Sage plants are members of the Salvia genus, the largest branch of the mint family. Many of these aromatic, woody, herbaceous shrubs are well suited to the cool, dry, high-altitude climate of the state of Colorado. Sage species which thrive in Colorado include white sage (Salvia apiana) and Mediterranean sage (Salvia aethiopis). Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), while not a "true sage," is a similar species in the mint family which flourishes in abundance in Colorado.
Mediterranean sage (Salvia aethiopis) is native to southern Europe. It grows voraciously throughout the western United States, often being considered an invasive weed. It is also planted as a garden ornamental and has been used medicinally to dress wounds. Mediterranean sage reaches a mature height of around 3 feet. Its fuzzy, gray-green leaves grow in ground-hugging rosettes 1 to 4 feet in diameter. These leaves may be between 4 and 12 inches long, with 1.5- to 3.5-inch-long stems. From the center of each rosette, furry stalks arise bearing clusters of white or pale yellow downy blossoms. Each flower contains four ovular, brown seeds. These plants thrive in loose, gravelly, well drained soils and can frequently be found on south-facing slopes. They propagate themselves through seed and are classified as either biennials or short-lived perennials. Mediterranean sage plants are sometimes mistaken for common mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is native to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is famously drought-resistant and prospers in rocky and gravelly soils in Zones 5 to 9, making it a perfect plant for Colorado. Russian sage loves full sun. This woody, deciduous shrub reaches an average height of between 3 and 5 feet, with a width of between 2 and 3 feet. Its long, lobed leaves grow to about 2 inches long. The leaves and stalks are silvery grayish-white in color. In the late summer or early fall, spires of tubular, lavender flowers emerge, lasting for several months. Like Mediterranean sage, Russian sage emits a pungent, musky odor when its leaves are crushed.
Another type of sage commonly found in Colorado is white sage (Salvia apiana), also known as bee sage. This herb's second title owes to its propensity towards attracting bees. It has been used by beekeepers for this purpose. White sage grows abundantly in dry, rocky soils. It prefers full sun and good air circulation, making it an ideal plant for Colorado's wide open plains. White sage attains a mature height of 4 to 5 feet, with a width of around 4 feet. It produces 3- to 4-foot stalks of lavender flowers similar in appearance to those of Russian sage. Its leaves, which remain year-round, are greenish-white in color, while its woody stalks may be white or pink. White sage grows during the winter, remaining dormant during the warmer months.
This aromatic herb was widely utilized by the indigenous inhabitants of its natural habitat for a variety of medicinal, cosmetic and ceremonial purposes. It was used to prepare a treatment for coughs, colds, sore throats and respiratory ailments. It was also used as a shampoo and deodorant. White sage leaves were burnt in religious ceremonies and to purify homes after the end of an illness.