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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pineapple Sage, An Autumn Beauty

Young Pineapple Sage shown in June
Flowering Pineapple Sage in September

One of the fascinating aspects of our natural environment is how the plant and animal worlds are so interwoven in their life cycles and the seasons.
Summer's end may see a winding down in energy of our flower gardens as they go to seed, the days are shorter, the nights colder. But then there comes a burst of color as late flowering plants offer much needed nourishment to our beneficial insects and migrating hummingbirds. Pineapple Sage is one such plant.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
It may seem like the busy activity of our hummingbirds suddenly disappear as the calender pages turn to the fall months. Resident hummingbirds that have been around all summer may already be gone but we have to remember those that are migrating and are simply passing through. We had the fascinating privilege of observing three hummingbirds flitting around our deck one cool evening in October. I didn't know they were active at night so it was a neat sight.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) is just that, a beautiful elegant plant. The genus name comes from the Latin word for "save". In ancient times it was often the official sage of the apothecary, a sacred herb used to treat a wide range of diseases. The Native Americans used it for smudging their souls and purifying the air.

Pineapple Sage is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) which all have square stems and opposite leaves. It is a tender perennial which means it survives winter only if it's in a sheltered spot and doesn't get below 45 degrees, hardy only to Zone 7. If you live in Zones 8 to 10, where temperatures go no lower than 30 degrees, your pineapple sage will probably winter over.

 It is usually grown from seeds sown indoors in the spring or gardeners pot up the plants in late summer and keep them in an unheated garage until spring. You can get two years out of them this way before they get too woody and weak. By that time it is best to take stem cuttings from the new growth that emerges in the spring and set them to root in damp potting soil. Once put out in the desired garden area they do best in moist, well-drained soil and full sun, though will tolerate a bit of light shade.

Planted directly in the ground Pineapple Sage can reach 4 feet high and wide. The oval, lanceolate leaves are an attractive yellowish-green which are a beautiful contrast with the dark-red, hairy stems and bright-red blooms. These bright scarlet, tubular flowers are what attracts the hummingbirds. Each spike produces 6 to 12 flowers arranged in widely spaced whorls around the stem. The blooming season is brief, only about two weeks, but timed accordingly with the hummingbirds migration period before frost arrives.

Though most people grow this beauty as an ornamental for their late summer blooms, there are other uses for this delicious, pineapple scented plant. When people think of sage they usually think of its use for poultry and holiday stuffing. But being sage is a good source of vitamin K and high antioxidant levels it is wise to add it to your cooking year round. Added to grain side dishes its slightly peppery taste will enliven the taste of wild and brown rice, barley and lentils as well as sauces and stews. Thread the leaves between meat, mushrooms and onions on kebabs.

The fresh leaves add extra flavor to fruit salad, drinks and teas. Pineapple sage has a wonderful fragrance but little flavor, so for a good herbal tea combine it with the white varegated Pineapple Mint.

Sage leaves and flowers can also be dried for later use or to add to wreaths and potpourris.
Whole leaves retain their flavor better than those that are crushed so wait until ready to use them to crush for cooking.
To dry:
You can use a dehydrator or screens to dry the leaves or use the following method:

Harvest the leaves still on the stem
If necessary wash under running water to remove any dirt.
Place in a colander to dry and pat with a paper towel.
Bunch the stems together and put into a brown paper bag.
Close the bag and tie with twine or string.
Poke holes in the bag for ventilation.
Hang bag by the string in a warm, dark and airy area such as attic or closet.
Allow to dry for two to three weeks, checking occasionally for mold.
If there are signs of mold, throw away the bag.
Once thoroughly dry with no soft spots, snap the leaves from the stems.
Stems can be discarded.
Store dried sage leaves in an airtight container away from light. Dried herbs lose their potency after six months to a year.

Below is a yummy jelly recipe from Lemon Verbena Lady

Makes four 8-ounce jars
• One 12-ounce can of Old Orchard Pineapple Juice, frozen concentrate, reconstituted with 3 cans of water (It makes three recipes of jelly once it is reconstituted.)
• 2 cups of pineapple juice
• 1 1/2 cups of pineapple sage leaves, packed
• 3 1/2 cups of sugar
• 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar OR lemon juice, your choice of one
• 1 pinch of salt
• 1 pouch of liquid pectin
1. Wash and dry the pineapple sage in paper towels, then coarsely chop it. Put the pineapple sage in a large saucepan, and crush the leaves using the bottom of a glass. (I use a food processor.) Add the juice, bring slowly to a boil, and boil for 10 seconds. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to steep.
2. Strain 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the saucepan and pour through a fine strainer into another saucepan. Add the vinegar of your choice (or lemon juice), salt and sugar, and bring to a hard boil while stirring. When the boil can't be stirred down, add the pectin. Return to a hard boil that can't be stirred down and boil for exactly 1 minute, then remove saucepan from heat.
3. Skim off the foam and pour the hot jelly into four hot, sterilized (in boiling water for 10 minutes) half-pint jelly jars. Leave 1/2-inch (or less) headspace and seal at once with sterilized 2-piece lids. I just leave my lids in hot water not boiling until you need them. Can the jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
4. To use: I would use this jelly on thumbprint cookies, cream cheese and crackers for a quick appetizer and a teaspoon or two as a glaze for the last 15 minutes of baking chicken or pork.

Any type of sage can be used for this lovely facial mask. This recipe comes from Janice Cox's book "Natural Beauty At Home".

• 1/2 cup boiling water
• 1 tablespoon fresh pineapple sage leaves
• 3 tablespoons oatmeal
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 1 egg white
1. Pour water over sage leaves; cool completely. Strain and add sage liquid to oatmeal, honey and egg white. Mix until smooth and creamy.
2. Spread mixture on clean skin and leave on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with warm water and pat skin dry.

The oatmeal and honey rid pores of any surface impurities and the egg white is astringent. For dry skin, add a teaspoon of olive oil as well. Follow with a moisturizer.
Makes 2 oz. Store leftover mask mixture in the refrigerator.

Sage is also known as an aid to help with dandruff and graying hair. For this purpose you would make it into an infusion (like a strong tea) and use as a hair rinse. Pineapple Sage would give it a tropical scent.

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