Currently, my pineapple sage plants (Salvia elegans) are blooming in my garden, their bright scarlet flowers are attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Members of the salvia or sage family, pineapple sage plants are herbaceous, tender perennial herbs. I have two pineapple sage plants, which I bought last year as tiny babies, and I often use their leaves and flowers in the kitchen.
From spring to fall this year, these plants grew very fast, developing many lateral branches. Now they are 4-foot high shrubs, several feet wide. All season long, I harvested the leaves and used them fresh as well as dried them to store them for the winter. The leaves add a fruity flavor to many different types of beverages (makes a great hot tea), jellies, baking (line a pan with leaves before pouring the pound cake batter or cut leaves and add to batter), muffins, cookies, chicken dishes and chicken salads, butter, cream cheese, ice cream, sorbet, smoothies, etc.
From September through October, these large shrubs have bloomed beautiful, edible flowers that can be cut for a vase or used in the kitchen as well. Interestingly, the buds begin upside down. Red petals poke through a nodding green flower stalk, and then as the stalk moves up and becomes upright, more petals poke through until the stalk straightens up to be raceme of bright red tubular flowers. Pineapple sage flowers have the same type of sage or salvia bilabiate (two lips) flowers but larger. The flowers can be used as a garnish, frozen in ice cubes, beverages, fruit salads, butters, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, baked goods, and cream cheese.
In my garden, nothing seems to bother my pineapple sage plants. They are in moist, well-drained soil but one gets more sunlight than the other, and I noticed that it has grown much bigger. They seem to prefer light dappled sun or morning sun and afternoon shade. They need space so it is best to plant them in the back of the garden as long as there is a path to be able to pick the leaves and flowers. I have read that they are hardy to Zone 7, and I have also read that they are hardy to Zone 8. Surviving the winter is a 50-50 proposition here in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. Last winter, I did nothing to protect them, but the winter was mild so I was lucky that they survived. This year, after the frost kills the leaves, I will cut the plants back and put down several inches of mulch to ensure their survival. If I had a sun room or a greenhouse, I could have taken cuttings a few months ago to pot up and bring inside.
If they don’t make it, I will buy more next year. They are cheap and easy to find. There are cultivars but I don’t see these for sale in our local nurseries. I have seen Golden Delicious, which has golden yellow leaves, at a local public garden. Tangerine has rounded leaves and a citrus scent; Frieda Dixon has salmon pink flowers; and Honeydew Melon has melon-scented, red flowers with lime green leaves. I am sure these are available at online nurseries, but for me the simple pineapple sage with red flowers is enough of a joy in the fall months.
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