Sage, a staple of the Pilgrims, has been an
American favorite ever since
It's medicinal. It's
It's the curative of the ancient Egyptians and Romans, the
darling of modern American Thanksgiving tables.
For ages, kitchen wisdom has been associated with salvia
officinalis, which we know as the herb sage. A member of
the mint family and a native of the northern Mediterranean
shores, sage is an essential ingredient in Italian cooking. It
commonly flavors pork, veal -- osso buco, for example -- and
chicken. Sage brings character to internationally celebrated
soups, such as minestrone and fagioli. It teams with butter to
highlight pasta, adorns antipasti platters, and decorates
"You'll also find it was used early in the cuisines of
Spain, Greece, Germany and France," says Rita Venturino,
director of Rita Venturino's Italian Table cooking school in
Richland. There are more than 80 species and 750 varieties of
the herb, which imparts a slightly bitter, woodsy, mintlike
flavor that complements fatty meats. Sage also acts as a
digestive for such fatty dishes.
leaves -- also often described as having a "pine" flavor --
are popular served sauteed or battered and deep-fried. The
word "sage" comes from the Italian word salvia
Latin word salvere
, which mean "good health" and
Garden sage grows profusely on northern Italian hillsides,
Venturino says. A perennial, it's easy to grow outside in
Western Pennsylvania during the warm months; a sunny
windowsill is all that's needed for it to thrive in the
winter, she adds.
Sage likely made its way to America when the Pilgrims
arrived on the eastern shores in the early 1600s, says Diane
Morgan, author of "The Thanksgiving Table: Recipes and Ideas
to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition" (Chronicle Books, $18.95
"Its medicinal properties were sort of an underlying reason
for its popularity (among the English)," she says in a
telephone interview from her home in Portland, Ore. "It was
associated with wisdom. That's how they thought of sage, as
Although there is nothing specific to prove that sage was
used at the first Thanksgiving, she says, "it's likely that it
was, because sage was an important part of English cooking,
used in forcemeats, stuffings, sausage and savory puddings."
Forcemeat is meat or fish that is chopped up and seasoned,
usually for stuffing.
"The foods served at the first Thanksgiving -- the menu
included goose, turkey, duck and venison -- are ones that go
well with sage," Morgan says. "(The Pilgrims) were already
incorporating traditional English cooking with the ingredients
they found in the New World. And it makes sense that they
would have brought seeds (to grow herbs) and spices from their
Basic culinary herbs in use by the English "goodwives"
about the time of the arrival of the Mayflower included sage,
mint, parsley, marjoram, tansy, pennyroyal, rosemary and
chamomile, writes Madeline Wajda of Willow Pond Farm, a family
herb farm in Fairfield, Pa., just west of Gettysburg, in an
article for the Web site of The Master Gardeners,
www.emmitsburg.net. "Rooted cuttings were most likely stuck
into root vegetables to help them survive the 66-day trip,"
she writes in "Herbs for Thanksgiving."
Only four women survived the trip to the New World and the
Pilgrims' first winter in America. Wajda writes, "(They)
prepared simple dishes seasoned with European and native
herbs. A recipe for Oyster Corn Bread Dressing called for
'Onyons cut fine and of Parsley, Sage, Time, Savory.'"
The Pilgrims' culinary influence has given sage a long
history in the regional, small-town cooking of New England,
Morgan says. "In my book, I have this old recipe from my
editor, Bill LeBlond, for a really classic New England
dressing that was made by his mother and grandmother."
LeBlond grew up in New England, where at Thanksgiving, "a
substantial meat-and-potatoes diet yielded a savory meat
stuffing to accompany the holiday bird," Morgan says. Fresh
sage, thyme and parsley are the base flavorings of the dish,
which features ground beef, pork or sausage, potato and
packaged herb-seasoned stuffing mix.
"(The recipe) is not something that would jump off the
pages," Morgan says,"but it's a classic-style dressing that's
very different from what we think of with bread stuffing. It's
based on mashed potatoes."
Home cooks should use sage according to the meaning of its
name -- wisely and judiciously. A little goes a long way, and
fresh is best.
"Many cooks make the mistake of buying dried sage and
keeping it around for months," Venturino says. "It has a very
short shelf life. Use it quickly, or it will become bitter and
smell musty, even in a matter of a day.
"Better yet, buy fresh sage and freeze the leaves," she
says. To do so, lay clean and dried whole sage leaves on
pieces of aluminum foil and brush them with olive oil. Place
the foil in the freezer. When the sage is frozen, store the
foil in freezer bags or containers and peel off the leaves as
"This way," Venturino says, "the sage stays soft."
Most supermarkets stock fresh sage leaves in boxes -- or
you can buy whole plants -- in the produce section. If fresh
is unavailable, buy the dried form the same way you would use
it in cooking -- in minimal quantities, Venturino says.
"How do you know that dried sage is fresh? Shop where there
is quick turnover or from a reputable dealer, such as Penzey's
or Whole Foods," she says. "And only buy as much as you are
going to need in a short amount of time."
In a 2003 survey of Americans conducted by Equation
Research for McCormick, the world's largest spice producer,
respondents named sage -- specifically salvia
officinalis, common garden or "green" sage -- among the
top 10 flavors essential for the holidays.
Sage was named Herb of the Year in 2001 by the
International Herb Association. McCormick says that
Southeastern Europe has been the principal producer of sage;
in the United States, sage grown in Dalmatia, the Adriatic
region of Croatia, is considered superior.
The most popular dried variety is rubbed sage, which is
slightly ground to a fluffy, cottonlike consistency. The dried
version also is available whole and ground.
Sage complements meats -- particularly pork and poultry --
but also lends itself well to a range of vegetable, fish and
cheese dishes. It marries well with onion.
The Chinese use sage in teas; American Indians employ it
for medicinal purposes. The herb also has aromatic and
Sage combines well with rosemary and thyme, especially with
roast poultry. Its flavor is not diminished during a long
cooking time, which makes it suitable for soups or stews made
during cold weather.
Sage, bacon and cream make a good sauce for pasta.
Sage-flavored butter is a good topping for mashed or baked
Other suggested uses:
Spread slivered fresh leaves underneath the skin of turkey
before roasting or tuck them into slits made in a pork roast.
Saute with garlic and butter and toss with hot pasta and
grated Parmesan cheese.
Stir minced sage into warm applesauce and serve with
grilled pork chops.
Lace cooked beans with fresh sage for soup or as a side
Herbs and flavors that work well with sage include thyme,
rosemary, bergamot, geranium, ginger, lavender, orange and
Sources: http://www.mccormick.com/; http://www.hungrymonster.com/; http://www.maasnursery.com/; The Washington