Germander or wood sage is a perennial shrub in the mint family which is used in some gardens to make low borders and hedges. Some people also distill the leaves into germander tonic or tea, although the plant is not widely consumed. The plant is very easy to grow, and it thrives all the way through USDA zone four, making it a very versatile addition to the garden.
The plant is native to Europe, and has been grown in Greek gardens for centuries. Many species are also found widely distributed in the Middle East, and some are very drought tolerant as a result of their normally harsh environment. A number of plants are called “germander,” but all of them are in the genus Teucrium, and some are more aesthetically pleasing than others. Woodland germander and wall germander are two common examples of ornamental germander cultivated in gardens.
Like other members of the mint family, germander has squared stems and it is very aromatic. It tends to grow in a shrubby form, and it has dark green toothed opposite leaves. In mid to late summer, the plant puts out stalks which produce white to purple lipped flowers. Unless the climate is very cold, the plant will continue to bloom until late fall if it is trimmed regularly, and the leaves will stay lush and green year round.
The growth habit of germander tends to splay and get out of control unless the plant is controlled with pruning. Fortunately, germander takes very well to shaping, and many people use it to form borders and hedges for this very reason. It can even be used in old fashioned knot gardens, since it establishes itself very quickly and it looks quite pleasing whether or not it is in bloom. Other plants in the garden can be color coordinated with the flowers, if desired, or the flowers can be sheared away before they bloom if more greenery is desired.
Many gardeners like to use germander as a border in herb gardens, because it smells sweet and it shapes well. It can also be used as an edible or medicinal herb, although it can become toxic in large doses. Germander has a long history in the treatment of gout and weight gain, for example. Generally only the leaves are used, with the stems and flowers being left intact. As is the case with any medicinal herb, it is a good idea to consult with a doctor before taking germander.