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.
The flower spikes bloom from summer to fall, attracting butterflies. This sage loves shade and water. Cold and heat tolerant, it grows well in USDA Zones 6 to 9.
Give it rich, well-drained soil similar to the kind where it is found in the wild. San ye shu wei cao grows along the margins of high-altitude forests that border grassy hillsides in Southwestern China. Its dark green, basal leaves are oval-to-heart shaped with pretty, scalloped margins. The foliage mound rises up 24 to 32 inches and spreads about the same distance.
Good uses include plantings in moist areas such as woodland gardens. This perennial sage also shows well in borders, along pathways where you can see it up close and as a groundcover.
Current medical research indicates that chemicals in this plant’s bright red taproots may be effective in battling liver cancer. Similar to many Asian sages, it has a long history of use in herbal remedies. The substances in its roots are used for a variety of medical purposes, including strengthening the immune system, stimulating circulation, soothing the mind, relieving restlessness and improving blood flow to the brain.
We don’t speak Chinese, but after a bit of searching, we discovered that the phrase ‘shu wei cao’ refers to sage. ‘San’ means ‘three’ and ‘ye’ means leaf. So it’s a three-leafed sage, which means that there are three leaves on each petiole.
(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.
(Dan-shen Gansu) Growing into a large basal rosette of leaves measuring up to 3 feet across, Salvia przewalskii var. mandarinorum is known for its handsome foliage.
(Himalayan Cloud Sage) Nepal's Muktinath Valley -- a sacred site for Hindus and Buddhists -- is the place to go to see this majestically tall shade perennial in the wild. It grows at altitudes up to 14,000 feet and often emerges while the ground is still snowy.
(Campanula Leaf Sage) Spectacular yellow-flowering Salvias are rare, so this one stands out. Its large, almost round leaves form a basal clump that is attractive and tough. Bright yellow flowers arise from the clump on stems up to 48 inches tall.
(Nanjinga Chinese Sage) Profuse blue-violet blossoms supported by wine-colored bracts whorl around the long floral stems of perennial Salvia chinensis ‘Nanjinga’. These verticillasters reach upward from glossy, dark green basal leaves with a purple sheen and hairy undersides.
(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.
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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 can handle extreme heat.
Full-sun Salvias that don’t like any shade are among the most heat tolerant. Heat-loving Salvias also are often drought tolerant. Moisture-conserving features, such as fuzzy leaves, help them stay perky at high temperatures.
Heat-tolerant Salvias are fine choices for western and southern exposures.
This plant thrives when planted where it will receive morning sun followed by afternoon shade, such as on the eastern side of a house. Make sure it isn’t exposed to midday and afternoon sun, which can damage tender leaves during the summer when sunlight is more intense due to being more direct.
Although midday is when sunlight is most direct, it takes time for the atmosphere to heat up and for heat to peak at sometime in the afternoon. Salvias that prefer cooler temperatures are protected by afternoon shade during the hottest time of year.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. They are generally not suitable for poorly drained soils.
A number of Salvias hold up well in areas where rainfall is a regular occurrence. Some even tolerate boggy conditions but only for a brief time. These are usually top-notch plants for regions of the country, such as the Southeast, where summers are soggy.
This plant attracts butterflies whether for nectar or as a host for their caterpillars. Some butterflies feed on a limited range of flowering plants and only lay eggs on one kind of host plant. Salvia nectar lures adult butterflies. Placing host plants, such as Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), next to nectar plants builds butterfly habitat. In exchange, the butterflies improve fertility in your garden through pollination.
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.