Salvias are well known for their aromatic foliage, but the flowers of most species aren’t notable for much fragrance. That isn’t the case with Grape Scented Sage (Salvia melissodora).
The flowers of S. melissodora produce a powerful perfume that has been variously described as smelling like freesia, lavender and -- as the plant’s common name implies -- grapes. Some gardeners even note that the blossoms taste like grape drink.
Both the gray-green leaves and bicolor lavender-to-white flowers of Grape Scented Sage are used to make tea.
Ancient and Modern Folk Remedies
The indigenous Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico’s Copper Canyon area in the state of Chihuahua are said to have revered many plants, including sages such as S. melissodora.
Early Spanish explorers called this native people the Tarahumara, which is the name used commonly today. However, these high-altitude mountain dwellers of the Sierra Madre Occidental range prefer to be called Rarámuri, which means “runners.”
The Rarámuri are famous both for running ultra-long distances and for their folk medicine remedies based on a broad range of plants, including sages.
Much further south in the state of Michoacan, researchers from Mexico's University of Michoacan in 2007 identified Grape Scented Sage as a common ingredient in a local folk remedy still used to treat diarrhea.
Of course, cultures around the world have used varying species of Sage medicinally since ancient times. More recently, the genus Salvia has become valued for the beauty of its flowers and foliage as well as its many species with long bloom times.
Landscaping with Grape Scented Sage
Grape Scented Sage is a semi-evergreen, woody perennial that grows well in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 11. If weather turns cold enough, it will act more like a perennial that dies back close to the ground.
Although it may reach up to 6 feet or taller in its native range, Grape Scented Sage averages growth of about three feet tall and wide in more temperate areas. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil that errs on the dry side. Depending on how tall it grows in your region, Grape Scented Sage makes a good addition to the middle or back of flowerbeds.
Deer generally don’t eat Grape Scented Sage, which is more likely to attract bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. The plant’s botanical name comes from the Greeks. Melissa means “honey bee” and “odora” refers to its pleasant scent.
Be patient when Grape Scented Sage rests during the summer, because its heavy bloom times are fall, winter and spring. The pattern of this flowering season means that late autumn is fine for planting this lovely and useful plant. To keep Grape Scented Sage from becoming lanky, pinch back its buds occasionally during bloom time.