Dittany: growing, harvesting & uses
Dittany is easy to care for in the garden and can come in handy in the kitchen. During its flowering period, the plant delights us with a fragrant scent.
Whether as an ornamental or useful plant, dittany (Lepidium latifolium) does not have high demands. If you choose the right location, the herb grows and multiplies almost by itself. Here we show you what is important when planting and how you can utilise the parts of the plant.
Dittany: origin and characteristics
Dittany, also known as perennial pepperweed, broadleaved pepperweed, pepperwort, peppergrass, dittander, and tall white top, is originally native to the warm coasts of Europe and Asia. Over time, the herb has made it to Germany, especially on the Baltic and North Sea coasts, where it grows wild. Perennial pepperweed belongs to the genus of cresses (Lepidium). However, it differs externally from its relatives and, unlike garden cress (Lepidium sativum), for example, is perennial. Lepidium plants belong to the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae) and have the typical four petals facing each other crosswise.
Tip: Due to its name, perennial pepperweed is easily confused with other plants. For example, Peperomia is called dwarf pepper, Satureja is called pepperweed, and Polygonum hydropiper is called water pepper. Furthermore, despite its name, perennial pepperweed has nothing to do with the genus Piper (pepper).
The flower panicles are loosely branched and produce white single flowers between July and August, which are pleasantly fragrant. In general, the growth of the herb is very spreading and reaches a height of about 100 cm. The formation of root runners creates dense groups of pepperweed plants, from which a dense cloud of flowers is formed in the flowering season.
Perennial pepperweed is primarily grown as a spice herb, although with its beautiful flowerheads and wintergreen foliage, perennial pepperweed is also suitable as an ornamental plant, for example in borders. However, the herb does not play a significant role as a food source for insects such as bees.
Planting dittany: location and procedure
Dittany requires a sunny to full sun location and is very heat loving. Similarly, the location should be fresh to moist, with occasional dry periods well tolerated. A more or less nutrient-rich, quietly calcareous subsoil allows perennial pepperweed to thrive, and the herb even tolerates saline soils. In addition, a neutral soil with a pH of about 7 or even slightly more is preferred.
Due to its spreading and dominant growth, a location next to sturdy and vigorous perennial partners is recommended. Lovage (Levisticum officinale), spotted joe-pyeweed (Eupatorium maculatum), or candelabra speedwell species (Veronicastrum), for example, can permanently assert themselves against perennial pepperweed or slow its spread and make good supports.
To avoid the herb from forming too many clumps in the garden, it can be planted in large tubs. A moderately nutrient-rich potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, is suitable as a substrate. It contains slightly less fertiliser than a classic vegetable soil and therefore serves as an effective soil conditioner when planting in beds, maintaining its function and loose structure for a long time. Make sure that the planting distance is between 30 and 50 cm. Be sure to place a drainage layer under the roots in pots and in locations prone to waterlogging. For this purpose, chippings or gravel is suitable, and in a pot, culture often resort to expanded clay.
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Tip: Dittany is indeed hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to – 20 °C. However, if it is bought potted in the store, it may be accustomed to the warmth of the greenhouse and thus not hardened. Therefore, before planting in the open ground, wait until May, when the risk of frost has passed.
Alternatively, you can sow Perennial pepperweed seeds directly outdoors from May onwards or pre-plant them indoors from March onwards.
- Take seed pots to hand and fill them with sowing soil.
- Lepidium latifolium-seeds are light germinators, which is why they are only spread on the soil and pressed.
- Keep a seed spacing of about 2 cm.
- Water your pots lightly and place them on a warm and bright windowsill at about 20 °C.
- As soon as the first true leaves have grown after the cotyledons appear, the plants are pricked out into individual pots.
- Now gradually accustom the plants to the outdoor stand, first placing the seedlings in the shade for hours.
- From mid-May, the seedlings can be transplanted outdoors or placed outside in a pot.
The right care
The low-maintenance Lepidium latifolium should be watered regularly, although short dry periods are not a problem for the plant as such.
Tip: Drought stress stimulates the production of substances of metabolic metabolism – the perennial pepperweed then forms more pungent-tasting plant substances.
Perennial pepperweed grows even on poor soils. However, in order to harvest tasty leaves later, the nutrient requirements should be met. For example, use our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, which can be wonderfully used for herbs and vegetables. Since this is a slow-release fertiliser, two applications of fertiliser, once in spring and once in late summer, are quite sufficient.
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After flowering, the flowerheads can be cut back to strengthen leaf growth and prevent seed formation. This prevents any unwanted propagation – in suitable locations, the plant spreads by itself via root runners. If the plants have become too large, they can be easily repotted or dug up, divided and transplanted or removed. In the fall, pepperweed retracts and sprouts again in the spring, even at low temperatures.
Harvesting and preserving dittany
Dittany leaves can be harvested year-around, with young leaves tasting the most pleasant. Regular harvesting or pruning always causes young leaves to sprout – it is almost impossible to cut the herb too much. If the leaves are not used directly, they can be easily frozen or dried, and the leaves lose less flavour in the freezer. The roots are ideally harvested in the autumn or early spring. In the refrigerator they keep for about four weeks, frozen for several months.
Tip: To be able to store the root as long as possible, it should not be peeled.
Effect and use of dittany
The pungent, horseradish-like tasting leaves of perennial pepperweed are wonderful when used raw – whether in salads or as a herb on hot dishes. Older leaves are good cooked in soups or sauces. Pepperweed can be preserved for a long time, for example, by using it to make pesto. The root can be grated over suitable dishes as a delicious substitute for horseradish.
Tip: The flowerheads with their pleasant fragrance are suitable as cut flowers – individually or in bouquets.
A curative effect of Lepidium latifolium is not known. Water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper) is also commonly called marshpepper knotweed, whose healing effects have been scientifically proven. The double naming often leads to false statements regarding a healing effect of Lepidium latifolium.
St. Benedict’s thistle is a medicinal plant that has fallen into oblivion and is also easy to grow in our gardens.