Name: Dittany (Dictamnus albus)
Otherwise known as: Burning Bush, Gas plant
Habitat: An herbaceous perennial of the Rutaceae family growing to about 80cm at altitude in south west Europe and southern Asia. It has ovate to lanceolate leaves which are finely serrate on a stem which supports terminal racemes of large, pink, star-shaped flowers. The whole of the plant is aromatic and is covered in orange-scented oil glands that may ignite in very hot weather. The root is poisonous.
What does it do: When Moses fled from Egypt he worked as a shepherd for Jethro, his father-in-law, and while tending his flocks, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him out of a burning bush which was not consumed, and God called to him from the middle of the bush and said, ‘Here am I’.(Exodus. 111.4) which, as we know led to the land of milk and honey. The ‘bush’ features as a symbol for Jews and Christians; the menorah is based on it, and it is also the symbol of the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
The motto of the Church of Scotland is ‘nec tamen consumebatur’ – yet it was not consumed – a ‘burning bush’ moment is one of sudden revelation.
The action of an extract from the root causes the uterus to contract and it was widely used to treat gynaecological complaints. A decoction from the leaf and flowers was made to treat scabies, eczema, German measles, scrofula and scorbutic diseases. The plant is little used by herbalists today because it contains the alkaloid dictamine, an abortifacient.
Dittany is sometimes confused with a member of the oregano family, Dittany of Crete: (Origanum dictamnus), a small hairy plant that thrives in the barren soil of the mountainous region of the island and was used to heal wounds caused by poisoned arrowheads. Aristotle claimed that he saw wounded goats expel arrows by eating the plant; and mythology refers to the goddess Aphrodite curing Aeneas by applying the plant to his wounds. As with most herbs originating in Crete, there is a claim that it is an aphrodisiac. We grow this plant in Cyprus.
Alexander McCowan. Author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants