(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 6 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.