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Pineapple sage is for the birds!

Herb Snips


This herb is definitely for hummingbirds, but bird watchers as well as gardeners seeking brilliant fall color and a delectable pineapple scent will enjoy it too. Pineapple sage (salvia elegans) fills so many "bills" that it is a must in every garden. It was formerly called salvia rutilans so either botanical name will suffice when you purchase a plant. It is rarely grown from seed but tip cuttings taken in spring are easy to start. Grow it in an area where it will get morning sun. Provide good soil and water regularly for optimum leaf and flower production. The plant wilts and loses leaves if it dries out, but comes back when you resume the watering routine.

Pineapple sage is a tender perennial that grows to about four feet tall and three feet wide in an ideal location. The best garden spot is south facing where it is protected from severe winter weather by boulders, buildings or other structures. It has an open, branched and invasive growth habit so give it plenty of space in the ground. This year I planted one in a pot (photo) and it has been blooming since spring. It will winter over in my cold frame and we will see what surprises the new season brings. The plant dies back in the winter. Unproductive woody stems should be removed to allow new shoots, which come from underground runners, to sprout in the spring.

This striking herb generally blooms from late summer through fall with vibrant ruby red flowers, and deep green lance shaped leaves. It is one of the showiest herbs in my fall garden. The vivid flowers grow in whorls (circular arrangement) on the ends of long branches. It has been cultivated since the 1870s and is native to the mountains of central Mexico and Guatemala! It grows wild in their pine and oak scrub forests up to ten thousand feet. Keep in mind that the temperatures, even at those elevations, are warm all year. Nothing like Tehachapi!

The foliage of salvia elegans smells and tastes like fresh pineapple! The small, young leaves are best for cooking. Add them to tea, fruity drinks and punches with or without alcohol (see recipe). Sherbet, yogurt and ice cream are refreshed by its addition and soft cheeses are brightened by the pineapple tang of this herb (see recipes). Try adding chopped leaves to cranberry sauce or sweet and sour sauce to give poultry and ham a lift. Several leaves to each jar of your homemade jellies and jams will provide a new taste sensation.

Local and migrating hummingbirds are attracted to this plant because it has long tubular red flowers, and is growing at a time when food is scarce. They have likely seen and fed on the plant "south of the border" so it is familiar. It is believed that these tiny birds, about the weight of a nickel, coevolved with plants structured like salvia elegans. It is a plant that "hummingbird observers" can't afford to be without. I suggest grouping several to attract swarms of fall migrating birds! Only sixteen of the twenty-three U. S. hummingbird species nest in this country. The others are heading home and eat constantly to survive. A plant they know and love gives them a "reason to pause". This sage will repay you for your horticultural care with its scent, flavor, color, and the attention of nature's tiniest feathered creatures.

Send your questions or comments to me at and check my website at for herb and garden happenings. Enjoy an herbally delightful month!


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