Thanksgiving and Sage

salvia officinalis

HerbDoc has some musings on one of our favorite herbs, and one we use often during the holidays:

Thanksgiving is a few short days away, and one of the herbs that no cook can be without is sage.  Sage has a long history as an herbal medicine and as a culinary ingredient.

It was once said that sage cured tuberculosis and effectively treated snakebite, and many still see its value in reducing headaches and sore throats and as a digestive aid.  Its very name, “Salvia,” means health or salvation.

Sage is a very hardy perennial which is still a pebbly gray-green in my garden, and it will probably stay that way for the remainder of the winter. Since it becomes very woody and tough with age, its woody growth should be cut back in March.  I also try to replace my plants with new starts or cuttings every three to four years to prevent the toughness that comes with old age.  The best time to harvest sage is no later than September, and the most useful leaves come from the tops of the plants.

This herb is used extensively in stuffing and sausage, and the best one to grow for this purpose is Salvia officinalis which has a hint of lemon.  Other sages may be too strong and overpowering, and my beloved Pineapple Sage actually loses its scent/taste when dried. Be aware that if you’re a purist, the small boxes of turkey seasoning and bottles of dried sage on the grocer’s shelves probably contain several varieties of sage.  If using these it might be a good idea to add a healthy dose of dried parsley to the mix as it is said to cut the overpowering taste of mixed sages.

Sage also has a long history in the practices and folklore of the ancients.  In the past, sage leaves were strewn on graves as a sign of remembrance, and it was also said that if a young girl picked twelve leaves of sage at midnight on Christmas Eve and put them under her pillow that she would see the face of her future husband in her dreams.

We at Digging RI would like to wish all our readers and friends a very happy Thanksgiving. We are so thankful for your input and support!


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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5 Responses to Thanksgiving and Sage

  1. Wendy says:

    Interesting story. When I smell it, I just think mmmmmm, sausage…

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all in RI too!


  2. HerbDoc says:

    Thanks, Wendy! I love the folklore that goes with herbs. Some of my relatives used to put several sage leaves in the cavity of the turkey, but I just add it to the stuffing. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the aroma of sage! Have a wonderful holiday!


  3. lisa says:

    Hi, I googled ‘why do we eat sage on thanksgiving’ and happened on this interesting entry, which I loved reading, but it didn’t actually answer my question. Obviously, sage tastes and smells really good, but so do lots of things. Why specifically is sage so important to us for this particular holiday? Do you have any idea?

    Happy Thanksgiving!


  4. HerbDoc says:

    Sage was a very important herb in colonial days and was used for strewing, culinary and medicinal purposes. Since it originally grew in Mediterranean regions, it is likely that the early colonists transported it here along with other important plants and animals needed for their survival. Sage was often used to brew tea in the colonies since what we know as tea was in very short supply. Gerard, the renowned herbalist in the 1500’s says:
    “Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengthens the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members”.

    I’m sure that the colonists regularly used this herb extensively, and it most likely showed up at the Thanksgiving feast in some form. Why we continue to associate it with our holiday is not documented in any of my
    herb books, but it probably was added under the skin of the wild turkey as a flavoring agent or drank as a tea during the festivities.

    Also, here in New England it’s one of the few common herbs (parsley being the other) that it still green and usable at this time of year.


  5. dirtynailz says:

    Sage is also a sacred plant for many Native Americans and Canadians. It is used as a smudge for purifying ceremonial lodges, people’s homes, and people, themselves. It is burned in a shallow dish, and people fan the smoke onto themselves. It is a pleasant and relaxing ritual.


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