Sage is a savory winter spice used dry or fresh in a range of dishes. It’s also hard to find. Here are six sage substitutes to try when you’re in a pinch!
Culinary enthusiasts and lovers of houseplants alike have likely had their brush with sage, whether fresh or dried. It’s a unique, earthy spice used in savory winter dishes, stuffings, and even desserts, though it’s not always the easiest to locate in stores. Thankfully, because of its versatility in recipes, if you’re unable to get your hands on sage, it’s not too difficult to replace with an alternative herb.
Commercially, sage is typically sold in three forms — ground, dried (leaves), or fresh (leaves and stems). Look for dried sage amongst the jarred spices and fresh in the refrigerated section in small packages. It’s worth noting, especially if your recipe really requires sage, that this wintry herb is super easy to grow at home in a pot or small garden.
What Is Sage?
Sage is a perennial herb from the mint family (Lamiaceae) with silvery-green, velvety leaves, purple flowers, and woody stems. It’s grown all over the world (though originally came from the Mediterranean) and has been used historically to flavor dishes; to help heal colds, minor digestive issues, and ulcers; in a poultice to stop bleeding; and as a cleansing incense, dried and bundled before burned.
Culinary Uses of Sage
The benefits of sage also extend to the tastebuds — it tastes (and smells) delightful, with a savory, earthy, and peppery flavor perfect in a range of dishes. People use dried or fresh sage in rich, bold recipes like roasted chicken or grilled seafood, sweet potato mash, creamy pasta dishes, and so on. Fresh leaves of the herb also make great garnishes.
Got a cold? Try sage tea with a squeeze of lemon and honey. Simply steep a few leaves in boiling water and strain out after five to ten minutes.
For those with a knack for creative dessert ideas, sage pairs well with fruits — think apples, pears, pumpkins, and citruses — and pastry doughs. For example, a sage and lemon tart, apple crumble with sage, or walnut bread topped with sage butter. Yum!
These varying culinary applications are worth considering when looking for fitting sage alternatives. If you’re wanting to brew a cup of sage tea, for example, think twice before using poultry seasoning as an alternative.
Our Picks: 6 Substitutes for Sage
Whether you’re preparing a recipe or searching at the store, here are six sage substitutes to try in a pinch. While most of these herbs will be similar in flavor and aroma, not all of these sage alternatives will make 1:1 replacements in recipes.
Note that sage can also be harder to substitute in desserts, as the unique flavor of an alternative may not harmonize with the sweet aromatics of a dessert. So be considerate and taste-test a small amount before stirring into the whole dish. Adjust ratios depending on potency and personal preference.
First up on our list is rosemary, a fragrant herb from the shrub Rosmarinus officinalis. It has dark green, thin leaves, and a bright, pine-like flavor similar to sage. This makes rosemary a great alternative to sage! Besides being a common grocery aisle spice, it’s extremely versatile.
Dried rosemary adds a woodsy tang to potatoes, fish, lentils, and other foods common to a Mediterranean-style diet. While as a garnish, fresh sprigs of rosemary thrive on roasts and vegetables, cocktails or mocktails, and even cakes. You can substitute sage with rosemary in citrus-focused desserts like a lemon scone or shortbread.
Use marjoram as a sage substitute in fresh or dried form. Its mild pine and floral flavors match the earthiness of sage and go well with roasted meats, tomato-based dishes, dressings, and salads. Marjoram comes from the mint family (like sage) and is native to the Mediterranean regions of the world and parts of Africa and Asia. The flavor loosely resembles oregano.
Also like sage, thyme comes from the mint family of herbs and has an earthy, citrusy taste with hints of black pepper. It’s fairly mild but still brings a distinct kick used dry or fresh in recipes as a substitute for sage. Not only is thyme easy to find in stores or grow at home but it’s also extremely versatile in recipes.
Use this classic Mediterranean herb when cooking beans, stews, carrots and other root vegetables, tomatoes, meats (poultry and lamb especially), and soups. Dried and fresh thyme both complement other herbs nicely, such as rosemary, parsley, oregano, and of course sage.
This mild, slightly sweet Italian herb makes another reliable sage substitute. Oregano’s tea-like bitterness and notes of pepper match sage both in fresh and dry form; try it in sauces, marinades, tomato and olive oil-based recipes, and even eggs.
You’ll find that oregano, besides being readily accessible in stores, pairs well with other herbs on this list. Many herbal seasoning mixes and salts will include oregano among the ingredients.
There are two primary varieties of the herb savory — summer and winter. Both work in place of sage because of their mint-like, piney flavor similar to marjoram or thyme. Summer savory tends to be hotter and more pungent, while winter savory packs a sharper, more bitter bite (especially when ground). Both the dried, slender green leaves and fresh sprigs of the herb can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for sage.
Savory was enjoyed by the ancient Romans for medicinal and culinary uses; today, savory seasons a range of slow-roasted and hearty meals. Good pairings with savory include bean dishes, sausages, grilled and roasted game, fish, and poultry (using the savory as a pre-cooking rub), and vegetables like cabbages or onions. Note that winter savory doesn’t hold up as well under heat for a long period of time compared to summer savory, and should be added closer to the end of cooking.
6. Herbes de Provence
This herbal seasoning makes a great substitute for dried sage because of its balance of minty and spicy flavors. Readily available in supermarkets, it’s traditionally made with a blend of thyme, savory, marjoram, rosemary, and oregano.
Herbes de Provence gets its name from the Provence region of France (common to such spice mixtures) and is used often in Mediterranean-style cuisines, like roasted vegetables, meats, and fish.
And if Herbes de Provence or any of these other six sage substitutes won’t do the trick, or if you don’t have them readily available, you may also try basil, tarragon, poultry seasoning, or dried bay leaf.
Explore Spices at Public Goods
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