Often observed in large, showy colonies, American Germander is a tall perennial (2-3 ft) in the mint family that blooms in mid-summer. Like all mints, it has a 4-sided stem. The leaves have strong venation and are opposite, ovate to lanceolate, and serrated. The large leaves can grow 2-5 inches in length.
The flowers can be white, lavender or purple. They occur in a spike at the top of each stem. The half-inch flowers have a split upper lip and a large lower lip that has one primary lobe, with two smaller lobes held upward (it’s complicated!). The base of the lower lip is purplish.
American germander is found in a variety of habitats but prefers sunny, moist locations. It is a vigorous grower and has a tendency to spread below ground via rhizomes.
I have a tendency to crush and smell every mint I find, but in this plant there is little scent to the crushed leaves, although some say it smells faintly like sage. The taste is bitter–so much so that even the local herbivores ignore them.
This plant was used medicinally by Native Americans. As a tea, it was primarily used as a diuretic; the leaves were also used as an antiseptic dressing on ulcers and other wounds. It is widely distributed across North America and is also known as Canadian germander or wood sage.
These photos were taken in July along the New River Trail. I’ve also spotted colonies growing near Carvins Cove Reservoir in Roanoke.