Salvia - There's One For Ever Garden
By Penny Ossowski
I have often thought of writing about one of my favourite flowering plants ‘Salvia’. Do you have any Salvia in your garden? I have several and find most are extremely well suited to our little part of the world. The purple and mauve flowering ones attracted me first and once I had a couple I had to have a few more. Most of you would be aware of the red, white and now a few other colours of the Salvia splendens and the lightly scented Salvia nemorosa with its purple spires. While the 2 varieties above are easy to buy at most nurseries there are hundreds (over 900) of other species and many cultivars and hybrids.
A large majority of Salvias originated from America but others originated from Europe, Africa and Asia, because of this there are Salvias to suit all situations and climates. The name salvia comes from the Latin ‘salvere’ which means to feel well and healthy, to heal, which refers to the healing properties of some members of this genus. This group of plants include annuals, biennials and perennials which grow from ground covers to large shrubs. They can be broken down further into ones with scented foliage, scented flowers, barely scented, edible, ornamental and medicinal. The late Colin Campbell described them as “tough as old boots”. There truly is one for every occasion and situation.
If you go to the Nambour Home and Garden Expo this year it is the best place to purchase salvias, I have bought a few there in recent years. Barbara Wickes who coordinates the ‘Kitchen Garden’ produced a book ‘Salvias in Southeast Queensland’ a few years ago, I am not sure if it is still available but would be good to chase up.
Can you grow some in your garden? While drought tolerant, with many liking it hot and fairly dry they will also tolerate wet periods, as long as they are well drained. They will do best in well composted soil but will also do well in rather poor soil. While preferring full sun they will perform fairly well in partial shade (I have a couple that get quite a bit of shade and flower well. Choose from a wide range of flower colours – all shades of blue, mauve, reds, pinks, whites, browns, even yellows, that just seem to keep on flowering, leaves of all shapes and textures – green to grey, hairy to shiny, rough and smooth, long and thin to short and rounded, narrow and compact plants and open delicate plants, to leggy top heavy canes, short, tall or in between, but, all in all they are low maintenance and easy to grow.
I have very few pest problems with my salvias, an occasional grass hopper may stop for a feed but little else. Some can be damaged or killed by heavy frost but I don’t have that problem. In spring give them a little Organic Xtra and a light layer of mulch to keep weeds at bay and moisture in the soil. Prune salvias back almost to the ground after flowering, it is sometimes necessary to prune them when they are still flowering as some never seem to stop flowering. Plants should be divided or renewed every few years. Cuttings can be planted into a pot and shared with friends and neighbours when they take. Softwood cuttings are best in spring while in summer semi hardwood cuttings do better.
The best reasons to grow salvias are for the flowers, variety and structure they add to your garden, another reason is to attract all of the neighbourhood bees into your garden. The blue banded bees love them as do the native stingless and honey bees. They also attract some colourful butterflies.
Some salvias have even more uses such as:
Salvia officinalis more commonly known as the culinary sage;
Salvia elegans or pineapple sage, attractive to butterflies, leaves and flowers are edible, also used medicinally;
Salvia divinorum or diviners sage, has hallucinatory affect on users (maybe give this one a miss);
Salvia fruticosa used like Salvia officinalis
Salvia apaina used medicinally and as an additive to breads and cereals;
Salvia sclarea or clary sage used medicinally, in perfumes, and as a flavouring;
Salvia miltiorrhiza roots are used in traditional Chinese medicine;
Salvia hispanica more commonly known as Chia.
A number of Salvia plants are available in the seed range of Eden Seeds which can be purchased online.
A number of years ago (maybe 8 or 10), we bought some Chia seeds, Salvia hispanica, from Eden Seeds after reading their catalogue and the benefits of Chia. Every seed I planted germinated, before I knew it I had so many Chia plants I decided to pot them up and give all of my rellies one or more each for Christmas. The ones we kept went on to produce some beautiful purple flowers and thousands of these tiny seeds. Chia is native to Mexico and Guatemala and was cultivated by the Aztecs as a food and medicinal crop. Its name is derived from the ‘chian’ a Nahuatl (Aztec language) word meaning oily.
Chia is currently grown commercially in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico and of interest in 2008 Australia was the largest producer in the world.
Plant in spring (this is when we planted ours) in well drained garden beds or pots with soil that has been enriched with plenty of organic matter. Water only when the weather gets very dry. Chia will grow about a metre tall. We later learnt to collect the seeds by harvesting seed heads on a length of stalk and hanging upside down in a bag or old pillowcase securing at the top. I hang my herbs under our high set house. The seeds with a bit of shaking/tapping will fall into the base of the bag/pillow case. To remove the rubbish from the seeds winnow them with a fan on low speed or in a light breeze. These seeds are only about 1mm in diameter.
I haven’t grown Chia since that first time but am considering trying them again.
Chia seeds are very high in Omega 3 and have high levels of protein, calcium, Vitamin C, iron and potassium and produce an extractable oil. The seeds can be used as a grain (whole or ground) in breads and cakes, added to drinks, soups, salads and as sprouts. Medicinally they have been used to treat upset stomachs, menopausal symptoms, to calm the nerves and as an appetite suppressant. Seeds can be mixed with water, 1 tablespoon seed to a cup of water, to make a nutritious gel which can be added to drinks, soups, etc. Chia leaves can be made into a tea to treat arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sore throats.
Several years ago Chia pets were available in the shops. Clay animals were filled with chia seeds and when water was added would grow hair or clothes. Simple varieties of these could be made with half egg shells or old panty hose.
Try growing some Salvia in your garden.
Packets or bulk are available to buy Chia seeds online from Eden Seeds.