Pineapple sage, with its brilliant red flowers, scented leaves and neat shape, is a wonderful plant for the garden. The botanical name is Salvia elegans. I got my first pineapple sage plant as a scrawny slip from the $2 stand at a local nursery. I had never heard of it before, but the scent of the leaves made it seem like like a good addition to the herb garden. When it grew to a good-sized bush and was covered with red flowers through the first winter, I came to realise its true worth in the garden; not just a useful herb but a great ornamental plant. We still use the leaves and flowers in salads and drinks.
Pineapple sage makes an eye-catching display in the garden. Here it flowers right through the shorter day-length months. It has a brilliant flush of red flowers in Autumn, then settles down to constant flowering through winter, although at a more subdued level, then ramps up again in Spring to another peak in October/November. Individual flowers don’t last long, but there are many buds on each spike, so they last a long time.
Pineapple sage propagation
Salvia elegans grows easily from cuttings. I have rooted them in water or sand, and they are quite hardy.
The transplants are also very hardy in this climate. I planted some of the cuttings down in our ‘Midlevels’ garden, below the vegetable patch, and there they have to not only survive without further attention (they are beyond the watering range), but they also get weeded only occasionally. Furthermore the soil is not treated beyond digging the planting hole, and they have to compete with camphor laurel roots which are ubiquitous and thirsty. Nevertheless they have done well and I’m hoping this summer they will fill out to form a bit of a barrier between vegetable plots and pasture.
I also found quite a few seedlings in Spring, scattered around the main clump. If they weren’t so easy to propagate from cuttings it would be a simple matter to collect some of the old flower spikes and dry and winnow them, for seed to start in Spring.
It’s a pity that culinary use of sages is pretty much limited to the European herb sage Salvia officinalis, as a few of the american sages have great flavours and aromas. Pineapple sage leaves have a very attractive clear fragrance, which is compared to pineapple or tangerine. They are excellent in drinks or just to flavour iced water. The flowers have the same fragrance but also bear nectar, so are similarly good for drinks or for colouring salads.
Varieties of pineapple sage
When I started ordering salvias online in August from Unlimited Perennials I got two other varieties of pineapple sage. One is called Salvia elegans ‘honey melon’ and the other goes by the old species name of Salvia rutilans. I think it’s good to have a few of these cultivars, first just to compare them, but also to see which are best for our conditions here. The S. rutilans does seem to be just like my original S. elegans, but the ‘honey melon’ is different, with a purple tint to the leaves, a different flower colour, and a different scent. I will post on Honey Melon in the future.