Skip to main content
Herb GalleryUncategorized

Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza)

  • Botanical name: Salvia miltiorrhiza
  • Common name: Salvia root, Red sage
  • Literal name translation: cinnabar root
  • Family: Lamiaceae, mint family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: root
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Invigorates blood, dispels blood stasis, clears heat
    and irritability, cools blood
Salvia miltiorrhiza
Salvia miltiorrhiza
Salvia miltiorrhiza

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Salvia miltiorrhiza; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Salvia miltiorrhiza; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Salvia miltiorrhiza; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute

Growing and Propagation

Salvia is grown best in full sun to light dappled shade, in relatively moist, rich, sandy soil with good drainage. In China, it grows wild on sunny mountainsides, meadows, forest margins and near stream beds. The plant is perennial, growing to 1-2 feet high with pretty reddish purple flowers. It is quite tolerant of cold, hardy to 15 degrees F., and grows in USDA zones 5 to 9.

Propagation is by seed or root division. Seeds are best planted indoors in early spring, and transplanted to the garden after the last frost. If sown directly into the garden, they can be planted from April to August. Root division is done in fall or early spring before leaves emerge. The plant can be dug up, separated into 2-3 clumps, and re-planted. During the growing season, the plants do well with regular watering and application of fertilizer, though in the winter they should be protected from excessive winter moisture.

Harvesting and Preparation

Roots are harvested from November to March, when the plant is dormant, though the first 10 days of November are considered the best time for harvesting the most potent roots. The roots are cleaned, root crown is removed, and they are covered with a damp cloth to make sure the roots are uniformly moist. They are then cut into slices and dried in the sun. The best quality roots come from cultivated plants and are large, thick, purplish-red and undamaged. The cortex is wrinkled and a cross section will have many medulary rays and white dots.


The genus Salvia of the mint family contains more than 900 species, many used for culinary or medicinal purposes, or grown for their fragrance. Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), also known as “red sage”, is one of the many species indigenous to China. “Salvia” is derived from the Latin word “salvare”, and means “to heal”. “Miltiorrhiza is derived from the Greek work “miltos” meaning “read lead” and “rhiza” meaning “root”. The name refers to the healing properties of plants in this garden sage group, and the reddish-purple color of the root of this specific plant.

There are many other plants in this family used in Western herbal medicine. In Chinese medicine, other species of salvia considered acceptable alternatives for use are Salvia bowleyana and Salvia przewaliskii. In smaller regions of China, there are other species used in regional folk medicine as local substitutes for Dan Shen. These include S. yunanensis, S. paramiltiorrhiza, S. trijuga, S. plectranthoides, S. digitaloides, and S. kiametiensis f. pubecens.