Edible
Other Common Name
Wild Oregano; Stone Mint; Frost Mint
Family

Lamiaceae (mints)

Description

Dittany is a low, much-branched, wiry, shrublike perennial with square stems and aromatic leaves. Flowers are small, in tufts arising from leaf axils, and purple to lavender, each flower with a tiny, 2-lobed upper and a broader 3-lobed lower lip. Blooms July–November. Leaves opposite, sessile, almost triangular with a broad base and a lancelike point, finely toothed. The green parts have a delightful fragrance.

Size

Height: to about 1 foot.

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Photo of frost flower, ribbonlike frozen sap at base of plant stem
Frost Flower
"Frost flowers" are ribbons of frozen sap that form at the bases of certain plants during the first hard freezes in fall.

Dried_Dittany_late_December_12-30-18.jpg

Photo of a stalk of dried dittany being held in a hand
Dried Dittany in Late December
In winter, dittany dries and looks like this. When this photo was taken in late December 2018, frost flowers were forming at the base of this stalk.

Dittany_Frost_Flowers_Painted_Rock_12-30-18.jpg

Photo of two frost flowers at the base of dittany stalks
Dittany Frost Flowers Painted Rock CA
Frost flowers form when sap pushes through the broken stem and freezes on contact with the cold air. As more sap oozes out, it forces the freezing stream of white ice crystals into ribbon shapes.
Habitat and conservation

Prefers acid soils on dry, wooded slopes, borders of woods, shaded rights-of-way, and prairies. Dittany is one of the few plants that form “frost flowers.” With the first severe freezes of a winter, water in the roots and stems is squeezed out of cracks in the stems and freezes, forming ribbonlike ice of amazing structures, the bands about 2 inches wide in elegant bows.

image of Dittany distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs naturally in southern, central, and east-central counties; cultivated potentially statewide.

Human connections

"Origanoides" means "like oregano," and this plant can be used as a culinary herb and in teas.

"Dittany" is an unusual word, isn't it. It comes from diktamnon, which is the Greek name for a similar mint plant (Origanum dictamnus) native to Crete, where it grows on the Dikti (or Dicte) mountain range.

Dittany can be used as a native garden flower for dry, sunny areas. Its showy flowers attract butterflies. It can spread aggressively, however.

In the past, the leaf tea was used medicinally.

Ecosystem connections

Butterflies, skippers, bees, and other insects visit the flowers.

The roots of this and hundreds of other plants help hold the soil on wooded slopes, preventing our heavy Ozark rain showers from eroding the land.