Salvia Newe Ya'Ar

South Texas Unit

of

The Herb Society of America

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Salvia Newe Ya'Ar* (formerly Silver Leaf Sage)

Salvia officinalis x S. fruticosa

Lamiaceae (Mint family, formerly Labiatae)

 

*pronounced noy ya ar meaning "good plant" in Hebrew 

Culinary or garden sage (Salvia officinalis) has long been considered an "annual" by herb gardeners in hot, humid, southern Gulf Coast Texas. Even the best gardeners are resigned to the fact that their culinary sages will flourish through the winter and spring, and suddenly, without warning, wilt and die. The South Texas Unit's subject plant of the Herb Society of America’s "1994 New Plant Challenge," Salvia officinalis x S. fruticosa, apparently has reversed our misfortune with culinary sage.

Salvia officinalis x S. fruticosa came to us in an unusual manner. In 1992, Members Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay purchased a bundle of herbs labeled as oregano from a local grocery store. As they more closely inspected the herbs, they realized that this was a woolly Salvia officinalis. This sage had a lobed appearance similar to S. fruticosa on some leaves They took the mysterious sage home and rooted all five cuttings. Four of the five cuttings were distributed to various growers for identification and research. The fifth cutting is growing happily in their garden. The identification was confirmed to be S. officinalis x S. fruticosa (S. triloba) by Dr. Arthur O. Tucker of Delaware State College. Madalene and Gwen readily assessed the value of this sage for our area when their plant survived a typical Texas summer without problems. The original plant is still growing well. The name Silver leaf sage was given as a working title for testing purposes, and may not be its registered name.

To conduct the research for this project, 30 members of the unit adopted cuttings rooted by member/local commercial grower Janis Teas. To improve the chances of the project succeeding, a little humor was added. Instead of members simply taking a plant home, they became the "adoptive parent" of a "baby sage." Conditions of adoption required members to sign a "Certificate of Adoption" stating that they agreed to document the growing conditions and their affects on their adopted sage. The Research Committee chairperson acted as "Salvia Social Worker," maintaining contact with "parents" throughout the test growing period. Some "parents" even named their sages, so they could fondly report the progress of their beloved "Aristotle," "Frankie," "Linneae" or "Orlanda." The test period for the plants extended from January to September 1994. This period gave the plants the chance to experience a typical wet, gray winter as well as a brutal, humid, scorching summer.

Silver leaf sage is a low shrub of silver-green foliage reaching up to 36" high and 30" across. The stems are square and woody with a woolly covering. The leaves, which have a rough appearance , but downy texture, grow from the stem in an opposite arrangement. The younger leaves are lanceolate, the most mature leaves, distinctly ovate. The mature leaves are up to 3" long and ½" across. Occasional leaves display the characteristic lobing associated with S. fruticosa. The blue-lavender flowers first appeared in February. Almost all test growers reported blooms on their plants. Many repeatedly bloomed throughout the spring. No growers reported blooms in the hottest months.

Test growers were successful with plants grown in raised beds as well as in clay pots. Plants that performed best were in a loose, sandy soil enriched with manure, compost and peat. A 1" layer of composted mulch helped plants through the hottest months. Application of a natural fertilizer like fish emulsion or a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote gave plants an extra boost in size. A minimum of four to six hours of full sun and good ventilation yielded the hardiest plants. The most growth was seen with plants that had plenty of room.

Our winter and spring temperatures were slightly higher than the benchmark three-decade average, though there were some unexpected cold snaps. In February, many of the test plants were subjected to several of Houston's rare freezes and an even rarer dusting of snow. Plants were completely unaffected by the freezing temperatures. The early summer temperatures tested the plants’ endurance with highs five to ten degrees above than the three-decade average. The late summer was milder than usual.

