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Salvia officinalis
Salvia officinalis

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Zones 2-41, H1, H2
Full SunPartial Sun
Full, Partial
Regular Water
Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’
Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’

Salvia officinalis

Garden Sage, Common Sage
Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Herbs, Perennials, Shrubs


Thought of as drought-tolerant shrubs in much of the West, this huge genus—the largest in the mint family—includes many species of shrubs and perennials that need moderate to regular water. In recent years, scores of new species and selections have appeared in Western nurseries, many tender varieties that are even being offered as annuals in cold-winter climates. All sages have square stems and whorls of two-lipped flowers, either distinctly spaced along flower stalks or so tightly crowded that they look like one dense spike; some species have branched inflorescences. Flower colors range from white and yellow through salmon and pink to scarlet and pure red, from pale lavender to true blue and darkest purple. A few sages have fragrant blossoms. Many have aromatic foliage.

Nurseries in the West offer nearly 100 species as well as dozens of selections and hybrids. Names are often confused; S. x jamensis varieties are often assigned to S. greggii; and S. nemorosa varieties are often interchanged with S. x superba and S. x sylvestris varieties. 

Salvia officinalis

Shrubby perennial, from the Mediterranean region. Traditional culinary and medicinal sage. Grows to 1–3 ft. tall and 1–2 1/2 ft. wide; stems often root where they touch the soil. Aromatic, oval to oblong, wrinkled, 2–3-in. leaves are gray-green above, white and hairy beneath. Branching, 8–12-in. stems bear loose, spikelike clusters of 1/2-in. flowers in late spring, summer. Usual color is lavender-blue, but violet, red-violet, pink, and white forms exist. Delay pruning until new leaves begin to unfurl, then cut just above fresh growth; cutting into bare wood usually causes dieback. Replace plants when woody or leggy (every 3 or 4 years). Subject to root rot where drainage is less than perfect. Give afternoon shade in hottest climates.

‘Aurea’ (Golden sage). Has creamy gold variegation on green leaves.

‘Berggarten’ (‘Mountain Garden’). Compact; to 16 in. high. Denser growth, rounder leaves, fewer flowers than species; may be longer-lived.

‘Compacta’ (‘Nana’, ‘Minimus’). A half-size (or even smaller) version of the species, with narrower, closer-set leaves.

‘Icterina’. Gray-green leaves with golden border. Does not bloom.

‘Purpurascens’ (‘Red Sage’). Leaves flushed with red-violet when new, slowly mature to gray-green.

‘Tricolor’. Gray-green leaves with irregular cream border; new foliage is flushed with purplish pink.

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