Plant Profile: Salvias

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There are over 900 species of salvias. Commonly called sage, it is a powerful healing plant. The name salvia, from the Latin salvere, means to be in good health, to cure, to save. Plants are low-maintenance and easy to grow, drought tolerant once established, and usually not bothered by insects and diseases. Flowers are tube-shaped with two lips, come in shades of pinks, scarlet, lavenders and true blue that give a long season of color, often from early spring to the first hard frost. Most prefer well drained soil and occasional pruning and supplemental irrigation in the hottest months keeps them looking their best.

Here are a few of my favorite sages.

Salna greggiis perhaps the most popular sage found in gardens today. Also known as autumn sage or Red salvia, it is the first plant to bloom in my garden and when it does the humming birds are not far behind! Other colors include white, hot pink, purple, and peach. An evergreen perennial, 2-3 ft. high and 3 ft wide.

S. dorii is a spectacular looking plant with intensely fragrant, silver-grey foliage and 1 inch rounded clusters of blue-violet flowers spikes. The dried flower spikes are beautiful in floral arrangements. Low growing shrub, 18 inches by 2 ft.

S. chamaedryoides has cobalt blue flowers and silver leaves that are quite striking. Perennial evergreen that grows to 1 1/2 ft. high and 2ft wide.

S. clevelandii is another strongly scented sage. I use the grey-green leaves in pizza and pasta sauces. Flowers are blue-purple with a delightful fragrance that is more pronounced when dried - great for potpourri. Give this plant some room, it can grow 3-5 ft. high and wide.

S. leucantha has gorgeous, velvety purple flowers with white lips that rise above grey-green, crinkly leaves. Growth is a graceful arching 3-4 ft. high.

S. officinalis is the good old basic culinary sage but is also a beautiful shrub with deep-throated, mauve-blue flowers. Another favorite is S. sclarea (a.k.a S. viridis or horminum) or Clary sage, with long-lasting lilac flowers.

S. elegans, also known as pineapple sage, with scarlet flowers that are a magnet for hummers.

Other uses for sage are teas; making sage vinegar and butter; placing dried leaves in drawers to discourage insects; deodorizing smells with sage smoke; and sage helps combat diarrhea and aids indigestion. As a companion plant with cabbages it repels the white cabbage butter fly and likes carrots and rosemary. And best of all rabbits and deer dislike it! Salvia-a plant you should get to know.

Cheri Melton
April, 1997