Plant of the month June 2009: Perennial salvia SALVIA is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with approximately 900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials & annuals. To confuse things, it is 1 of 3 genera commonly referred to as sage. The genus is distributed throughout the world, with the center of diversity & origin appearing to be central & southwestern Asia. Nearly 500 species are native to Mexico & Central & South America. The name is derived from the Latin salvere („to save‟), referring to the longbelieved healing properties of salvia. The Latin was corrupted to the French 'sauge', & to the old English 'sawge', eventually becoming the modern day 'sage'. Perennial salvias are commonly called hardy salvias or perennial sage. The classification of different salvia species has been very confusing over the years. Many species are similar to each other, & many species have varieties that have been given different specific names. Salvia officinalis, for example, has been described & named under 6 other specific names at various times. At 1 time there were over 2,000 named salvia species. That number has been reduced in recent years to 700-900 distinct species & subspecies, depending on the source. Salvia species include woody-based sub-shrubs, annuals, biennials, perennials & herbs. Non-woody stems are typically “squared” like other members of Lamiaceae. Salvia as a perennial herb is considered a „hard working‟ garden plant. It is well known simply as „sage‟, & appears regularly in recipes for its wonderful taste. Salvia flowers are produced in spikes, racemes, or panicles, & generally make a showy display with flower colors ranging from blue (purple) to red, with white & yellow less common. Salvia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly & moth) species including some that feed exclusively on the genus. Many species have a mucilaginous coating. Some species have hairs growing on the leaves, stems, & flowers, which help reduce water loss & make the plant more drought tolerant. Sometimes the hairs are glandular & secrete volatile oils that typically give a distinct aroma to the plant. When the hairs are rubbed or brushed, some of the oil-bearing cells are ruptured, releasing the oil. This often results in the plant being unattractive to grazing animals & some insects. It can also be unattractive to people, with a common name of “cat pee” plants attributed to some salvias because of their distinctive odour. These salvias can be grown in areas where people will not be frequently brushing up against them, as the odour is only released on contact. Salvias range from ground covers to clumps 18”- 3‟ high x 18”- 3‟ wide. They usually enjoy full sun in well-drained soil, tolerant of heat & drought once established. Place salvias in borders & rock gardens where they‟ll require little care. Perennial salvias will bloom from June through September or October, & are invaluable for their rich display of flowers. They resist pests & flourish with little human interference. Although in the mint family, they are easily controlled and not invasive. Some form large dramatic drifts. Commonly used species: Salvia has also been used commonly for medicinal purposes. The Chinese value it above tea for its healing properties. Sage tea is still used today as a remedy for sore throat & indigestion. Salvia is being examined now for the value of natural estrogen it contains. Salvia x sylvestris (sylvestris is a cultivation name for hybrid sages derived chiefly from S. nemerosa, or S. virgata var. nemorosa. Varieties are often tagged by the alternate cultivation name S. x suberba, if not tagged with the more sound species name S. nemerosa. Some consider nemerosa an obsolete name & use sylvestris instead. Confusing isn‟t it?) are the most well-known hardy salvias. There are many varieties, including the „Blue Queen‟ (deep violet-blue dwarf), „Rose Queen‟ (roseviolet, floppy), „East Friesland‟ (violet) & May Night (earlier blooming). ‘May Night’ is described as having deep indigo violet-blue (dark purple actually) flowers. It is excellent for cutting & drought tolerant once established, & grows well in this area. It also tolerates heat & humidity. Clipping back hard after blooming will rejuvenate the foliage & promote more blooms. It is attractive to butterflies & hummingbirds but resistant to both deer & rabbits. It was 1997 Perennial Plant of the Year, & is considered to have good form & texture for borders or containers. Height & spread 45-60 cm (18-23”). Salvia scalerea or “clary sage” withstands cold temperatures & can grow to 3‟ tall. It is typically classified as a biennial, but will often live longer than 2 years. The flowers are white & have lovely lilac markings. Clary sage has been used in traditional healing for centuries, but pregnant women should avoid exposure since it may be harmful or induce contractions. The name „clary‟ was derived from claurus, the Latin word for „clear‟, since clary sage was used in eyewashes & to clear up infections. The leaves & flowers can be used to make a mild tea suitable for washing eyes (don‟t use without a doctor‟s approval) or ingesting, & they can also be steam distilled into a clear to amber essential oil. Clary sage is often included in botanical body products, such as bath oil & hair care compounds, & is also sold as a pure essential oil for massage. The plant‟s odour when touched is very distinct, not liked by everyone. Salvia scalerea is often used as an additive to tobacco products. Salvia officinalis or “common sage” is grown primarily for use as an early bloomer for the garden, featuring spikes of blue-purple blooms that show for about 4 weeks in spring. Salvia officinalis is used widely in cooking & as a herbal medicine. It has been suggested that it shows some promise as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Salvia miltiorrhiza or “red sage” is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Salvia splendens or “scarlet sage” is a popular ornamental bedding or container plant. Salvia verticillata or “lilac sage” is clump forming, 1‟ – 3‟ tall & wide. It tolerates alkaline soils. The cultivar ‘Purple Rain’ grows easily in our area. It is a magnet for butterflies, bees & hummingbirds, but deer-resistant. It is hardy for container gardening & provides excellent cut flowers. Height 18” – 3‟ (may flop down), spread of 12” – 18” or more. Plant in full sun. To increase bloom time cut back after the 1st bloom. Salvia apiana is the “white sage” used in many American First Nations‟ traditions as smudge sticks. A smudge stick is a bundle of dried herbs. The leaves are usually tied with string & dried, & can have a strong, pleasant aroma when burnt, depending which herbs are added with it. Salvia divinorum or "diviner's sage” is an unusual psychedelic plant that is deemed illegal in several U.S. states. The American DEA has placed it on a list of “drugs of concern” & is currently considering it as a controlled substance in the same category as LSD. The substance is said to be highly intoxicating & can induce dissociative effects including hallucinations. Salvia is widely sold in smoke shops & online. It is often sold as 'legal buds' & comes in both leaf form & extract form. It can be smoked, chewed, or put under the tongue. The extract is extremely potent & apparently effects include: uncontrollable laughter, past memories resurfacing including revisiting places from childhood memories, sensations of motion or being pulled or twisted by “forces”, visions, sensations of merging with or becoming objects, and/or overlapping realities such as the perception of being in several locations at once. A survey of S. divinorum users found 38% described the effects “as unique” & 23% said the effects are like meditation or a trance. Some find its effects unsettling. The ancient Mazatec shamans of Oaxaca, Mexico, were heavy users of the herb as means to find “the god within”. The effects of smoking S. divinorum can last up to 30 minutes after consumption. Salvia divinorum is traditionally used for, among other things, divination - hence its scientific name. Growing: You can keep salvias blooming longer in the summer season by deadheading them when the flowers are spent. For floppy plants, cut the blooms & the stalks, & flowers will come back stronger & sturdier. When the center of the plant becomes open & floppy, it is time to divide it. Divide salvia in early spring or fall, being sure to cut out the dead centre & just replant the remaining pieces. They may be slow to re-establish in spring because of long, stringy roots, so be patient. Cuttings can be taken in spring or early summer from shoot tips or shoots arising from the base of the plant, & rooted in a 50-50 mix of perlite & vermiculite. Named cultivars will not come true from seed. Plants benefit from a spring dressing of compost or balanced organic fertilizer. Fertilize in fall with bulb food or a 5-10-5 fertilizer. Plants also grow well once planted & ignored, without the benefit of added fertilizer.