Sage ad­vice

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - SANTAFEINBLOOM - CA­ROLE A. LANGRALL

One of the best things about the South­west could ar­guably be the view. The vast land­scape is end­less and cap­ti­vat­ing, filled with rich earth-tone shapes and dot­ted with strik­ing ev­er­green plants like yucca, cholla cac­tus, pinyon pine, and ju­niper. Take a jour­ney into the desert or just a visit to a lo­cal gar­den and you will dis­cover even more flour­ish­ing beauty. Be­ing able to iden­tify na­tive plants is fun — but it can also be very help­ful, par­tic­u­larly if you re­cently re­lo­cated to the area. Know­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween toxic and non­toxic plants is very im­por­tant. So is know­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween or­na­men­tal herbs ver­sus ed­i­ble herbs if you like to for­age. An ex­cel­lent pair of guides for new­com­ers or any­body who wants to learn­more about our­wild plants are Medic­i­nal Plants of the Moun­tainWest andMedic­i­nal Plants of theDesert and Cany­onWest, both by MichaelMoore. Al­ways re­mem­ber when ven­tur­ing off into new ter­ri­to­ries, it is vi­tal to fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with the en­vi­ron­ment. This is the wildWest, af­ter all.

Big sage­brush or sage­brush, ( Arteme­sia tri­den­tata) is one of those peren­nial plants that is good to fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with. It ap­pears vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where in gar­dens and the desert as it is wind-pol­li­nated and spreads eas­ily. It is an herb but is not the kind of herb you would eat. Fre­quently, it is­mis­taken for com­mon or culi­nary sage. De­spite the sim­i­lar sil­very, gray leaves and aro­matic scent, these two plants are very dif­fer­ent. Sage­brush is in the same fam­ily as rag­weed and, while culi­nary sages (genus Salvia) are in the mint fam­ily.

The only ed­i­ble part of this plant is the seeds; the rest you can leave for na­tive wildlife such as deer, elk, and pronghorn an­te­lope. Song­birds and sage grouse also feed on its leaves and flow­ers while us­ing its branches for nest­ing. So, if you spot a sage­brush, do not pick the leaves think­ing how good they will taste in your turkey stuff­ing. You can, how­ever, pluck the stems and dry them to make a sage stick or smudge stick to cleanse your house of neg­a­tive en­ergy be­fore your hol­i­day guests ar­rive. Or you can just leave the plant alone to do what it does best: fill in the land­scape while play­ing a vi­tal role in our ecosys­tem.

If it’s ed­i­ble sage you seek, the plant you want is Salvia of­fic­i­nalis, aka com­mon sage, gar­den sage or culi­nary sage. All of its cul­ti­vars are ed­i­ble and can be planted, but these sages do not hold up­well in the win­ter. Many gar­den­ers pre­fer put­ting them in con­tain­ers that can be brought in­side dur­ing the cold months. Com­mon sage plants are avail­able at many lo­cal gro­cery stores. Both the flow­ers and leaves are ed­i­ble, and with­Thanks­giv­ing around the cor­ner, these plants should be well stocked. If not, the cut leaves are sure to be found in the fresh herb sec­tion of pro­duce aisles for the next few months.

Other na­tive (or­na­men­tal) sages that are found abun­dantly in the South­west in­clude Salvia greg­gii (au­tumn sage), Salvia azurea (prairie sage) and Salvia api­ana (white sage). These peren­nial, drought-re­sis­tant sages come in vi­brant col­ors and each species has nu­mer­ous named cul­ti­vars, many of which have been used medic­i­nally by Na­tive Amer­i­cans and early set­tlers. In terms of ed­i­ble vs. non-ed­i­ble plants, that can vary from cul­ture to cul­ture, but tra­di­tion­ally in the U.S., we leave the Salvia of­fic­i­nalis to the cook­ing. While the leaves and blooms on the or­na­men­tals are not poi­sonous, they emit oils that can be of­fen­sive to some and the leaves just don’t taste very good.

There are many other species of Salvia you can find in north­ern New Mex­ico gar­dens, but these are some of the most pop­u­lar plants. So, if you love sage, al­ways re­mem­ber which va­ri­eties should stay put in the gar­den, which ones can be brought in­side for cook­ing and which are not re­ally true sages and should not be eaten. You can ex­pect to see Salvia of­fic­i­nalis pop­ping up a lot of this sea­son. Ac­quaint­ing your­self with this herb can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­li­cious, sa­vory meal ver­sus a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment.

Ca­role has been in the flori­cul­ture in­dus­try for over 23 years, from whole­sale and re­tail sales to pub­lic out­reach and events plan­ning. She is a Mas­ter Gar­dener and is an ad­vo­cate, lec­turer and sup­porter of New Mex­ico’s sus­tain­able, lo­cal flower farms. Her flo­ral de­sign stu­dio, “A Gar­den of Earthly De­lights,” is in Santa Fe and Bal­ti­more. Con­tact her at 443.257.8833 and clan­grall@gmail.com, and see www. flow­er­spy.com.

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