Many of you who follow me on Instagram, have probably heard me talk about white sage. In the midst of this whirlwind of information, I wanted to be able to provide you guys with something tangible to reference. There is a lot of news being thrown at you about not wildcrafting sage, not using it at all, and among all the chaos I wanted to provide you with a guide you can use for growing your own sage.
Growing your own herbs is one of the most rewarding things you can experience. Not only is the quality better than buying from a big corporate herb supplier, but you get to see the plant grow. Whether you start with a seed or a small herb plant, you will witness every stage of its growth. You will learn how much water, sunlight, nutrients and care each plant needs. When the day finally comes when its time to harvest your leaves, flowers or roots you will feel such a sense of satisfaction. Only then will you be able to see why its not the best idea to wildcraft. It takes so much energy for the plant to thrive and when the growing conditions are not optimal or we as humans interfere in some way, the plant suffers.
Many people have asked me will sage grow in X place. What I will say is that you can grow sage just about anywhere if you take your plant inside during winter (if you don’t live in a desert/Mediterranean climate like here in Southern CA). But will it flourish where you live? Probably not. But it will grow, and it is definitely worth a try to see how healthy you can get it. You will never know unless you try!
Here in Southern California, you can find white sage at most nurseries in a native plant section along with some hardware stores. But I realize in some other places its probably a very specialized plant that might only be available at herb or medicinal plant nurseries. But there are some resources online like Strictly Medicinal Seeds or Crimson Sage Nursery that will ship to you!
How to Grow from Seed
You might have heard that sage is notoriously difficult to start from seed. Its not that its “difficult” per say but that the germination rate is very low. Its about 10-20% but honestly its more like 10%. Some companies say it can be up to 50% but I doubt it. This means that out of a package of about 100 seeds, on average only 10 will sprout. In the spring I sprouted about 10 trays, which is about 72 seeds per tray. Only 5-8 per tray sprouted.
Even if you live in a temperate climate, I always try and give the seeds the most optimal growing conditions. I have a spare shower where I am able to set up a grow light so the seeds stay at a pretty even temperature all day long. If you have any spare area of your house where you can set up a table, or a closet, or a windowsill, that’s perfect!
I would recommend buying a seed starter soil mix. You can use a good quality soil from a hydroponic store as well but seed starter is very finely ground so theres no big chunks of wood or anything else. Its also better at retaining moisture. Fill your trays with soil and use your finger or the end of a pen to create a ¼ divot in each cell. Drop a single seed in and use your finger to lightly cover up the seed. Water the tray then put a lid over it. Many seed trays can be purchased with a dome lid either at a hydroponics store or even a Home Depot/Lowe’s. Every few days check the moisture of the soil and mist the tray lightly then cover it back up. Don’t let it get super wet, just moist enough. White sage will take a bit longer than many seeds to sprout but in about 2 weeks you should see some start popping up. Wait until the sprout is about 3 inches tall before you transplant.
If you don’t want to grow these indoors, you can also do it outdoors using natural sunlight, but I just find that if you do it indoors you can control the environment more and give them a better chance to sprout.
If you want more information I would highly recommend you read Richo Cech’s book The Medicinal Herb Grower: A Guide for Cultivating Plants That Heal. He has some wonderful recommendations for caring for sage and he is a great resource! There are some amazing suggestions about how to recreate the natural environment of sage and the yearly wildfires in order to get the seeds to pop. One of the best books you can read on the subject!
How to Propagate Sage
To be quite honest, this is something I still have not mastered. I have spoken to several nurseries and many do not propagate but purchase from larger wholesale companies that do propagate from cuttings. I can only tell you from what I have read and tried to do myself as there isn’t much information out there on this subject which is a shame. Everyone should be able to learn this not just those that are selling it!
You can do this in 2 ways. You can either use soil or go hydroponic. I have tried both with little success. I think you have to have a lot of patience with this, and if you choose to try the hydroponic method you have to be very careful and keep your equipment VERY sanitary.
First I will discuss hydroponic method as its least talked about. To go this route, I would suggest buying a clone box. This is something that’s mostly used in the cannabis industry but can be used to clone many kinds of plants (anything from tomato’s to flowers). You can find instructions to make one out of a 5 gallon bucket but I would spend the extra money if you plan on doing this long term to just buy a professional one because in the end making the bucket still costs about $40 and the real one is about $60-80 for a small one. But the small one can hold about 40 cuttings whereas a bucket might only yield 12-16.
To get a cutting from a sage plant you need to choose, young tender shoots. Don’t bother cutting from a woody stem. The woody stems are far too tough to grow roots and are hollow inside. Find the new growth and find the longest stems you can. Strip the leaves off the bottom end of the stem and only leave about 3-4 leaves on the top. To cut the shoot, use a sterile razor blade, always cutting at an angle. Carefully cut the bottom leaves off with the razor. It requires only a light push of the razor against the base of the leaf for it to fall off. Try not to nick the stem at all. If you cut into the stem or damage it in any way you don’t be able to use it. Then dip the end of the sage into a cloning gel. Make sure to keep the ends of the sage wet with the gel while you gather the rest of your cuttings so they don’t dry out. This is so they have the best chance of growing and don’t seal up at all.
