(Nan dan shen) Lavender and pearly white blossoms shaped like parrot beaks are supported by burgundy and green calyxes on this cold-tolerant plant from Southern China. In summer, the flowers grow in whorl-like clusters on spikes reaching up to 5 feet tall above large, fuzzy, pinnate, olive-green leaves.
This rare plant is closely related to China’s famed medicinal dan shen sage, which is known botanically as Salvia miltiorrhiza. Nan dan shen means Southern dan shen.
Dan shen-type herbal medicines are derived from the fleshy red taproots of these Salvias and are the subject of ongoing medical research. They are used to treat a variety of health problems, including strokes, chest pain, menstrual difficulties and liver disease.
Nan dan shen is found south of the Yangtze River in south central and southeastern Chinese provinces. It grows at elevations of about 1,000 to 3,000 feet in damp woodlands and beside water. Consequently, although this sage can get by on average watering, it is a water lover that is a good choice for damp problem spots in your yard or for woodland-style gardens. Use it as a perennial border or container plant in partial shade.
This deer-resistant sage grows well in USDA Zones 5 to 9 in rich, well-drained soil where it can spread up to 3 feet wide. British botanist Stephen Troyte Dunn (1868-1938), a China specialist, gave nan dan shen its scientific name in 1908. Don't confuse this sage with Salvia bulleyana, which also has bicolor flowers.
(Purple & Yellow Yunnan Sage or ji ye shu wei cao) Confusion about this plant's scientific name cause it to appear in some sources as Salvia flava var. megalantha. Whatever you call it, this Chinese species from Yunnan Province has enchanting yellow and purple flowers that attract viewers as well as honeybees.
(Yunnan Sage or yun nan shu wei cao) Yunnan Sage's tall spikes of violet-to-purple flowers bloom from summer into fall. Native to Southwestern China's provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, it grows on shady, grassy hillsides and along forest margins at elevations up to 9,500 feet.
(san ye shu wei cao) So what do all those Pinyin words mean in this sage’s common name? We’ll give you an answer to the best of our ability in a minute. Meanwhile, we need to note that this medicinal Asian sage has handsome foliage and deep violet flowers.
(Himalayan Sage or Kashmir Sage) The word "hians" in Salvia hians means "gaping" and refers to the hanging lip of this sage's flowers, which bloom from late spring through early fall. This may or may not the "true" species as it is described, hence the term aff or affnis in the name, which indicates that this plant is related to, has an affinity to, but is not identical to Salvia hians.
Have a friend who might appreciate learning about this plant? Here is an easy way to contact them.
Send to friend
Learn more about how we analyze plant colors
We based our analysis of this plant’s floral and foliar color on the internationally standardized color system published by the U.K.’s Royal Horticultural Society. Called the RHS Large Colour Charts, this publication is a boxed set of color swatches arranged in fans and containing all the colors that RHS has identified in horticulture. RHS gives each color a common name and code number.
Each swatch has a small hole punched into it. We place the swatch over a flower petal and compare the blossom’s color to that of the card. When using RHS colors to compare plants that you want to combine in a flowerbed, in bouquets or in some other manner, RHS says to view them indoors in north light. If you are matching our digital swatches to flowers already in your garden, pluck two or three fully open blossoms of each plant that requires analysis.
You may find that the plant you receive from FBTS varies somewhat in color from what appears in our color analysis or our photograph due to a number of factors, including:
- Variations in photographic colors based on lighting level at different times of day
- Differences in the resolution of digital screens
- Seasonal changes in plant color due to changes in temperature and plant cycle and
- pH or soil chemistry that varies from one locale to another and causes color shifts.
Finally, RHS notes that you shouldn’t attempt color matching when your eyes are fatigued.
Here are some guidelines for success with this plant in your garden.
Click on an individual icon for more detailed information.
This plant grows well in partial shade, such as the kind on the edge of woodlands or under deciduous trees with breaks in the foliage through which dappled sunlight penetrates. Many Salvias thrive in partial shade, including ones that spend part of their day in full sunlight. Some species need partial shade to overcome severe heat and dry soil.
This herbaceous plant is known for its use in folk remedies.
Salvias have been used as healing herbs by a wide variety of cultures in the Americas, Europe and Asia. The genus name is from the Latin term “salvare,” which means to save.
When considering application of an herbal remedy to treat a medical problem, be sure to consult a physician first.
Plant hardiness Zones defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture tell you the minimum temperatures a plant can withstand in your garden. The USDA divides the nation into winter climate areas from coldest (Zone 1) to warmest (Zone 11).
However, it is sometimes possible to grow a Zone 6 Salvia as a perennial in Zone 5 if you provide preferential care, such as winter mulching and a location sheltered from harsh winds. In contrast, a Zone 9 Salvia may act like a perennial in Zone 10 if given a bit of shade or extra water.
To create a harmonious landscape plan, it is important to consider the heights of individual plants.
Height also affects function. Short Salvias often make excellent ground covers that conserve soil moisture and discourage weeds while also brightening your yard. Medium-height Salvias, such as ones 36 inches tall, often are ideal border plants. A tall Salvia planted singly can highlight a landscape; multiple plantings can form an attractive screen.
By considering the width of a plant, you can determine how many to place in a row or what other plants to grow with it.
For example, a narrow, moderate-height Salvia may look good interplanted with bushier species, kind of like Mutt and Jeff.
In contrast, wide-spreading Salvias are economical for hiding lengths of wall and fence or for creating hedge-like divisions in a yard.
Plant this herbaceous species in the USDA Zones where it grows as a perennial, returning year after year.
After dying back to the ground at frost, herbaceous perennials emerge in the Spring with soft, new growth. A Salvia that is perennial in one region, may be an annual in another depending on local conditions, such as winter temperatures.
If you live in USDA Zone 5, for example, Salvias in our catalog cited as growing well in Zone 5 or lower will be perennial. Those cited as doing well in Zones 6 or higher may do well in Zone 5, but generally will act like annuals coming back from seed instead of the parent plant’s roots.
This plant needs regular watering based on what is appropriate to your local conditions.
In some extremely hot, arid climates, this may mean daily watering in Summer. Although many drought-resistant Salvias survive on little to no watering due to local rainfall and deep roots meeting their moisture needs, others need regular doses. The size and frequency of the dose depends on your climate.
This plant thrives on or at least tolerates lots of water, especially when soil is well drained.
A number of Salvias hold up well in areas where rainfall is a regular occurrence. Some even tolerate boggy conditions. These are usually top-notch plants for regions of the country, such as the Southeast, where summers are soggy.
Unless local forage is in short supply, most deer likely will avoid this plant.
It appears that deer dislike Salvias, in general, due to their volatile oils that make the plants so fragrant and savory in cooking. However, the only completely deer-proof plants are the ones grown beyond reach.