Salvia africana-lutea L.
Synonyms: S. aurea L.
A lovely grey-green aromatic shrub with rusty red flowers for most of the year; rewardingly easy to grow and water-wise.
The flowers contain a lot of sweet nectar which attracts bees and moths, and acts as an essential food supply for sunbirds, particularly when proteas are not flowering. Altogether, this is a very worthwhile addition to one’s garden.
Apart from attracting wildlife, brown sage makes an excellent tea for coughs, colds, bronchitis and female ailments (pour 1 cup of boiling water over a short (7 cm) sprig of leaves, stand for 5 minutes then strain and drink sweetened with honey. The leaves are lovely for use in potpourri as they retain their shape, colour and much of their fragrance, and mix well with other ingredients.
This is an excellent choice for coastal gardens, as it prefers light, well-drained soil and full sun, tolerates strong winds, and is drought resistant. It has been cultivated successfully further inland and upcountry, as it is capable of resprouting from its rootstock it recovers suitably from frost damage, but preferably try to find it a warm sheltered spot in the garden if you live in a frosty area.
For more prolific growth, water well and give it plenty of compost/mulch. Some pruning should be done to keep the plant shapely, but with age, usually after about five years or more, a build-up of wood is inevitable. At this point it is better to start afresh with a young plant. Brown salvia is easily propagated by stem cuttings, or seed sown in spring. Seedlings will flower from a year to 18 months after sowing.
The beach salvia makes a fine rockery plant and the grey-brown effect of its foliage and flowers makes a pleasing contrast to the more usual green vegetation of the garden. It is also suitable for an informal shrub border. It’s useful to plant a mixture of summer and winter flowering Salvia species with the taller species at the back and shorter species in front. This way one can have flowers all year round, keeping the butterflies, bees, sunbirds and white-eyes captive in your garden.
- ELIOVSON, S. 1955. Wild flowers of South Africa, edn 6.
- ROBERTS, M. 1990. Indigenous healing plants. Southern Book Publishers.
- The Naturalist. 1981. Vol. 25, Part 3. Eastern Province Branch of the SA Wildlife Society.