Lyreleaf Sage, (Salvia lyrate L.) is a member of the mint Lamiaceae family and is a perennial herb that tends to grow wild all over much of the eastern U.S., extending to portions of the Midwest. It is also known as cancer weed. It can be found growing naturally along the roadsides and in thickets as well as everywhere in the southeastern United States. In fact, the lyreleaf sage plant can grow in practically every condition imaginable except areas near saltwater.
It’s an upright perennial that is somewhat hairy in appearance and grows to be one to two feet tall. It’s base bears a rosette of leaves and those leaves are all deeply three-lobed, although the plant has some much simpler leaves that grow higher up on its stem. The larger basal leaves become tinged with purple during the winter months. The margins of those leaves can also be toothed or lobed. In addition, many of them may appear to be lyre (a small, handheld, harp) shaped, which is of course where the name came from.
This particular plant/weed species has a square stem that bears two-lipped blossoms that tend to range from a pale blue color to violet. The tubular flowers usually appear in a whorl arrangement around the plant’s stem and form a spike that is uninterrupted. Each blossom grows to be approximately one inch long. The double-lobed lower lip tends to be longer than the upper one (with three lobes) and its sepals are purplish-brown. The leaves of the lyreleaf sage turn dark green in wintertime with darker purple veining.
The lyreleaf sage’s natural habitat is rich and rocky, like open woodlands as well as meadows (wet or dry), and alluvial areas that have well-drained loam or sandy conditions. It requires low to medium watering and grows in full sun, shade, or partial shade. This plant also has a medium drought tolerance as well as a good tolerance to heat. It can even tolerate periodic flooding conditions. It’s quite adaptable as a ground cover and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds while being moderately deer resistant.
For home landscapes, the lyreleaf sage can be grown anywhere, whether in partial shade or even full sun, requiring only an average amount of moisture. As individual plants, they’re not all al that impressive among native wildflowers, however, when they’re in a mass, they’re really quite beautiful. You can spread the seeds along pathway edges, driveways, or in wooded areas where grass won’t grow. It is definitely not generally considered to be a good addition to flower beds since it reseeds so easily and could quickly take over everything in its path.
The lyreleaf sage can also be made into a poultice. It has been used extensively for removing warts by the early settlers and numerous native tribes. The roots have also been pounded to make a salve for treating wounds. Tea that’s made from the roots and leaves of the plant have been used for soothing oral infections, coughs, and sore throats. The early pioneers and Native Americans believed that “like cured like.” The theory was that, since lyreleaf sage was capable of spreading very aggressively and quickly, much like cancer, it just made sense that it should be used for treating the disease, hence the name “cancer weed.”