( Originally Published 1933 )
This plant is so fragrant in every portion that its perfume permeates the whole garden and even greets us over the hedges on our way in. Some of its names come from the fact that it will give forth a flash of light on a still evening, when a burning match is held under the flower cluster near the stem. It comes from South Europe and North China, and is a handsome and popular hardy garden plant. The white-flowered kind is the type and smells of lemon, lemon peel, and other fragrant elements. The pink-flowered variety is more fragrant and smells less of lemon and has an undertone of almond and vanilla. The plant is about three feet tall.
Root. It is shallow and fibrous, and falls to pieces easily.
Stem. The stems are round, the upper portions are incrusted with yellowish hairs, and are sticky to the touch. Each of the many branches rise from the roots and curve out a little.
Leaf. The leaves are compounded into from nine to eleven opposite leaflets. The central portion of the leaflets is convex on the back, concave on the upper surface, and grooved. The leaves are pointed at the tip and grow wider at the base and are shiny, finely toothed on the margins, dark green above, lighter and shiny below.
Flower. The flowers are in a loose, terminal spike on hairy pedicels, opposite, showy, like open butterflies, and two inches across. The calyx of the white variety has small greenish-white, five-parted, pointed sepals. The corolla is five-parted into white, pointed, slender petals, broader at the tip and then terminating in a slender foot. It faces sideways, and the lower petal is depressed. The stamens curving out beyond the petals are the most conspicuous part of the flower. They have four-parted yellow anthers on white filaments. The pistil is globular, and the ovary is five-parted, green and furry, and becomes a hard, divided capsule. The style and stigma are greenish in color.
In the pink variety the upper portion of the stem is marked with red and the calyx is also green, marked with red. The petals are of a pale pink with crimson lines on them. The anthers are also pink with red hairs at their tips. The pistil is pinkish. The ovary is reddish and hairy. The flower panicle is twelve inches high and six inches across at the base.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
Parkinson says it is profitable against the stinging of serpents, and a protection against contagious and pestilent diseases. The root is the most effective portion, yet the seed is also sometimes used. It grew in Gerard's garden, and he quotes Dioscorides as saying that the wild goats being stricken with darts, or arrows, would cause them to fall out of their bodies by eating dittany.
Since the leaves, when dried, make a delicious tea, it is included in this book.
According to Bailey it is increased by seeds sown as soon as they are ripe in the open ground and covered one inch. They will germinate the next spring and when two years old the seedlings can be moved to the garden. It seems to thrive in a clay soil and to like sunshine, but will grow in partial shade. The older the plant the higher the flowering stems. It lives for years and is a perennial in the true sense of the word. I bought my plants from a nursery.