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Botanical Name: Dictamnus albus L.
Species: D. albus
Common Name:Burning-bush, False Dittany, White Dittany, and Gas-plant.
Habitat :Native to southern Europe, north Africa and southern and central Asia. It grows in woodland margins and rocky scree, mainly on calcareous soils.
It is a perennial herb and it grows about 60 cm high. Its flowers form a loose pyramidal spike and vary in colour from pale purple to white. It normally grows in woods in warm places. It is a popular garden plant both for its flowers and for its fragrance. It bears large elegant flowers of various colours: red, white, striped or blue. Its leaves resemble those of an Ash tree. Outside its natural range it is planted in gardens and grows well in warm places. It can also be found in sheltered places in woodlands.
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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 smell; 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 plant is inedible: the leaves have a bitter and unpalatable taste. Despite the lemon-like smell, the plant is acrid when eaten.
The plant is more commonly known today as the Burning Bush. It is the essential oil, which has a lemon-like smell, that is flammable. The daughter of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is said to once ignite the air, at the end of a particularly hot, windless summer day, above Dictamnus plants, using a simple matchstick.
It grows best in full sun, but will tolerate some light shade during the hottest months.
The Burning Bush is easily grown in most well draining garden soils, but appreciates the addition of a small amount of lime at planting time. Once established, the plant is very drought tolerant.
A mature plant will grow to 24 to 36 inches in height, and produce an abundance of 1 inch diameter white, pink, or red flowers. Propagation may be accomplished by seed which should be sown as soon as they are ripe in the Fall. Dictamnus is a long lived plant which resents transplanting, so choose your planting spot carefully so you won’t have to move it later.
Landscape Uses:Border, Foundation, Massing, Rock garden, Specimen, Woodland garden. An easily grown plant, succeeding in ordinary garden soil. It prefers a dry sunny position with some lime and is not suitable for heavy or damp soils. Established plants are drought tolerant. A very ornamental plant, it should be planted into its permanent position as soon as possible because it dislikes root disturbance. The whole plant contains a very aromatic essential oil, giving out a scent somewhat like lemon peel. When the plant is bruised, this smell becomes more like fine balsam. This essential oil is emitted from the plant in hot weather and, on a still day, can be ignited and will burn for a second or two without harming the plant, thus giving the plant its common name. Slugs are strongly attracted to this plant and can destroy it by eating all the young growth in spring. There are at least 2 named varieties, ‘Pink’ produces a tea with a less lemony flavour but with an added taste of almonds and vanilla, ‘White’ has a lemony fragrance and taste. The flowers are very attractive to bees. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Edible, Fragrant foliage, Not North American native, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Suitable for cut flowers, Suitable for dried flowers, Fragrant flowers.
Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Cold stratify stored seed for 6 weeks and sow in the spring in a cold frame. The seed usually germinates in 1 – 6 months at 15°c. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division in spring. Take care since the plant resents root disturbance. The plant can also be divided in autumn. We have found it best to tease out divisions from the side of the clump to avoid the need to dig up the main clump. Try to get divisions that already have formed roots. Pot them up in a greenhouse and grow them on for a year to make sure they are well established before planting them out. Root cuttings in November/December.
Edible Uses: Tea……A lemon-scented tea is made from the dried leaves. Refreshing and aromatic
Historical medical uses
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 they were 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. They were also used for cases of hysteria. While the volatile oil does have anti-inflammatory properties, it isn’t used for such ailments today.
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. The plant is known to have emmenagogic properties, but the use of such plants to procure onset of menses is generally considered obsolete today.
The burning bush has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for at least 1,500 years. A lemon-scented tea is made from the dried leaves.
D. albus also produces an oil that irritates some people’s skin. After several hours the oil creates a chemical burn that can produce blisters. The oil appears to be sunlight activated. If you wash the exposed skin before it receives too much direct sunlight, irritation won’t occur.
Dittany, a distillate of very volatile essential oils from the roots and flowers, is rarely used today. It is a diuretic, an anti-spasmodic (relaxes the muscles of the gastro-intestinal tract), an anti-helminthic (expels intestinal parasites), and a stimulant to the contraction of uterine muscle.
Modern medical uses
Today the plant is not used much, but is classified as a stomach tonic. A simple infusion of the leaves may be used as a substitute for tea and as a remedy for nervous complaints. The powdered root combined in equal parts with Peppermint has been administered in doses of 2 drams (4 g) for epilepsy. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh leaves. It is used in the treatment of female complaints and constipation
Other Uses: The plant contains an essential oil. Yields from the fresh flowering plant are around 3% on a dry weight basis. This oil is used as a cosmetic
Known Hazards:…General poisoning notes:
Gas plant (Dictamnus albus) has caused phytophotodermatitis in humans. In one case in Ottawa, a gardener suffered recurring skin eruptions for several summers. The original diagnosis was poison-ivy, but subsequent testing proved that the gas plant was causing the skin reactions. The plant juices are absorbed by the skin and, in the presence of long-wave ultraviolet light, cell damage occurs. Once this cause is recognized, careful avoidance of contact with the gas plant prevents further problems (Henderson and DesGroseilliers 1984). This is an uncommon and colorful plant found in Canadian herbaceous borders.
Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.