Most test growers did not water their plants regularly. They relied instead on rainfall. Total precipitation for the eight month test period was 25.3". Spring rainfall was in line with the three-decade average. By the end of the summer though, our rainfall was over 5" below the 30-year average. In this driest period during the summer, growers reported having to occasionally revive drooping plants with a good drink of water. As with many sages we attempt to grow here, the plants were stressed most when they were subjected to very high humidity, or sustained moisture. Good ventilation and drainage becomes most important in high humidity.

Several growers successfully propagated their plants by cuttings or by layering. The cuttings root most quickly if the felty covering on the lower stem is rubbed off. Propagation in the summer months was not very successful, but spring and fall conditions proved to be ideal. One of the growers was successful in propagating by layering. The layering was accelerated if the stem was prepared in the same manner as for cuttings. None of the plants in our experiment produced seeds, but Madalene and Gwen's original plant has. They have not planted the seeds to determine if offspring will be true to the parent. Plants from seed are not expected to come true. However, seeds of a hybrid between S. officinalis (Ploce, Dalmatia) and S. fruticosa (Mount Carmel) are referenced in research done in Israel.

Madalene does not know whether the plant is an intentional cross. Dr. Tucker indicates that this hybrid has been recognized and is mentioned in documentation of Israeli research. Israel is well-known for its research on herbs, particularly salvias, with commercial potential. The original grocery store cuttings most likely came from a grower in Israel, though this has not been confirmed.1

While the plants have been disease-free, they are not immune to pests. Several test growers reported attacks of white fly. Repeat spritzing with soapy water eliminated the flies. Janice reported attacks of mealy bugs on plants in the greenhouse, though she says this is common with all her sages. Other growers reported problems with black spot on leaves. The black spot was likely due to "wet feet," and discontinued when the wet conditions disappeared. Others reported problems with wilt and yellowing lower leaves after extended periods of rain. Removal of the damaged leaves took care of the problem.

Janice feels that while the plant is a great asset to southern gardens because of its hardiness, it is more difficult for commercial growers because it cannot be grown from seed. Raising plants from cuttings is more labor intensive and consequently more costly. She continues to grow mostly S. officinalis because of this cost difference. She also feels that because the silver leaf sage is not known readily, she has more trouble marketing it to the public at this time. She has tried to boost the acceptance of the plant by emphasizing its potential as an ornamental, as well as culinary sage. The repeat blooming distinguishes this sage from both S. officinalis and S. o. 'Berggarten'.

Test growers cooked with the Silver leaf sage and another culinary sage. Our test kitchens compared both S. officinalis and S. o. 'Berggarten'. The results were distinctly in favor of the Silver leaf sage. Cooks reported that the Silver leaf sage has a milder, more pleasant flavor and fragrance and stays relatively green even when cooked. The superior taste is most likely due to the plant’s lower measured camphor content. Compared to S. officinalis and S. o. 'Berggarten'., Silver leaf sage has one half to two thirds the camphor.1

1. U. Ravid, E. Putievsky and I. Katzir, Flavour Fragr. J., 8,226 (1993).

Simple Salvia Pasta Toss

1 pound prepared pasta

5 Tablespoons butter

12 fresh Silver leaf sage leaves (½ teaspoon dried)

Grated parmesan cheese

Crushed black pepper

Melt butter over medium heat. Add sage leaves and cook about 30 seconds or until leaves are just wilted. Toss butter with drained cooked pasta. Top with cheese and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh sage leaves.

Cannellini Maria

1 pound dried canellinni (small Italian white beans)

4 cloves garlic

½ cup fresh Silver leaf sage leaves, divided

2 Tablespoons minced garlic

½ cup olive oil

2 pounds plum tomatoes (fresh or canned, drained)

Salt and black pepper to taste

Soak the beans along with 4 cloves garlic and ¼ cup sage leaves overnight in enough water to cover. Drain and remove garlic and sage. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 hour. In separate pan sauté minced garlic and ¼ cup minced sage leaves in ½ cup olive oil until golden. Add tomatoes. Cook 10 minutes until thickened. Add beans. Cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.