The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Sage

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SAGE, a name covering both the common garden herb (Salvia officinalis) and other plants of diverse families, somewhat resembling it in color or odor. The cultivated sage is a mint, and the genus differs from the majority of labiates in having two stamens instead of four. It is a native of southern Europe, a shrubby perennial of hoary aspect, bearing rough, wrinkled, gray-green, opposite leaves, on the decumbent stems, and pale-blue, streaked flowers in verticillate spikes at the extremities of the branches. It has been widely cultivated, for at least three centuries, on account of its aromatic odor and bitter, pungent taste. It was formerly used in medicine, having slight tonic, stimulant and astringent properties. An infusion of the plant, or “sage-tea,” was drunk in England before the advent of Chinese tea, was a favorite remedy for colds and is even now employed as a gargle. An old English proverb states that (“He that would live for aye must eat sage in May.” See Herbs, Culinary.

Many salvias, or sages, are frequently cultivated for their brilliant flowers. The most common, perhaps, are the scarlet sage or salvia (Salvia splendens) with racemes, perhaps a foot long, of slender flowers two inches long, arranged in whorls, both calyx and corolla being of a most brilliant scarlet hue; and the equally large-flowered but blue-tinted S. patens. The woolly white foliage of S. argentea has caused it to be included in gardens, and there are a score of others quite worthy of cultivation for ornament.

Several genera of the Chenopodiaceæ, a family which takes kindly to alkaline soils, and which inhabit the desert regions of western North America, are called salt white, or silvery sages. Bitter sages are composites, and are more commonly known as sage-brush (q.v.). The salt sages are species of Atriplex, living on thousands of acres of waste lands, which are strongly impregnated with alkali, and so dry that little other vegetation can exist. Since water is so scarce in certain of these alkali deserts, stock cannot be taken into them in summer, and the sages make a good growth, the fruits, valuable for their nutritive qualities, become ripened and the leaves “sun-cured,” which, together with the tender spring shoots, make excellent forage, particularly for sheep. The flocks are taken in in winter, when the snow furnishes water for them, and eat the salt-bushes greedily, Nuttall's sage (A. nuttallii) being the most valuable, as it is perennial with a deep, woody root, and although cropped, seeds and all, quite down to the ground, survives and starts up again, during the summer, when it is undisturbed. In fact, the constant cropping of these pastures, and the constant manuring, are improving the winter ranges, which are thus becoming nearly as valuable as the summer ones. The white-sage or winter-fat (Eurotia lanata) is another highly prized winter forage plant, a foot or more high from a shrubby base, whitened with long hairs, perennial and with abundant fruit, that contributes largely toward the great fattening qualities attributed to this sage, which is also supposed to have a beneficial effect on the grazing stock. The shad-scale, a spiny, shrubby salt-sage (Atriplex confertifolia) produces in the spring tender shoots and thick succulent leaves and enormous quantities of flat, winged seeds. These are eagerly sought at the time, and, in the autumn, when leaves and fruit have dropped and been blown into hollows of the plain, the sheep seek them out and devour them utterly.

Helen Ingersoll.