Medieval culinary glossary: dittany

Here’s the fourth of my excerpts from my forthcoming comprehensive glossary of ingredients, equipment and culinary terms in Richard II’s Fourme of Cury, c.1390:

dittany dytayn. Evidently referring to what is now more commonly known as dittander, Lepidium latifolium, a perennial herb native to parts of Britain, but which was also cultivated there up to the seventeenth century and used for hot relishes. It suffered a culinary decline by 1650 when horseradish, introduced into Britain before 1500, took its place (see OABIF, Lepidium latifolium and Armoracia rusticana). It is likely the ‘dytawnder’ of the fourteenth-century poetic treatise on gardening by ‘Master John Gardener’ (see Gardener, p. 165, l. 159), and this context points to its cultivation in royal gardens. The spiciness of both its leaves and root are alluded to in its common name, poor man’s pepper; and the use of its leaves in salad has been described by British botanists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (see Sturtevant, p. 332). It appears only once in Fourme of Cury, in the dish ‘Erbolate’ (recipe 170, chapter 1), a kind of herb frittata or omelette. The name dytayn ‘dittany’ in Fourme of Cury reflects the confusion over nomenclature in other medieval sources, particularly in relation to the medicinal plant known as dittany of Crete, Origanum dictamnus (see Hunt, Plant Names of Medieval England, p. 101, Diptannus), which is not native to Britain.

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Image at the top of the page: Lepidium latifolium, aka, dittander and pepperweed. Author: Chrkl via Wikimedia Commons; Licence.

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

11 thoughts on “Medieval culinary glossary: dittany

      1. I was a little confused when I did an internet search earlier and came across the Cretan dittany. I’m to look at Plants for a Future for further advice now.


      2. Here is a source for the plant:

        And someone I’ve bought obscure seeds from before:

        Finally, this is what Plants for a Future say generally on the subject of dittander:

        I’ve noticed that bay leaves taste peppery, so I’d be interested to see the difference between them and dittander.

        Liked by 1 person

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