Where would we be at Christmas without sage and onion stuffing to jolly along the turkey? But this vital work over, sage is a pivotal ingredient in many Italian dishes and is a great herb to cut through the fattiness of many meat or nut dishes; it also happens to be one of the most ornamental herbs around. As an evergreen it provides structure all year with its silvery green leaves that have a fine texture. The leaves are an oval shape with an immediately recognisable fragrance that is redolent of good cooking. As an added bonus the flowers are a desirable shade of mauve blue while extending down the shoot so that the whole bush looks as if it is covered in its snapdragony flowers.
Sage is so decorative that it need not be confined to a dedicated herb patch. Its graceful shape and intriguing leaves make a great foil for brightly coloured flowers in a herbaceous border, and its flowers are worthy of including in any cutting garden scheme. Pair sage flowers with sweet-peas and you have a posy made in heaven, and smelling so too. Plant sage with rosemary and oregano and you are already a long way down the road towards creating Mediterranean garden that will be attractive throughout the year and provide you with fresh herbs for your kitchen. Look out for all the other varieties of sage out there that are also endlessly fascinating, especially some of the painted, purple and gold sages. You can harvest leaves all year but to maintain standards for the winter, cover one plant with fleece to keep the leaves soft and pliant and tender. For those gardening on a smaller scale, sage thrives in pots. Just remember to use a liquid feed after flowering and try not to overwater. And for those still unconvinced by the charms of sage, think of osso buco or sage butter with pumpkin or sage tempura to get you over the line. Added to any porky creation, sage aids digestion and lightens the dish -think of how sage has always been a traditional herb for preserving and flavouring sausages. It imparts its flavour well to oils and to vinegars making good presents. One myth to quash is that people always think that sage can be dried successfully. Sadly it is remarkably difficult to do so without it acquiring a slightly musty taste so you are best just venturing out with your scissors to pick a few fresh leaves rather than trying to preserve it. Sage does become woody eventually, even with excellent care, so they are best replaced every five years or so.
Sage has long been used for its medicinal properties. In fact the word sage is derived from the Latin salveo meaning I save or I heal. It is a top notch remedy for colds when made into a tea, and if you gargle with an infusion of sage and cider vinegar it will put paid to any throat infection imaginable. It is even said to counteract mouth ulcers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, sage is the herb that adds the je ne sais quoi to Vermouth.