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Sacred Sage: Annual Clary Sage for Full Sun Gardens

Apr 24, 2013

Sacred Sage: Annual Clary Sage for Full Sun Gardens

In June 1763, physician Jacob August Schubert oversaw the planting of a colonial medicine garden in the wilds of North Carolina. It contained herbs for treating the Moravian immigrants of Bethabara, a Moravian settlement that would eventually become the city of Winston-Salem.

Referred to as Bethabara’s Hortus Medicus, the garden was Dr. Schubert’s pharmacy. His records show that Salvia hormium was among more than 70 species planted.

Also known as S. horminum, Hormium Sage and annual Clary Sage, it is one of the few annual species of Salvia. Nowadays it is classified as S. viridis. To further confuse the matter of its name, Hormium Sage is a relative of the perennial Clary Sage (S. sclarea).

Blue Clary Sage

Dr. Schubert was a member of the United Brethren in Christ, a Protestant church started in Pennsylvania that established Bethabara and called its members “brother” and “sister.”

Medical and Culinary Uses
Long before Brother Schubert practiced medicine in Bethabara, Europeans mixed S. hormium or S. sclarea seed with water to make a mucilaginous wash for removing irritants from the eye. Schubert may have used the plant for this purpose or to treat problems including sore mouths and feminine complaints.

According to The New York Times, in an article about colonial gardens, the Moravians used Hormium seed in breadmaking. Mother Earth Living magazine notes that they created a yeast-like starter from the seed to raise bread.

The community, which raised hops for beer, likely also used this Hormium mash to enhance the flavor of their brew. It was a practice that was popular at that time in Germany and their homeland of Moravia, which is now the Czech Republic.

Modern Bedding Plants
But United Brethren rules soon excluded alcohol. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the United Methodist Church opposes use of alcohol at any of its facilities or functions. It is the product of a merger with a division of the United Brethren Church and another Protestant denomination.

As medicinal and culinary use of Hormium Sage decreased, ornamental use rose. This was due to the plant’s beauty, its ease of care and an increase in time and money for decorative gardening in America and Europe. Hormium became a popular bedding plant because of its lavish, long-lasting display of color from spring into autumn and its pleasant fragrance.

From a distance, Hormium plants appear to be bursting with pink, blue or purple flowers, but the color actually is due to bright, leaf-like bracts inside which much smaller white flowers grow. When the flowers die, the bracts persist until killed by frost. Deadheading the flowers creates more blossoms, which develops more bracts.

At Flowers by the Sea, we grow Salvia viridis ‘Pink Sunday’ and Salvia viridis ‘Blue Monday’, both of which are a compact size – 24 inches tall by 12 inches wide – for edging, borders or containers, including window boxes and deck-rail planters. They aren’t picky about soil as long as it is well drained. However, they need full sun and regular watering.

Butterflies aren’t the only creatures that enjoy Hormium Sage as a food source. Gardeners use its leaves for cooking and baking. It’s also easy to bring summer color indoors to brighten winter, because the bracts of the dried flower spikes remain colorful.

Visiting Our Colonial Past
Bethabara now is a National Historic Landmark and a wooded, 183-acre wildlife preserve where more than 100 species of birds live. It is a living history museum and village, where visitors can view a reconstruction of Brother Schubert’s hortus medicus and ponder what it must have been like more than 250 years ago when kitchen gardens were also medicine cabinets.

Of course, it always seems to be the rule that what goes around comes around. These days, Hormium Sage is, once again, more than just a pretty plant. It is also a source of ongoing medical research, because it contains chemicals that may be useful for battling bacteria leading to illness. If Brother Schubert could comment, he might say, “I told you so.”

By the way, we only offer annuals in the spring and early summer. They sell out quickly, so place an order today or contact us if you have questions. You wouldn’t want to miss these beauties and end up thinking, “They told me so.”


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Plants mentioned in this article