Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family, with over 900 species known worldwide. There are annual, perennial and shrub salvia plants, and it can be easy to get confused between all 3. The plants can be either ornamental, or some varieties like salvia officinalis & salvia rosmarinus (commonly called sage and rosemary) are actually an edible herb or culinary herb.

Ornamental Salvia Varieties - Non-Edible Salvias

Perennial Salvia
Annual Salvia

Edible Salvia Varieties

Culinary Sage

Shop All Salvia Varieties

Salvias, or sages, include a huge and versatile group of shrubs, ornamentals and herbs. These plants are extremely hardy and easy to care for. The plant blooms in May or June and has violet, blue, pink, and white flowers. Also known as woodland sage or Balkan clary. The leaves have a sage-like scent. Several varieties are perennial in cooler zones, but others work only as annuals. The hardy plants can survive in growing zones 3 to 8 and can survive in temperatures to –18 °C (0° F).

Grow salvia in an area that gets full sun for best results. These plants can handle hot summer days no problem. The soil needs good drainage, and moderate weekly watering may be required during times of drought. The plants also do very well in direct sunlight, and can withstand brutal summer evenings when many other plants wilt and eventually die. Most gardeners use these plants in pollinator gardens, flower gardens or in garden planters. Salvia attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, but not deer or rabbits. Another great feature of most perennial salvias is that you can easily propagate more by separating mature plants and replanting them.

  • Violet, blue, pink, and white flowers
  • Attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies
  • Hardy and low maintenance
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Growing zones 3 to 8

Ornamental Salvia vs Culinary Salvia

All salvia are technically considered ornamental due to the flowers the plants produce. However, some plants offer more benefits than just being ornamental because they are an edible herb and also a medicinal herb. In general, ornamental plants are typically just called salvia or Meadow Sage, where the edible salvia is referred to as just Sage or culinary sage. That is the quick and easy way to tell the difference between the two.

Ornamental Salvia

Ornamental salvia still has a place in the garden. Visitors to your garden and pollinators will thank you for growing it due to the beautiful blooms that really stand out in the hottest summer days. You will also be glad you planted these, because the plants are so easy to grow. Spend your time worrying about other things, rather than taking care of these plants, but still get the benefit of the beautiful flowers! There are 3 main types of ornamental salvia - Annual, Perennial and Woody Shrubs

Annual Salvia vs Perennial Salvia

Annual and perennial salvias are mostly determined by where the plants are cold hardy to. Perennial salvias can grow up to zone 3. While annual salvia are only cold hardy to zone 9 (sometimes zone 8). Woody shrubs are just what you would expect. Those are a little larger than the perennials and typically will bloom on old wood each year (the stems grown the prior year). Perennial salvia are also sometimes known as woody shrubs when the plants get larger, and due to the fact that the plants bloom on old wood (the stems and branches grown from the previous year). Annual salvia will also re-seed after the flowering season, which is how the plants survive year after year.

There are also several hybrid salvia that are bred for better performance, including more drought tolerance, more prolific blooming, hardier plants, and plants that do not spread or seed. In our experience, these are typically ornamental varieties and not edible.

Native Salvias:

There are three distinct regions where the plants can be found natively. Central and South America, the Mediterranean, and Central and Eastern Asia. Salvia can be found natively growing on every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. There are several sages that are native to the United States around the Southwest region, including California, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Oregon & Arizona.

Is Russian Sage a Salvia?

Russian sage (previously known as Perovskia atriplicifolia) is also part of the mint family. Before 2017 it was not considered a salvia, but that was changed and now grouped with the salvia and sage plants. It is now called Salvia yangii. These plants also have a distinct fragrance when you crush or rub the flowers. The difference between russian sage and ornamental salvia is that Russian sage will grow outwards while salvias typically will be more upright growth.

Is Rosemary a Salvia?

In 2019, the Royal Horticultural Society did extensive research and found that the plant was very closely related to Rosemary and sage were categorized separately before this since the plant naming system began in 1753. Rosemary’s scientific name used to be called Rosmarinus officinalis, but now it is officially Salvia rosmarinus. The common names remain the same.

The plant used to be called Rosmarinus officinalis but will now be called Salvia rosmarinus. Its common name of rosemary stays the same.

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