Hummingbird Sage – A Different Kind of Sage

Photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals

Most native sages have blue, purple or white blossoms.  Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) is the exception – it is the only native sage with red flowers.                                          Hummingbird sage is also unique in that it behaves like a ground cover, rather than a shrub, spreading underground from rhizomes and forming dense colonies of low foliage with flowering stalks 1-3 feet tall.  Aside from this difference in color and habit, the sage family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae, the mint family) has a wide array of forms, shapes and foliage.  The name Salvia comes from the Latin word salvare, “to save”, based on its use from ancient times for its herbal and medicinal qualities.                                                                 While being highly attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, the sages are not bothered by deer and rabbits, probably due to the pungent aroma of their leaves.  The fruity aroma of hummingbird sage has been likened to that of pineapple sage.  Its pleasant scent makes it an interesting and novel addition to hummingbird sage shortbread, the recipe for which follows in this article.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Stoughton

Hummingbird sage grows well in dry shade or dappled sunlight, especially in the understory of oak trees.  It is drought tolerant, altho like many native plants, a little moisture once or twice a month keeps it looking good during the dry season.  Competition with other plants keeps it from spreading out of control, and the rhizomes are easy to dig up and can be used to start another colony someplace else.  After flowering, it should be dead-headed to favor new growth.

Hummingbird Sage Shortbread                                                                                                  Many thanks to Susan Krzywicki, a landscap designer and consultant in San Diego, for contributing this interesting snack recipeI have made it several times.  She recom- mends S. spathacea as a sweeter and less pungent species of sage.  She cautions that “sage is not commonly considered to be a plant that people are allergic to, but be safe”; individuals vary in allergy sensitivities, and I have one acquaintance who just seems to dislike the aroma of the sages.  With Susan’s permission, I have made a few minor adaptations in the recipe.

5 medium-large fresh hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) leaves
12 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 Tbs white sugar
2 Tbs packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
Extra white sugar (optional)

Wash and pat dry the sage leaves.  Chop them into small mince (about 2 loose tablespoons-ful). Set aside.
Cream together the butter and the two sugars.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
Stir together the flour, salt and reserved sage leaves.  Stir this mixture into the butter mixture in 3-4 portions, until the dough holds together in a ball.  Press the dough evenly into a 9”x9” baking pan.  Sprinkle with extra white sugar, if desired.
Bake at 325 º for 35-40 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven.  While still warm, score the shortbread into serving-sized squares.

Hummingbird Sage Tea                                                                                                                A cup of tea would be a good match with some hummingbird sage shortbread! Here is a recipe for hummingbird sage tea, adapted from Mother Nature’s Backyard, The tea can be made from the fresh or the dried leaves, but using non-metal pots, cups and utensils is recommended.                                                              Start with one 3-4 inch leaf of hummingbird sage per cup of tea. Tear or cut the leaf or leaves and place them in a cup or heat-proof container. Pour very hot (just below boiling) water over the leaves and let them steep to your taste. Strain out the leaves. Add a little honey or sugar if desired.

Quotes du Jour                                                                                                                             I’ve found that people get very annoyed when native plant people proselytize ONLY local native plants.  Many of the plants that we all enjoy and use in our native plant gardens are not local, as they are not widely available in the trade and are very limited in scope.  The only way to get more people onboard is to integrate what we can into the landscape. Utilizing natives, both local and regional, along with other pollinator, bird and wildlife friendly plants and landscapes, is the best approach for the average home garden.  We are not able to recreate what was originally here on these tiny plots; we can only enhance our gardens with the best plants for both people and wildlife.  Just be flexible and positive when talking to people about using native plants.                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Ronnie

            ‘The first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap’ is very true for a lot of natives.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       – Cited by Pete Veilleux

Check out the native plant selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA 94550

Plants in 4-inch potsPlants in 4-inch pots

1-gal and larger plants1-gal and larger plants

For reliable certified arborist services, contact STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE, (925)518-1442, .

Stumpy'sGuided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available!                                                     Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this News- letter or in past issues?  One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!

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