Dittany

(Origanum dictamnus) In Crete and Greece, they say that if the plant thrives on a grave, it is a sign that the deceased below is both joyful and at peace (Whittle & Cook). Another belief, from the Balkans, was that sick people should sleep in the field where dittany grows, on Ascension Day. The next day, any insect found under the roots of the plants was given to them as a medicine (Kemp).

The liqueur Benedictine contained Dittany, which is still used to flavour vermouth (Baumann). Of the claims made for the plant, Gerard's description sums them up : "The juyce taken with wine is a remedy against the stinging of serpents ... The same is thought to be of so strong operation, that with the very smell it drives away venomous beasts and doth astonish them ... It is reported likewise that the wild Giats or Deere in Candy, when they be wounded with arrowes, do shake them out by eating of this plant, and heale their wounds ." This is what Marlowe had in mind:

The forest deer, being struck,

Runs to an herb that closeth up the wounds .

The original story was told of wild goats in Crete by Aristotle, and Pliny repeats it, but applies it to stags (Robin). Gubernatis, too, repeats it, and quotes Plutarch as saying that Cretan women, noticing how it withdraws arrows, used it in easing childbirth. "It is said that a hind ... eateth this herb that she may calve easilier and sooner ..." (Bartholomew Anglicus). But the plant was dedicated to the goddess Lucine, who watched over women in childbirth (Gubernatis). Theophrastus, too, said that it was used in difficult childbirth (Scarborough).

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