|Dictamnus albus in flower|
Dictamnus is a genus of flowering plant in the family Rutaceae, with a single species, Dictamnus albus, which has several geographical variants. It is known variously as burning bush, false dittany, white dittany, gas plant and Fraxinella. It is an herbaceous perennial, native to warm, open woodland habitats in southern Europe, north Africa and much of Asia.
This plant grows about 60 cm (24 in) high. Its flowers form a loose pyramidal spike and vary in colour from pale purple to white. The flowers are five-petalled with long projecting stamens. The leaves resemble those of an ash tree.
In the summer months, the whole plant is covered with a kind of flammable substance, which is gluey to the touch, and has a very fragrant, lemony aroma; but if it takes fire, it goes off with a flash all over the plant. The name "burning bush" derives from the volatile oils produced by the plant, which can catch fire readily in hot weather, leading to comparisons with the burning bush of the Bible, including the suggestion that this is the plant involved there. The daughter of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is said to have ignited the air once, at the end of a particularly hot, windless summer day, above Dictamnus plants, using a simple matchstick.
Numerous varieties and cultivars have been selected for garden use. The variety D. albus var. purpureus (purple flowered dittany) has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
The plant is inedible: the leaves have a bitter and unpalatable taste. Despite the lemon-like smell, the plant is acrid when eaten. All parts of the plant may cause mild stomach upset if eaten, and contact with the foliage may cause photodermatitis.
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Some use has been made of the plant (chiefly the powdered root) in herbalism. However, as the alternative name "false dittany" implies, it is unrelated to the dittany found in Crete, which has a much more significant history of medicinal use. Like dittany of Crete, dictamnus was believed to be useful for cordial and cephalic ailments, to help resist poison and combat putrefaction, and to be useful in malignant and pestilential fevers. It was also used for cases of hysteria.
An infusion of the tops of the plant was also used as a pleasant and efficacious medicine in the gravel. It was believed to work powerfully by provoking urine and easing colicky pains which frequently accompany that disorder. The root was considered a sure remedy for epilepsies, and other diseases of the head, opening obstructions of the womb and procuring the discharges of the uterus, but the use of the plant is considered obsolete today.
- Synonym in Anthos.es
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- "Dictamnus albus var. purpureus". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
- Gao X., Zhao P.-H., Hu J.-F. (2011). "Chemical constituents of plants from the genus Dictamnus". Chemistry and Biodiversity 8 (7): 1234–1244. doi:10.1002/cbdv.201000132. PMID 21766445.
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