“Sage” is a common name that gets used for a wide range of plant species, mainly those of the Salvia genus. With so many plants sharing the same common name, identifying different kinds of sage plants can be a little tricky.
In general, all the sage species offer plants that are durable and easy to grow. Many tolerate hot, dry conditions that would cause many other plants to wither. The uses of sage in the garden vary depending on the species. Some species are mainly ornamental, some are edible and some offer a little of both! Here’s a breakdown of some of the most commonly available sage plants and their uses.
Different Types of Sage Plants and Suggestions for Their Uses
Heat and Drought Tolerant Sage
These are the sage plants to choose if you have summer conditions that are especially hot and, or, dry. They’re also useful for sunny areas that don’t have easy access to water and may be more dependent on natural rainfall. When first starting new plants, though, you will want to water them regularly until new roots have had time to get established.
Sage ‘Hot Lips’
‘Hot Lips’ sage is a North American native plant that blooms over a long period through the summer. The flowers have a dainty appearance, but their vibrant red color makes a bold statement in a border garden or container. As an added bonus, this perennial plant is evergreen in areas with mild winters and is usually avoided by deer and rabbits.
Anise-scented Sage, Hummingbird Sage
Anise-scented sage gets its common name from the anise scent that is produced when the leaves are crushed. Flowers are produced in shades of purple to blue, depending on the variety. It’s rare to find a true blue shade in the world of flowers, but the blooms of some anise-scented sage varieties are among the few. This South American tropical should be grown as an annual in regions with freezing winters.
Autumn sage is a plant that can be seen growing wild throughout the Southwest U.S. and into Mexico. Autumn sage is perennial, and often evergreen in regions where winter temperatures stay above freezing. Flowers are produced over a long season from spring through fall and they’re a favorite of hummingbirds.
Mexican Bush Sage
As its common name suggests, Mexican bush sage is native to Mexico and Central America. This is one of the showiest sage species, well-suited for a sunny flower border. Mexican bush sage should be treated as an annual in regions that experience freezing temperatures in winter.
Scarlet Sage, Texas Sage
Scarlet sage, also known as “Texas sage” grows wild throughout sandy regions of South Carolina, Florida and Texas where it is a perennial native plant. This species readily reseeds itself, so if you live in an area with freezing winter temperatures you can let your scarlet sage go to seed in the fall and you should see new seedlings emerging in the spring.
Edible Sage Species
Certain species of sage plants have been used for thousands of years for flavoring foods. Edible sage is nutritional, flavorful and thought by many to have health benefits. While sage can be eaten fresh, the savory flavor intensifies with heat, such as in cooked foods or teas.
Also known as “culinary sage”, this is the sage you find in your spice rack. Culinary sage is a perennial plant, native to the Mediterranean region but now grown throughout the world. Sage is a key ingredient in Italian cuisine but also adds rich flavor to meats, poultry, soups and vegetables.
You can snip fresh sprigs of sage from the garden through the summer, then just before freezing temperatures arrive, cut off enough of the plant to preserve some for use through the winter. The aromatic leaves can also be used for flavoring vinegar, oil or using dried in potpourri.
Pineapple Sage and Tangerine Sage
A unique way to add a touch of citrus flavor to beverages, salads or as a garnish. The leaves of pineapple and tangerine sages have a citrusy aroma and flavor that is especially pronounced when crushed. Simply harvest the fresh leaves as needed.
Pineapple and tangerine sages are tender perennials that are native to Guatemala and Mexico. They won’t survive winter temperatures below 20 degrees F. However, they are fun, easy plants to grow as summer annuals for their flavor and the tubular flowers that attract lots of hummingbirds and butterflies.
Also known as “Europe sage”, clary sage is a short-lived biennial plant that can be found in nature growing throughout the Mediterranean region and into north Africa and Central Asia. The flowers are showy and fragrant, making this a good garden ornamental.
Clary sage has been used in a wide variety of ways through the centuries. It’s still commonly made into an essential oil that can be used for flavoring beverages, adding fragrance to soaps and cosmetics, and for use in aromatherapy.
Sage Plants that Attract Pollinators
The tubular shape of most sage flowers makes them a favorite of pollinators, especially hummingbirds. The following sage species, with their bright colors and nice-sized blooms are particularly enticing if you are interested in sage plants that are ornamental and attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.
Buchanan’s Sage, Fuschia Sage
A favorite of hummingbirds! Buchanan’s sage is a good choice for growing in a container and placed near a deck, porch or patio where visitors can be observed up close. Plants flower spring through fall.
Buchanan’s sage is native to Mexico. It was recorded in 1963 by Ian Charleson Hedge, a Scottish botanist who named the plant in honor of Sir Charles James Buchanan, the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire in England. Buchanan’s sage is perennial in regions with mild, frost-free winters. Grow it as an annual elsewhere.
