Salvia Coccinea (Scarlet Sage): Identification, Edibility & Plant Care

Salvia Coccinea (Scarlet Sage)_ Identification, Edibility & Plant Care
Scarlet sage, scientific name Salvia coccinea, is an ornamental, deer-resistant, perennial prized by gardeners for its beautiful and showy bright red flower color. Salvia coccinea (also known as Texas sage) has edible leaves with mild medicinal properties.

Discovering Salvia Coccinea (Scarlet Sage)

A member of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, Salvia coccinea is also known by regional common names, such as lady in red, tropical sage, blood sage, red sage, Texas sage and Indian fire.

As these names indicate, scarlet sage is characterized by bright red flowers. The flowers of scarlet sage are roughly an inch in length and emerge through whorls on stems that can reach 2-3’ in height.

Several of these bright red, bird-shaped flowers are on each stalk. The stalks are surrounded by medium-sized green leaves with decorative, uneven edges and a slightly hairy surface.

Salvia coccinea or scarlet sage
Salvia coccinea or scarlet sage

Scarlet sage is a great attractor of pollinators such as hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

This, along with its vibrant beauty and hardiness, make it a favorite of backyard gardeners and landscapers alike.

Check out our video below to find out all of the ways you can use scarlet sage as an ornamental plant.

Is Scarlet Sage The Same As Salvia?

Scarlet sage is indeed a member of the Salvia family.

It’s one of over 900 salvia species, many of which are valued for their beauty, versatility, and culinary uses.

Although ‘sage’ connotes edibility and medicinal uses, sages, and salvias are actually the same thing. The name ‘salvia’ is most typically used when referring to the most highly ornamental plants in the Salvia genus.

As a matter of reference, scarlet sage can also be referred to as scarlet Salvia. Both names are considered correct and recognized as the same plant.

How To Identify Salvia Coccinea?

Salvia coccinea resembles other members of the Salvia family, most specifically Salvia elegans, Salvia greggii, and Salvia Van Houtteii, all of which have similar bright red flowers.

There are, however, some distinct characteristics of Salvia coccinea that can help in its identification.

Look for the following when identifying Salvia coccinea:

  • Two-lipped flower shape with the upper lip being smaller than the lower lip
  • Medium-sized, triangular leaves with a slightly hairy texture and scalloped edges
  • Square, hairy stem
  • Herbaceous or grassy smell to the flowers
  • Shorter in height than the other cultivars of similar color, growing 1-2 feet upright rather than 3-4 feet
Scalret or Texas sage
Salvia coccinea (Scarlet or Texas sage), source: Carl E Lewis
Scarlet sage lookalikes

Can You Eat Scarlet Sage?

Although the flowers of scarlet sage are known to cause digestive problems, the leaves of scarlet sage are often used in teas or chewed.

Steeping the leaves in hot water can produce tea with mild medicinal effects. You can also add the leaves from scarlet sage to salads or create infused vinegar or oils.

Even though some enjoy chewing the leaves outright, doing so in moderation and with caution is advisable as reactions can vary.

Is Scarlet Sage Poisonous In Any Way?

Scarlet sage and sages in general rarely fall into the ’extremely poisonous’ category.

However, scarlet sage should be ingested with caution as allergic or adverse reactions can occur, particularly to the flowers of scarlet sage.

For humans, scarlet sage flowers can cause digestive issues, some severe and requiring medical attention, although not likely to be life-threatening. Scarlet sage is not a danger for pets, however.

If you are foraging for edible plants and flowers, make a note of the similar appearance between scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) whose flowers are inedible, and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), whose flowers are edible.

An easy way to differentiate between the two is to crush a flower between your fingers.

  • If it smells like pineapple, it’s Salvia elegans and can be eaten.
  • If it smells herbal or like grass, it’s Salvia coccinea and the flowers should not be eaten.

Where Does Salvia Coccinea Grow?

Although a native plant to Mexico and Brazil, scarlet sage has found a regular home in gardens across the United States and in Central America and South America.

It’s often found growing as a wildflower across the US Southeast in areas like Texas, South Carolina, Florida, and other locations along the Gulf Coast.

In other areas, scarlet sage can be used as a bedding plant to add color and interest to a garden and attract hummingbirds.

This easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant plant is at its best in warm climates with full sun with well-drained, loam or sandy soil.

Salvia coccinea
Salvia coccinea, Source: eleanord43/flickr

How To Grow Salvia Coccinea?

  • If growing from seed, start seeds indoors between 6-8 prior to the last frost. Once the frost has passed, seedlings or nursery transplants can be planted outdoors.
  • For best results, plant with adequate spacing for their prolific foliage, roughly a foot apart.
  • You can expect scarlet sage to have a bloom time from approximately April until the first frost of the year and self-seed on an annual basis.

Is Salvia Coccinea Medicinal?

Scarlet sage has long been valued for its medicinal effects. In fact, most salvias will have a relaxing effect when ingested.

Among the potential medicinal benefits of scarlet sage leaves are:

  • Use as an anti-inflammatory (tea)
  • Antimicrobial treatment for wounds (direct application or poultice)
  • An anti-hyperglycemic for treatment and control of diabetes (tea)
  • Use as a treatment for coughs and other cold symptoms (tea)
  • Relaxation agent (chewing)

The seeds of scarlet sage can also be used as an emetic to help induce vomiting.

As with any plant used for medical purposes, it’s essential to check with your doctor regarding any possible interactions with your current medication before taking it.

Scarlet Sage Foraging Tips

When foraging for Salvia coccinea or any other edible plant, keep the following in mind:

Have a list of identifiable traits or a field guide to help avoid mistakes in identification and potentially dangerous side effects:

  • Be sure the plants you are foraging are free of pesticides and other poisons
  • Wash anything that you have foraged thoroughly to avoid trapped dirt or pests
  • Take care not to damage the plant or surrounding environment unnecessarily
  • Moderation is key until allergic reactions can be ruled out
  • Understand the proper way to prepare and consume the plant


Lorin is a writer, photographer and nature enthusiast in Sacramento, CA. In addition to gardening, she makes a regular practice of forging for edible plants and flowers. Nature nourishes if you know where to look.

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