My family has always had gardens for as long as I can remember. My mother’s mother was a great gardener. She grew flowers, succulents (there was a huge bed of hens-and-chicks right next to the kitchen window), and vegetables; including the most memorable plants, the giant horseradish plant and a rhubarb plant in opposite corners of the yard. They were subsistence farmers (my grandfather was also an electrician in the nearby coal mine, so the extra food, meat and milk came in handy). There was a large plot of vegetables next to the house, the hill above the garage was planted in alfalfa and wheat grass for the cows, and they raised chickens for eggs as well as the dairy cattle.
When we moved there to help take care of them, I was 15. We started a small plot where the hay used to be, up on the hill. By that time, we had had lots of gardens where we used to live, but not a lot of space. This was the first time I’d chosen plants to grow myself – and I’d be responsible for them.
There were quite a few herbs: oregano, thyme, sesame (in hindsight, not the best choice for cool, rainy western PA), giant sage, borage, and pineapple sage. I fell in love with the pineapple sage when I heard the description. This was in the pre-Internet Stone Age, so I bought the plant by mail order sight unseen. It looked exactly the way it was described: big, soft, fuzzy leaves; speckled with white, yellow and green.
It was one of a half-dozen plants that arrived in a big cardboard box one day in spring. Opening it up was pretty exciting. Some of the plants I wouldn’t have recognized without the help of the plant markers stuck into the pots. I could smell the pineapple sage right away.
The sage plant grew really quickly, bigger than most of the rest. The oregano wound up being bigger, but it spread out instead of getting taller. So did the giant sage.
Probably the best part of the pineapple sage was the scent. Sweet, like a ripe pineapple. The taste of the tea made from the leaves wasn’t quite the same – somewhere in between sage and pineapple. Not as sweet as pineapple, but not as…medicinal and sharp as sage.
Unlike regular sage, pineapple sage is a biennial. Especially on an exposed, windy hill. The plant’s long since gone to the Great Compost Heap, but I still remember it; and the fun I had that summer taking care of it, watching it grow, and harvesting the leaves for tea.