What you see: Dried sage that looks oddly fluffy
What it is: Rubbed sage, which is made by literally rubbing and sieving sage to a fluffy consistency
Eat or toss: Eat! It’s supposed to look like this!
When you open your jar of rubbed sage and discover that it looks kind of like green dryer lint, your imagination may get the better of you. Why does the sage look fluffy? Is that some kind of fuzzy mold? Have insects settled in and whorled up some cocoons or cottony clumps of eggs?
Thankfully, the answer is not mold, not insects nor any evidence of any infestation. This is just what rubbed sage looks like.
If you happen to have some ground sage in your spice drawer, open that up and you’ll find something that looks more, well, normal. Ground sage is processed to a fine powder, much like cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices.
But rubbed sage is made by roughly crumbling the sage and filtering out the stems. This results in bigger pieces and preserves some of the texture of the original leaves (touch a fresh sage leaf and you’ll probably notice that it’s kind of fuzzy). Here’s how the McCormick Science Institute describes the process: “Rubbed Sage is put through minimum grinding and a coarse sieve. The result is a fluffy, almost cotton-like product, unique among ground herbs.”
Rubbed sage is less concentrated than ground sage, so you’ll use relatively more of it in recipes. With the sage leaves more intact, rubbed sage holds onto its flavor longer than ground sage does.
Here's a close-up view of rubbed sage:
Sage. McCormick Science Institute.
“Sage: A Story of Redemption.” Anne Sal. Chapter in Llewellyn's 2017 Herbal Almanac: Herbs for Growing & Gathering, Cooking & Crafts, Health & Beauty, History, Myth & Lore
What’s the difference between rubbed sage and ground sage? Ask Betty. BettyCrocker.com. Oct. 2,
Dried Rubbed Sage. Techniques. Bon Appetit. May 22, 2008.
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Harold McGee. 2004. p. 405
I don't claim to be wise, but I am sage.