The more I read about and cook with Salvia officinalis the more I love the plant. I’ve been rather obsessed with sage over the last few weeks as anyone who follows Scarlet Bennett’s blog and particularly her creative challenge will attest.

sage leaf

Sage was one of the herbs my mother planted in an asbestos Everite pot on our back verandah in the mid 1960s. It was the plant closest to the tap, the plant we walked past every day, on the way to school, and when we came home. It was the plant that survived, albeit as a slightly stunted specimen, until my mother moved from the house after living there for thirty years. All the herbs we cooked with came from those Everite pots. I think my mother despised bought dried herbs in much the same way she despised white bread.

My early memories of the herbs in the pots are meshed in my mind with the many hours our family spent on the verandah – my younger sister and I zooming around in apple box ‘cars’, all three sisters lazing around reading (Enid Blyton for the younger two) through the summer holidays, the many meals eaten outside – and with Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair.

I didn’t doubt that those four herbs were sold at Scarborough Fair. I could not have imagined that Scarborough Fair no longer existed or in fact that it had been a very real fair for 500 years (albeit on and off). The fair was first held in 1253 in the ancient Yorkshire town of Scarborough and it ran for 45 days every year from 15 August until  29 September attracting merchants from all over Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

Sage, it seems, was introduced to Britain by the Romans but salvia’s documented existence goes back way further than the Romans. It was first mentioned, as a medicinal herb, in the Ebers Papyrus  dated 1500 BC and its purported first image (although from reading further I think this was more likely vetch) was seen along with rock roses, irises and lilies in the Minoan ‘Blue Bird Fresco’ from Knossos, Crete circa 1450 BC. Fragments of sage were however dug up at the site.

fresco_bluebirds

Judging by this evidence there is clearly no doubt that sage has impeccable culinary and medicinal credentials stretching back about as far as is possible.

But how can the modern woman – or man – do justice to Salvia officinalis?

For a start plant some in your garden. Richard grew ours from seed over five years ago and the sprawling plant delights us with its soft fresh new growth and intricate purple flowers each summer. And even in the depths of winter we always have an abundance of sage leaves at hand.

Then, I suggest you pick a sprig or two of leaves each day and brew yourself a pot of sage tea.

Finally, for now, but by no means exclusively –  I can recommend making sage pesto and sage oil, keeping them in your fridge or freezer and using the verdant mixtures day in and day out to brighten your plate.

 Sage Tea

Mix together sage leaves and flowers with mint, cinnamon and dried rose buds. Pour over boiling water and brew for about five minutes. Drink drink hot, at room temperature and be sure to try it over ice too.

Sage Pesto

Blend together:

  • Two loosely packed cups of sage leaves
  • One cup olive oil
  • Six cloves of garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • Two teaspoons of honey

Stir in:

  • Two handfuls of chopped walnuts
  • Two handfuls of ground almonds
  • Two handfuls mixed grated cheese. I used the leftovers in the fridge.

Serve with:

  • Roasted butternut
  • Pasta
  • Chicken
  • Mozzarella and sliced tomato

Sage Oil

Blend together sage leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.

Keep it in a jar in the freezer. Use:

  • On baked potatoes
  • As a coating for baked fish
  • With gem squash instead of butter
  • To enhance the flavour Karoo lamb
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