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Clary Sage

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Most culinary sages in herb gardens tend to grow best in dry, low humidity conditions � not exactly a description of the Houston area. But there is one sage that loves a moist garden area and that�s clary sage.

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is a short-lived perennial herb that is sometimes classified as biennial. The large-toothed somewhat hairy leaves can be 6-9 inches long. They grow from a central stalk, somewhat like foxglove or mullein.

In early summer clary sage produces a central stalk of blooms with the color ranging from white through pink into lavender. Once fertilized, the flower petals drop and seed pods are formed. Allow them to brown and dry before harvesting. You can collect these pods and break them open in late fall to sow the seeds for next year�s crop. Spread the seeds of clary sage in a moist, full sun location in the garden.

In centuries past, clary sage was used to flavor beer and wine. Before hops were a major ingredient in beer, clary sage, and other herbs were added to the fermenting grains. Apparently clary sage was a little too effective as it tended to give beer drinkers a particularly nasty headache the morning after. This herb was also used to flavor Rhine wine. It was believed to make it taste more like muscatel, a more highly regarded (and more expensive) vintage.

You may not want to experiment with adding clary sage to alcoholic beverages but the leaves still have a use for today�s herb enthusiast. The wonderful fragrance of clary sage works nicely in potpourri. Try adding to a mixture of flower scents, such as rose petals, lilac, lavender, orange blossom, or violets.