Chopping Knife

Sheet of Wax or Parchment Paper

Bamboo Skewer

INGREDIENTS:

Fresh, Clear Honey

Whole Leaf or Chopped Sage

METHOD:

1. Fill the glass jar half way to the top with fresh honey.

2. Place either the chopped or whole leaf Sage into the jar, packing loosely, using the bamboo skewer to make sure the leaves are dispersed evenly throughout the honey.

3. Top off the herb infused honey with more honey to fill the jar.

4. Tighten the lid onto the jar and label.

STORAGE:

Because Honey has a way of crystallizing, it is best to keep the jars out of direct light, in a dark cupboard or pantry. If the honey does crystallize, fill a small cooking pot with 2 inches or so of water and place the jar of honey in the center. Gently warm up the water over medium heat on your stove to heat up the honey, stirring occasionally to disperse the honey crystals until all of the honey is smooth again. Do not bring to a boil. Overheating the honey will break down some of the properties of the honey!

USES: Sage Honey is great added to hot tea to help alleviate congestion, sore throat pain and reduce fever from the common cold!