Woodland Sage, Garden Sage
One of the most popular sages for perennial gardens. Woodland sage plants are easy to maintain, slow spreaders, and attract lot of hummingbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinating insects. If you have trouble with deer or rabbits, woodland sage is a good choice. The plants are not an attractive food source for mammals.
Wood Sage, Meadow Sage
(Salvia x sylvestris)
Wood sage is an especially durable and colorful choice for a perennial garden. This hybrid resulted from a cross between Salvia nemorosa and Salvia pratensis species. Varieties are available in a range of colors from lavender and blue to rose and white. Wood sage bloom over a long season, from spring through late summer but it’s helpful to remove faded flower stalks to encourage the most blooms.
As its common name suggests, this sage is native to meadows of Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. Flowers appear in early summer and stalks should be cut back after the blooms fade. Meadow sage is a favorite of bees and butterflies!
(Salvia x superba)
Although this sage borrows the same common name “meadow sage”, it’s really a hybrid cross of the meadow-loving Salvia nemorosa and Salvia sylvestris. In addition to attracting a wide range of pollinators, this plant has good drought tolerance and blooms over a long period through summer into early fall. Remove faded flower stalks to encourage more blooms.
Sinaloa sage is a garden treasure that is found growing wild only in Sinaloa, Mexico. The intensely blue flowers are a rarity among flower colors. Sinaloa sage is a herbaceous perennial and typically don’t survive regions that experience winter temperatures below 20 degrees F. Blooms are produced over a long season, from late spring through fall.
Ornamental sage plants are valued for their attractive foliage. Plants with colorful leaves are always a great way to add continuous color to the landscape without the fuss of flowers. These sage species are an easy-care option for adding continuous color and interest to a perennial garden or potted with flowering plants in a mixed container.
One of the most decorative salvias, the silvery, blue-green leaves of silver sage are so soft, you won’t be able to resist touching them. Silver sage is native to Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and northwest Africa. Remove the flower stalks when they appear to keep the plant’s energy on foliage development.
This is an excellent choice for a moon garden. The silvery leaves will help reflect garden lighting into the shadows.
(Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’)
Through hybridization many colorful varieties of culinary sage have been developed. It was only a matter of time before these edible varieties were embraced for their ornamental use as well. Foliage colors range from gold to blends of green, white and burgundy. The colorful ‘Tricolor’ variety is especially well-suited for adding reliable color to a flower bed, rock garden or container planting.
White Sage, Smudging Sage
This is the sage that is popular for the spiritual practice of “smudging”; burning a dried bundle of sage as part of a cleansing ritual, to dispel negative energies. White sage is ideal for regions that are prone to drought and wildfires. The deep roots allow it to recover if the plant is damaged by harsh environmental circumstances. The silvery-white leaves create a beautiful backdrop for flowering plants.
Annual Sage Plants
These warm-climate species won’t survive the winter in regions outside of zone 10-11 but their beautiful flowers and long bloom season make them a favorite for summer flower beds and pots.
Mealy Cup Sage
Mealy cup sage is native to the prairies and meadows of Mexico, Texas and New Mexico. It’s an excellent choice for difficult hot, dry spaces. Plants are biennial in frost-free regions, but mealy cup sage is so beloved by gardeners that it’s happily grown as an annual elsewhere. The long flower stems and fragrant blooms are a favorite for cut arrangements.
Scarlet Sage, Tropical Sage
Annual scarlet sage, also commonly known as “tropical sage”, is a native of Brazil. Scarlet sage has become a classic for summer garden beds and containers. Flowers are produced all summer long and are a favorite of hummingbirds!
Sage Plants that are Not in the Genus Salvia
Not all plants that go by the common name “sage” are part of the Salvia genus. Here are a couple of sage plants that match the Salvia species in durability and good looks, but are from entirely different plant genera.
Russian sage has been grown as an ornamental plant since the mid-1800s. It’s not a true sage, nor is it native to Russia. However, Russian sage was given its name by a Russian botanist. Perovskia is native to Central Asia.
The feathery gray foliage and lavender flower stalks of Russian sage add a soft texture to the landscape. Russian sage is incredibly heat and drought tolerant making it a good choice for situations that don’t get a lot of rain or that are difficult to water.
Texas Sage, Silverleaf
Texas sage has silvery foliage similar to some species of Salvia, but it is not a true sage. Leucophyllum is a shrub that grows naturally in the arid regions of Texas, New Mexico and south into Mexico. This is another good choice for low-water situations or designing a garden with water conservation in mind. Plants are evergreen in frost-free regions.
Looking for other rugged plants to add color to your summer landscape? See our suggestions for twenty heat and drought-tolerant annuals that will brighten up your beds and containers all summer long.