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 fast, developing many lateral branches. Now they are 4-foot high shrubs, several feet wide. All season long, I harvested the leaves. 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 to now, these large shrubs bloom 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. As the stalk moves up more petals poke through until the stalk straightens up to be raceme of 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. They are hardy to zone 8. Surviving the winter is a 50-50 proposition here in my zone 7 Northern Virginia garden. Last winter, I did not do anything to protect them but the winter was mild and they survived. This year, after the frost kills the leaves, I will cut the plants back to a few inches and cover with 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.
Now that I am working from home I am better able to see the hummingbirds that frequent these red, tubular flowers. They need the nourishment as they begin to migrate down south.
These plants are easy to find at the local nurseries but I have not seen the different cultivars for sale here that I have seen online. If you look on the internet, you will find photos of ‘Golden Delicious’, which has golden yellow leaves; ‘Tangerine’, which has rounded leaves and a citrus scent; ‘Frieda Dixon’, which has salmon pink flowers; and ‘Honeydew Melon’, which has melon-scented, red flowers with lime-green leaves. Still what the local garden center has to offer is good enough for me. Try growing pineapple sage as a botanical edible, fall-blooming flower, and a source of food for hummingbirds.