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Black sage leaves are extremely aromatic and have a muted green color. The entire plant is covered in small hairs that give the stems and leaves a coat of silver-green fuzz. This sage variety produces white to pale blue and lavender flowers that bloom in the spring and early summer months. The flowers grow in spherical clusters known as whorls and line the stem of the sage plant. After the blooming season the stems and whorls of Black sage will harden and turn black, a characteristic that is responsible for the plants common name. Black sage has a pungent herbaceous flavor that is mildly astringent.
Black sage is available year-round and can be found in bloom during the spring and early summer months.
Black sage, botanically known as Salvia mellifera is a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family. Black sage is classified as an herbaceous evergreen shrub and is also known as Honey sage or Jade Carpet. In parts of southern California that are subject to high pollution levels Black sage is used by some biologists as a natural indicator of pollution levels as a result of its high sensitivity to sulfur dioxide and ozone air pollutants. A rare and sought after Black sage honey is also made from the honey of bees that pollinate the Black sage plant.
Black sage is known to contain a variety of different anti-inflammatory compounds such as ursolic acid and diterpenoids.
Black sage is utilized in the culinary world as an aromatic and flavorful herb. It can be used in recipes wherever traditional sage is called for, however keep in mind that foraged Black sage has a much stronger flavor than that of traditional store bought sage. Its flavor maries well with winter squashes, brown butter, poultry, venison, pears, cheese, potatoes and other herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Use fresh in a variety of different preparations or leaves can be dried and stored for future use as a dried herb.
Black sage was used traditionally by Native Americans known as the Chumash people to form an herbal soak for the bath to be used in the treatment of bodily pain, specifically for the feet and lower legs.
Black sage can be found growing in Southern and Central California as well as the Baja region from sea level to 1200 meters. It can thrive on sandy beach areas as a coastal sage scrub and on dry hills as a hard chaparral. A drought resistant plant Black sage prefers full sun to partial shade and needs between 12” and 15” of rainfall annually. It is popularly used in erosion control and re-vegetation projects as well as in native landscaping in California. In nature the plant provides a habitat and source of food for butterflies, bees, small mammals and birds such as hummingbirds and quail.