Germander, Hardy Ground Cover with a Herbal History

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Germander (Teucrium canadense) is a herbaceous plant and a member of the mint family. You may also know it by the name Canada germander, American germander or wood sage. It is native to North America and parts of Southern Canada. You will find it growing wild within many grasslands, forest edges, riversides, roadsides and also wasteland.

It tends to form wide clumps that possess a very extensive rhizome and root system. You will usually see it going to roughly 90cm in height and covering areas of up to 2 meters. The branched stems have arrow shaped, serrated leaves that are deeply veined.

The flowers are pale purple, lilac or cream with an ornately lipped shape. Flowers usually appear from mid summer to mid fall. The flowered stems can reach a height of 30cm and they are perfectly adapted for pollination from hummingbirds and bees. Their scent also greatly attracts a great number of insects and butterflies and hummingbird hawkmoths. 

Teucrium canadense
Teucrium canadense (Germander) (Photo by alicyna on Wikimedia Commons)

Cultivation and History of Germander

The plant can thrive within poorly drained and moist soil making it very prolific in marshlands. It is a hardy and woody plant that many consider to be an invasive weed. You can plant germander within full sun, shade or both. Plants usually benefit well from watering during a hot or dry summer, as they prefer moist soil.

Teucrium canadense in flower
Teucrium canadense in flower (Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds on Wikimedia Commons)

You can grow germander with seeds or by propagation and division. Seeds will usually take about a month to germinate. Cuttings can be collected in the spring to be grown into new plants. Place within a container of water to allow roots to form. When roots are roughly 10cm, plant straight into the garden. Ensure the plant has suitable airflow by placing the cuttings or seeds at least 25cm apart. Mature plants can be cut back in early spring and late winter to encourage bushy growth and more blooms throughout spring and summer.

Germander works perfectly as ground cover, because of its low maintenance and hardy beauty. They take well to pruning, so you could also form them into a low hedge or shaped border. As it spreads quite aggressively, it must be kept in check with regular maintenance or a container.

Toxicity

It is unsafe to consume germander, and its sale has actually been banned in France. Research has concluded that germander may cause liver disease and even death in some cases. Although it has a history of being used medicinally, it is not recommended for use as a herbal remedy today.

Uses

Culinary uses of Germander

It is not recommended to ingest the bitter and toxic leaves or plant parts of germander. Therefore it does not posses any culinary value.

Medicinal uses of Germander

Native Americans once used dried and ground germander leaves to create a herbal tea. The purpose of the tea was as a diuretic, to increase urination and even sweating. It was also often used to create a poultice that could be applied to wounds. It was believed to have antiseptic properties, as it was also used to treat mouth ailments by gargling.

Did you know…

Germander flowers are structured in a way that makes pollination possible only by long tongued insects and pollinators.

Conclusion

Germander makes a beautiful layer of ground cover and it also works equally well in a rockery or knot garden. It is a wonderful plant to add layers or ornamental value to a herb garden or container. Although the leaves possess minor medical value, they should not be used without consulting an expert. Deer and other grazing animals avoid germander because of its bitter taste. This makes it perfect for use in gardens with deer problems.

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Written by Hannah Sweet
Hannah is a freelance writer and graphic designer from the UK. With a penchant for travelling, photography and all things botanical, she enjoys writing about a wealth of topics and issues, from conservation and slow living, to design and travel. Learn more about her writing and design services on Upwork.com

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