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Thursday, September 22, 2011

DITTANY - AS USED BY HARRY POTTER: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF DITTANY HERB


WHITE, FALSE OR BASTARD DITTANY, DICTAMNUS ALBUS
This dittany is native to south and central Europe, North Africa and southern and central Asia. It is “false” or “bastard” dittany because it is not what is considered the true dittany which is the Cretan dittany. This dittany is a member of the Rutaceae or rue family and is distinguished by its tall pyramidal shaped flower head. The flowers may be pink, pink-purple or white. It is known as the Gas plant because in hot summer nights an inflorescence can be seen around the flowers and if you put a flame to this it will burn, giving it another common name, Burning Bush (which has Biblical associations with Moses and the receiving of the 10 Commandments). This is caused by the volatile oil contained in the plant and was first (it is said) noticed by Linnaeus’ daughter.
  It was only grown in Britain in apothecaries gardens for its medicinal uses as this reference shows from the Physicians of Myddfai: -
 “An antidote for pain: seek the dittany, which may be obtained from cunning men; it is the best in all complaints.”
(The ‘cunning men’ are the apothecaries)
 Powdered leaves of this dittany were combined with those of peppermint for epilepsy and Culpeper the 17th century herbalist says “The root is a sure cure for epilepsies and other diseases of the head…” He also points out “It only grows here in gardens, not being hardy enough to bear the severity of our climate abroad.” He clearly thought highly of this plant as he goes on to write: -
   “The roots…are the only parts used, and are useful in malignant and pestilential distempers; in fevers and hysteric cases: however an infusion of the tops of the plant is a pleasant and efficacious medicine in the gravel; it works powerfully by urine…”
   The powdered leaves were used with peppermint for epilepsy.
  In folk medicine the infusion has been used to hasten delivery in childbirth and to bring on a woman’s periods, although it must not be used at all during pregnancy. The tisane has a taste of lemons and the pink dittany tastes also faintly of almonds and vanilla. The oil has anti-inflammatory properties but is not much used because of its tendency to be highly inflammable. A tincture of the leaves and flowers is sometimes used to relieve the pains associated with rheumatism.
  Harry Potter used dittany in potion-making classes and the inhabitants of Hogwarts used dittany to promote wound healing. However it doesn’t have this property in real life.
  The tisane made with flowering tops has been used as a general tonic and to treat urinary tract problems as well as to get rid of intestinal worms. It can be used as a skin wash for problems such as eczema and to soothe the digestive system. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 1,500 years, and there the root bark is used for fungal and bacterial skin problems as well as for its action on the uterine muscles and to promote a woman’s menses.
  In Elizabethan times the flowers and leaves were used in salads, and it was grown in mediaeval gardens in the UK. It was first called Dictamnus fraxinella because it was thought that the leaves resembled those of the ash tree. Now it is generally cultivated for its flowers and the fact that it is an attractive plant, growing to heights of between 2 and 3 feet.

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