Salvia is a shrub in the family Lamiaceae. Worldwide, there are more than 700 species in the genus Salvia, including garden sage, white sage and Cleveland sage. The genus Salvia is part of the mint family, which is differentiated by its flower type, fragrant mint foliage, leaves and stems. Salvia mellifera or California black sage is one of the more common types.
Salvia mellifera or black sage is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 3 feet. The flowers are white or light blue and occur in clusters. It typically blooms from March to July. The foliage is fragrant with square stems. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and quail love the seeds of the plant.
In its natural environment, mellifera lives on sunny dry slopes of gravel, sand or clay. It can tolerate partial shade but prefers full sun. It usually receives between 12 and 40 inches of rainfall in the climates where it grows, with the lower end being added to by fog drip.
In the garden setting, it is hardy to USDA zone 8. It prefers sandy soil, full sun and regular watering, but not so much that it is standing in a bog.
Sages have been used as food and medicines from classical Greek time to the Middle Ages. Even today, dried leaves are used as herbs. The mellifera leaves can be brewed into tea. The leaves and stems can be used as flavoring and the seeds can be ground and used as spices.
The leaves of the mellifera have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes. The leaves of mellifera are sometimes chewed as a treatment for gas pains. Heated leaves are applied to the ears, neck and throat for pain. (Herbal treatments should never substitute for medical consultation.)
There are 17 different species including Salvia mellifera native to California's sunny dry slopes in the coastal range of San Jose to Baja. Some of these native herbs and shrubs are called sage, including garden sage. Some California sages have been used for incense and potpourri.