Nothing smells quite like pineapple sage.

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Pineapple Sage FlowersPineapple Sage FlowersNothing smells or tastes of the tropics quite like pineapple sage.

Among the most intriguing of the sage family members, pineapple sage is simply spectacular in late summer when in full bloom, with its masses of tubular blood red flower spikes contrasting perfectly against the bright green, fuzzy leaves.

And, if you are mad about collecting herbs you are sure to have at least one plant growing somewhere in your garden or in a pot, just for the pleasure of brushing against it, or grabbing and crushing a leaf as you pass by to inhale the refreshing scent.  Nothing smells anything like the sweet, soft pineapple fragrance that this herb imparts.

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is a perennial shrub that belongs to the lovely mint family, and is native to the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala where it can be found growing naturally in temperate forests at 1,800 to 2,700 meters above sea level. Like common sage, pineapple sage is also known for its healing properties. The name “Salvia” is from the Latin “salvere” meaning to save, to cure or to be in good health. The French seemed to agree, calling it “tout bonne” which means all is well.  In Mexico, pineapple sage it is still used extensively in traditional medicine to treat blood pressure and anxiety. Scientific studies done on mice, show that pineapple sage does indeed poses anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties.

Pineapple sage does not have such a rich history as common sage, but what it lacks in impressive history, it certainly makes up for in culinary delights!  Pineapple sage smells and tastes of the tropics – what better garnish could you have on a sweltering hot summers day for a frosty piña colada, or tall glass of iced tea! It’s gentle, herby pineapple taste is perfect paired with foods that have an underlying sweetness or creaminess. Next time you are expecting visitors, try infusing baked custard with pineapple sage by lining individual ramekins with the leaves before putting them in the oven – your guests will be demanding to know what is responsible for that wonderful aroma and taste! It even goes great with chicken, so use your imagination when cooking with this herb, the possibilities are endless.

This versatile herb also has other used around the home, the bright flowers are great to add to flower arrangements and will scent the whole room. The dried leaves and flowers impart their delicate, fruity bouquet to potpourri and it is hard to use too much! Entire stems can also be dried for use in herbal wreaths. The plant can be made into home-made insect repelling sprays; and the dried herb will keep insects away from linen cupboards.

Pineapple sage is a popular alternative medicine today and an excellent general tonic with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties. It will balance the nervous system and is said to aid failing memory.  It also stimulates the liver, aids digestion and will relieve heartburn.

The tea made from the leaves is said to relieve night sweats during menopause and makes as excellent gargle and mouthwash for sore throats, tonsillitis, mouth ulcers and gum disease. It also makes a good hair rinse to treat dandruff.

The fragrant leaves and edible flowers of pineapple sage go well in all fruit salads, fruit or wine cocktails and herbal teas. It is especially delicious if used with citrus fruits, and of course pineapples.

Be adventurous when cooking with pineapple sage - try adding a few tablespoons of roughly chopped sage blossoms to a buttery pound cake, where they add flavour as well as a decorative look; or make pineapple sage syrup to use on pancakes, waffles, fruit salads or ice cream. Pineapple sage flavoured jelly is delicious and unusual, and it makes a wonderful, banana, pineapple and sage smoothie, using coconut milk or yogurt.

It is also excellent with fatty meats like pork, and can be added to stuffing, gravies and stocks. When mixed with ingredients such as lemon zest, garlic and butter, chopped pineapple sage makes a good flavouring to rub on, or stuff under the skin of a chicken before roasting.

Because it's milder and sweeter than common sage, pineapple sage is often used in cheese dishes as well as in pesto, together with parmesan cheese, macadamia nuts and lemon zest - to compliment mild fish dishes such as cod.

To dry pineapple sage, pick the stems before they flower and hang in a dry place, away from sunlight. Store the leaves in airtight containers when they are totally dry.

Pineapple sage is handy in the garden because just as the summer season’s show seems to be winding down, it explodes into brilliant bloom. Also, the solid green colour and neat arrangement of the foliage of pineapple sage provides an attractive foil for the showy flowers of herbs such as calendula, nasturtium and tansy. The green leaves of this sage also blend well with other shrubs with grey-green leaves, like those of common garden sage (Salvia officinalis).

 Pineapple sage is an easy and rewarding plant to grow and the flowers are a favourite of bees, butterflies and nectar loving birds. Mass plantings of Pineapple Sage will create a striking splash of colour, but even single specimens look great in the shrub or perennial border. It also grows well in larger pots if it is clipped regularly and the soil is very well drained.

Sage is said to improve the growth of marjoram, strawberries and tomatoes. It makes a good companion for vegetables like cabbage and carrots because it helps to repel white flies, the cabbage moth and the carrot fly.

Pineapple sage is an evergreen perennial plant that is tender to frost, but it will tolerate moderate frost if it is planted in a protected position in the garden, or in a pot which can be moved in winter. Unfortunately, for those gardeners in cold winter regions where frost comes very early, the lateness of flowering is a serious drawback, and hits before, or while the plants are blooming, destroying the show and turning the leaves black overnight. But, as long as the roots are mulched in winter to keep the soil from freezing, as soon as the soil warms up in spring, the plant will shoot again.  

Pineapple sage loves full sun and grows best in fairly rich but light, well drained, slightly alkaline soil, but will adapt to most garden soils with good drainage. It grows to about 90cm tall and 1m wide. Sage is a water-wise plant which, once established, will thrive on a deep watering about once a week. Do not let the roots get waterlogged or they will rot and the plant will die. Mulch and feed with an organic fertiliser in spring.

To prevent the plant from becoming leggy, prune lightly in spring or after it has flowered, but take care not to cut into the old wood. Pineapple Sage needs to be replaced about every 3 to 4 years when the plant becomes too woody.

Leaves of pineapple sage can be harvested as required and, in cold regions, can be dried for winter use.

Propagation is by seed sown in spring or summer; by softwood cuttings taken in spring or early summer; or semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer or autumn. Layering is also successful as well as division of the roots.

If grown correctly pineapple sage suffers from few pests and diseases, but it can be affected by the same pests and diseases as common sage. In waterlogged soil it is susceptible to root rot and wilt; and it can be bothered by mint rust, powdery mildew, stem rot, fungal leaf spot, whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, mites and slugs.