Here’s how the 22nd edition of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española defines camedrio: ‘Planta de la familia de las Labiadas, pequeña, de tallos duros, vellosos, hojas pequeñas parecidas a las del roble y flores purpúreas en verticilos colgantes, usadas como febrífugo.’ In English, we’d have ‘A plant in the Lamiaceae [mint family], small, with hard stems, hairy, small leaves similar to those of an oak, and purple flowers in hanging verticils [whorls], used as a febrifuge [fever reducer].’
Another Spanish name for the plant is germandrina, a word that surprisingly, except for its diminutive ending, developed from the same source as camedrio. The original Greek name for the plant was khamaidrus, a word made up of khamai ‘on the ground’ and drus ‘oak,’ so the compound described a plant low to the ground that nevertheless has leaves like those of the mighty oak. The Romans borrowed the word as the little-changed chamaedrys, which has become Spanish camedrio. Late Greek refashioned the original as khamandrua, which Medieval Latin further garbled to germandrea; that’s the source of English germander, French germandrée, and the alternate Spanish name germandrina.
Linnaeus, the great Swedish biologist and classifier par excellence, assigned the plant the scientific name Teucrium chamaedrys. That designates the European species that the Greeks called khamaidrus, but botanists have identified closely related plants in different parts of the world that are now also classified in the genus Teucrium. The species that’s native here in central Texas also grows in all the contiguous states of the United States and as far north as Canada, a fact conveyed by its scientific name, Teucrium canadense. Citizens of the “Lower 48,” not to be overshadowed by their neighbor to the north, insist on calling the plant American germander. Anyone wishing to remain neutral can use another vernacular name, wood-sage, which refers to the plant’s predilection for growing in shaded or partly shaded areas.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman