English Name—AMERICAN DITTANY.
French Name—Cunile d'Amerique.
German Name—Americanische Cunile.
Officinal Name—Cunila herba.
Vulgar Names—Mountain Dittany, Stone Mint, Wild Basil, Sweet Horsemint, &c.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Mich. Pursh, Elliot, Torrey, Stokes, W. Barton, fig. 42, &c.
Genus CUNILA—Calix tubular, striated with five subequal teeth. Corolla tubular, ringent, upper lip erect flat emarginate, lower lip three parted. Two exerted fertile stamina, two sterile stam. very short. Germen four lobed, style exerted, stigma lateral. Four seeds within the calix closed by hairs.
Species C. MARIANA—Smooth, stems slender and branched; leaves opposite, sessile, punctate, ovate, remote, serrate; flowers in terminal fasciculate corymbs.
Description—Root perennial, fibrous, yellow.—Stem about a foot high, smooth, yellowish or purplish; slender, hard brittle, with many brachiate remote branches.—Leaves remote, sessile, smooth, dotted, pale green, glaucous beneath, base subserdate, end acuminate or sharp, margin with small remote acute teeth, nerves regular, texture dry.
Flowers small but handsome, of a pink or white color, forming terminal clusters or corymbs, by the union of several branched fascicles of three to seven flowers, with very small short oblong bracteoles. Each flower peduncled and naked, calix green nearly cylindrical with ten furrows, and five small sharp teeth nearly equal. Corolla twice as long as the calix, nearly cylindric, with two short lips, lower lip larger with three rounded lobes, upper lip smaller, flat and notched. Four stamina, two of which are long, slender and protruding with the style, bearing small didymous anthers: two small, very short, without anthers.—Fruit formed by four small obovate seeds at the bottom of the persistent calix, mouth of it closed by hairs.
History—This genus belongs to the great natural order of LABIATE, section with two fertile filaments, next to the genera Lycopus, Collinsonia and Hedeoma. It ranks with them in Diandria monogynia of Linnaeus. It contains now only this species, which has been called mariana because first sent to Europe from Maryland. Linnaeus had united it to Satureja at first, and called it S. origanoides. When he made a new genus of it, he united with it the C. pulegioides, which is now Hedeoma pulegioides: these are examples of the botanical vacillations and errors, to which great writers are liable when they wish to improve the science, and are not ashamed of correcting themselves.
The C. mariana is a pretty plant, with a very fragrant smell, similar to Marjoran and Dittany. It is commonly called by this last name throughout the United States; but is very different from the Dittany of the gardens, which is the Dictamnus fraxinella, and the other Dittanies of Europe, Origanum dictamnus, Marrubium pseudodictamnus, &c. Our Dittany is peculiar to America, and distinguished by its corymbose flowers, which blossom in summer from July to September.
Locality—All over the mountains and dry hills from New England to Kentucky and Carolina, common among rocks and sides of hills, unknown in the plains and alluvions.
Qualities—The whole plant has a warm fragrant aromatic pungent taste and smell, residing in an essential oil, which can easily be extracted by distillation, and approximates to the oil of Origanum, but is more balsamic. It is the most fragrant of all the native labiate plants, and the essential oil has a very strong balsamic fragrance.
Properties—Stimulant, nervine, sudorific, subtonic, vulnerary, cephalic, &c. The whole plant is used, and usually taken in warm infusion: Dittany tea is a popular remedy throughout the Country for colds, headaches, and whenever it is requisite to excite a gentle perspiration. It partakes of the properties of all the grateful aromatic labiate plants, and also of Camomile, Anthemis Cotula, and the Eupatorium perfoliatum: while it affords a more palatable drink. Its fragrant tea is preferable to that of Sage and Monarda, it has neither the pungency of Mint, nor the nauseous smell of Pennyroyal or Hedeoma. Solidago Odora comes nearest to this, by its fragrance; but is weaker and not so grateful. It relieves nervous headaches and hysterical disorders. It is used in Carolina, Kentucky, &c. in fevers to excite perspiration, and suppressed menstruations, &c. It is a useful drink in nervous diseases, cholics and indigestion. Externally it is employed like Collinsonia for bruises, sprains, &c. but is not so efficient. According to Schoepf, it was one of the plants resorted to for curing the bites of snakes; the juice was mixed with milk for this purpose. There are fifty plants in the United States, employed occasionally as an antidote for this purpose, which merely act as sudorifics. The essential oil possesses all the properties of the plant, and a few drops of it are sufficient to impart them to mixtures.
Substitutes—Besides the plants mentioned above, all the mild sudorifics, and Eryngium yucefolium, Yarrow, Tansey, Snakeroots, Inula helenium, &c.
Additions and corrections
29. CUNILA MARIANA—A good substitute to Mentha piperita in cholera morbus, useful in relaxed stomach and bowels: it is also carminative, employed in flatulency, and to allay nausea. The Southern Indians esteem it highly for colds, coughs, fevers, &c.: they smoke and chew the leaves as a fragrant substitute to Tobacco; it would be well to imitate them. Rabbits are said to feed on it.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.