Know Your Herbs: Sage

The powerful aroma of sage makes its mark in recipes as a fresh or dried herb. Poultry seasoning, breakfast sausage, and herb stuffing just wouldn’t be the same without sage!

Whole and ground sage on a wood cutting board

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Years ago, I planted a tiny pot of sage in my front flower bed. It grew exponentially, and every time I walked past it, I’d brush my hand against its lightly flocked leaves. Its potent smell, both enlivening and soothing, would cling to my fingers.

We’ve moved many times since, and I just can’t get sage plants to take root the same way. But I grow it in a container in the summer and dry the leaves to use the rest of the year in recipes that would seem empty without its heady scent.

Sage

  • A perennial herb in the mint family
  • Comes in both fresh and dried forms
  • Pairs wonderfully with pork, poultry, beans, and winter squash
  • Fresh sage can be fried and served as a crispy topping
  • When swapping fresh for dried sage, use about half as much dried sage as you would fresh
Whole sage on a wood cutting board

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

What Is Sage?

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial herb in the mint family. Highly aromatic, it is used fresh and dried in stuffings, soups, sausages, and meat dishes.

Sage leaves are 2 to 3 inches long and are tapered. They can have a silvery look, in part because they’re soft and fuzzy (a common characteristic of plants in the mint family).

Culinary sage is different from the woody shrub sagebrush, which is not even in the same plant family.

What Does Sage Taste Like?

Sage makes a statement. It has a lively, forceful smell that will linger on your fingers if you crush a fresh leaf. There’s a hint of camphor and a mysterious depth, too.  

Fresh sage leaves and dried sage powder on a wooden cutting board

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Fresh vs Dried Sage

Dried sage is more common in kitchens, mostly because it’s more convenient. The two forms may come from the same source, but they’re not totally interchangeable.

Fresh sage has more of the volatile aromatic compounds intact, so it smells and tastes, well, fresher. Since the fresh leaves have that fuzzy thing going on, you want to chop them finely; otherwise it may be like biting into little caterpillars in your food.

Dried sage still offers a ton of flavor, so don’t discount it as an ingredient. Dried sage may be labeled in a number of ways. Usually it’s called ground sage – if so, expect the dried sage to be ground finely, almost into a powder. There’s also rubbed sage, which is in larger pieces. If using rubbed sage instead of ground, you may need to pack it in your measuring spoon a little tighter, or simply use twice as much.

It’s easy to swap dried sage for fresh, or vice versa. Use about half as much dried sage as you would fresh.

How to Store Fresh Sage

Sage is easy to store. If you bought it in a small plastic clamshell, just keep it in that. Stick it in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, where it will keep for 1 week and up to 2 weeks if you’re lucky.

If the sage is in a bunch, remove the twist tie or rubber band. Transfer it to a zip-top bag with a barely damp paper towel.

Cornbread, Sausage & Sage Stuffing
Cornbread, Sausage, and Sage Stuffing. Emma Christensen and Elizabeth Stark

How to Cook with Sage

Fresh or dried, sage is often used in cooked dishes, rather than ones like salad. This is partly because of the types of foods sage pairs best with: pork, poultry, beans, and winter squash. It’s a popular seasoning in the cozy fall foods we crave once a chill sets in.

When cooking with fresh sage, chop the leaves up finely. To do this, stack three or four flat on top of each other, then roll them up tightly to form a cigar. Slice it finely crosswise.

Whole fresh sage leaves can be quickly deep-fried to use as a crispy garnish, like in this Cheesy Risotto with Leeks and Crispy Sage. They’re also added to brown butter to make a sauce that can stand up to bold ingredients, like our Pasta with Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Brown Butter recipe.

A hefty dose of dried sage gives breakfast sausage its trademark flavor. You can even add a little extra dried sage to recipes calling for sausage, as we do in our Biscuits and Gravy Casserole.

Sage gives an alluring edge to hearty dishes. Sage is no shrinking violet, so pair it with ingredients that can stand up to its might.

Where to Buy It

For dried sage, look in the spice aisle. Remember, ground sage and rubbed sage are different; ground sage is finder, like a power. Rubbed sage has visible bits of leaves. Dried sage will keep indefinitely, but for the best flavor, use it within a year.

Find fresh sage with the other fresh spices in the produce aisle. Most grocery stores sell it in plastic clamshells. Refrigerate the fresh sage in its packaging in the crisper drawer for up to a week. After that, the leaves get blotchy.

Swaps and Substitutions for Sage

There’s nothing quite like sage, but you can use other forceful herbs such as thyme or rosemary (in fact, thyme, rosemary, and sage all appear in poultry seasoning blends).

Long sprig of fresh sage on a wooden cutting board

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

What to Do With Leftover Sage

Did you buy fresh sage for a recipe and have extra leaves you’re not sure what to do with? Dry them! It’s easy.

Sandwich clean and dry sage leaves between two paper towels and microwave them in 30-second bursts on high power, until the herbs are brittle and dry (careful; too long and they’ll scorch). To store, crumble the dry leaves into a small airtight bag or jar.