Once you have all your cuttings, follow the directions with your clone box. They should start to grow roots in about 2 weeks. You have to be super careful that you keep the water inside clean. Completely sanitize your box when you start using it as it can grow mold quite easily.
Once your sage has roots long enough to plant, go ahead and transfer into soil or coco fiber if you want to try growing it totally hydroponically. But soil is easier if you don’t want to go through a whole nutrient cycle that coco fiber requires.
For the soil method, follow the same directions to get cuttings of the sage. Then use a rooting powder to dip the ends into. Use a sandy, cactus mix or something similar and fill up a seed tray or small 4 inch pots. Plant the cutting in the soil. Water regularly and if you are successful you might have some roots in about a month. I have never been successful with soil propagation but I have heard its possible!
How to Care for Sage
White sage is a pretty resilient plant, but that doesn’t mean it can be neglected. In definitely needs water, especially if you plan on potting it. If you have the space I would suggest planting it directly in the ground, but if a pot is your only option that’s fine. In the ground they can get up to about 6 feet, but in a large pot even a very healthy specimen might be around 2-3.
I would suggest getting a cactus or native soil mix but if you have the funds and time and space, you can mix your own. I like to use a good quality soil like Happy Frog but you can use something less expensive but please don’t use Miracle Grow its complete junk. Mix in about ¼ perlite and ¼ sand to 1 soil. You can also mix in some of your native soil if you like. If you live in Southern CA or other areas where sage grows naturally, I would suggest you mix in a bit of your native soil for sure!
Water sage once its dry, it should never be wet, but don’t let it go too long. Once the leaves start to shrivel or turn down, that means you waited to long to water. About once a week is a good rule of thumb. Check the soil with your finger in the winter it might be more like once every two weeks.
If you bought your sage from a nursery, it’s probably still very young, and you will need to wait at least 3 years before you harvest any leaves. If you have a bigger plant I would still wait about a year for it to settle in to your garden.
How to Harvest
Once your plant has reached the maturity required to begin to harvest, its time to keep the benefits of all your hard work! When you want to take some pieces off your plant, its important to only trim the tops. Sage has little clusters of leaves that form small bunches at the very tops of the branches. These will be quite obvious to you once you are looking at your plant. Trim these tops off carefully with a pair of sharp trimmers or gardening shears. Never cut any of the older, woody stems. If you trim the woody stems or trim too far down the plant, you wont get any new growth here. Also if you ever see a plant full of woody stems with no new growth on it in the wild, you will know someone has been improperly wild harvesting! Which is why its important to know how to do this the right way. While we do not encourage harvesting in the wild AT ALL its good to know regardless so you never harm the plant. Also make sure when you are trimming your plant, never take more than a few pieces, especially from a young plant. Never take more than 1/3 of your sage.
How to Dry
When you harvest, try to do it in the mid to late morning or early evening once the morning dew has dried. You do not want your sage to mold when you are drying it. This rarely happens with sage but if you do it improperly it is possible.
I would recommend you buy a foldable mesh drying rack if you plan on drying herbs in any larger quantity. This rack is great because it stores flat. But if you have any kind of drying rack, shallow basket or you can also hang it. Find a well ventilated, dry area of your house. Lay the sage in your drying rack making sure none of the pieces overlap or are lying on top of each other. If you want to hang the pieces, bundle them together in groups of 2 or 3, but no more as you want a good air circulation. Tie them by the stem and hang them upside down. In warmer months it should take about 10 days to dry. In cooler months it could take a few additional days. You will know when they are dry when you can snap the stem, or the leaves snap in half. It will sound crispy. If the leaves still bend without breaking leave them for a few more days.
How to Use
While I wont go too much into the Native background of this plant (more on this in a future post) I will say this has a great history of ritual use as well as for food and medicine (which a lot of people aren't aware of). You will commonly see huge bundles for sale in new age stores, health food stores, online etc. But what you don't know is how wasteful and unnecessary this is. You certainly do not need a mondo sized bundle of an endangered plant. Especially when its being sold so cheaply. Its really sad. For cleansing purposes you only really need a single leaf. I have used a single leaf in my own rituals and its lasted 2-3 uses. It has a really strong scent and energy and you really don't need to waste such a precious plant.
Please think twice before you buy white sage from a store. Most of this sage is wild harvested and even companies who claim its done "ethically" are using deceptive language to fool you. Nothing about wild harvesting an endangered plant is ethical. Before the days of social media, maybe taking a few leaves for your own personal use was ok, but now it is imperative that we spread the message of not wildcrafting this plant as there are people out there who have absolutely no respect for it and are destroying this plants chances for long term survival. Imagine all the white sage you see in stores and multiply that by the thousands. How many thousands of wild harvested sage bundles are there across the country? We must put an end to this practice and grow your own!