The Dead-Nettle Tribe

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Key characteristics

Under-shrubs and herbaceous plants: the stems are four-cornered, with opposite branches. The leaves are opposite, divided or undivided, without stipules, covered with receptacles of aromatic oil. The flowers are nearly sessile, opposite, sometimes in circles around the stem, sometimes solitary. The calyx is tubular, below the ovary, two-lipped, the upper lib whole or bifid, overlapping the lower in the bud. The stamens are four, two long, two short, placed upon the corolla alternately with the lobes of the lower lip, the two upper sometimes wanting; the anthers are two-celled, or one-celled at the point. The ovary is four-lobed, seated on a fleshy disk; the single style proceeds from the base of the ovary, the stigma is acutely bifid. The fruit is one or four with small nuts, enclosed within the calyx, but uncovered. The seeds are erect, with little or no albumen.

This Tribe has close affinity with Verbenaceæ, but is distinguished from that and all other allied tribes by its four-lobed ovary.

A fragrant aromatic oil exists abundantly in the leaves of these plants. None are unwholesome.

Select plants in this order

Not all plants listed are illustrated and not all plants illustrated are listed.

  • Lamium is a genus of very little beauty, and few or no aromatic properties, yet as it exhibits very distinctly the chief characters of this Order, it has been selected to give its name to the whole tribe.
  • L. maculatum (1) is the prettiest of our native species; L. album, the white Dead-nettle, the most common.
  • The only species thought worthy of a place in gardens is L. orvala of Italy, but even that is now rarely seen.
  • Salvia ranks amongst the best of the tribe; it contains many herbs and under-shrubs, and is widely dispersed.
  • S. verbenaca of our fields belongs to each great division of the globe. The leaves are usually covered with a fine network of veins, and pores of aromatic oil.
  • S. officinalis of South Europe was formerly much used for its beneficial properties, and still retains a place in herb gardens, for cooking purposes.
  • S. Sclarea is made into wine in some countries.
  • S. patens (2) is now become a hardy inhabitant of our gardens, and is one of the most beautiful species.
  • S. splendens is another fine specimen from Mexico, producing its bright red flowers late in the autumn.
  • S. glutinosa is a tall plant, with pale yellow flowers, very abundant on mountains in Switzerland.
  • S. patula, with white flowers, is Portuguese.
  • Galeobdolon (3) inhabits shady places in Kent and a few other countries, but is not common; it grows also in moist woods on the Continent.
  • Scutellaria cordifolia (4) is a brillaint example of a lowly genus; G. minor is a remarkably neat little plant, growing in marshy places in Wales and elsewhere; the calyx has a peculiar projection at the back, and closes when the flower falls.
  • Betonica grandiflora (5) has the same character of a wide interval between the pairs of leaves, as our B. officinalis, which was once considered useful as a medicine, and in dyeing wool yellow.
  • So numerous are the aromatic species in this tribe, it is impossible to describe them all. Many are of extensive value, and were amongst the earliest medicinal herbs used in our island; some were brought from the south by monks and missionaries.
  • Rosemary grows by the sea on the south and west of France; by distillation, it yields a fragrant oil, and a substance resembling camphor is obtained from the leaves: the peculiarly fine flavour of Narbonne honey is supposed to be caused by the bees feeding on the flowers. The Welsh still consider it emblematical of repentance, and scatter it on graves.
  • Melissa, Balm, affords honey to bees, and a pleasant tea, in former times much employed in fevers.
  • One of the most fragrant of our native aromatic plants if Thymus Serpyllum, creeping over heaths and commons, becoming quite dwarf, like many others on chalk downs.
  • T. vulgaris is the garden Thyme.
  • T. capitellatus, the bracts covered with glands, is common in Portugal.
  • Mentha piperita yields the medicinal Pepper-mint; M. viridis, the culinary Spear-mint, used also medicinally, both in the form of oil and water.
  • M. Pulegium is the useful herb Penny-royal.
  • But the most esteemed, probably, of European species, is Lavender, Lavandula vera, frequent in many parts of the Continent, particularly on the Lavendelberg, at Kreuznach, near the Rhine, and between the lakes of Neuchatel and Morat, in Switzerland. The fragrant volatile oil contains in the flowers (7)* is a chief ingredient in Eu de Cologne and perfumery of all kinds.
  • L. Spica yields an oil used in procelain-painting.
  • L. Stæchas, French Lavender, is a native of the Stechades, on the south coast of France.
  • Basil, Savory, Marjoram, and several others, are valuable as domestic herbs.
  • Horehound and Ground-Ivy are also of common use in country districts as remedies for coughs.
  • A species of Ocymum affords eatable tubers in Madagascar, but this is a rare instance of the tribe.
  • In Brazil many species have valuable medicinal qualities, and are used by the natives.
  • Martius describes the famous Matico as Phlomis.
  • The celebrated Patchouli of the East, used to stuff beds, is said to belong to this aromatic tribe.


Chiefly abundant in Temperate regions, between 40° and 50° of North latitude; growing in hot, dry situations, as well as in woods, hedges, and meadows; a few only in marshes. In the isles of the Mediterranean, they form about one-twentieth of the Flora. In the northern provinces of India, two hundred species have been discovered. To the north of Europe they diminish gradually, are rare in Lapland, and not found in Melville Isle.


  1. Lamium maculatum, Spotted Dead-Nettle. England.
    1. Flower opened.
    2. Calyx.
    3. Calyx and Ovary.
  2. Salvia patens, Spreading-flowered Salvia. South America.
    1. Ovary and Disk.
  3. Galeobdolon luteum, Yellow Weasle-Snout. England.
  4. Scutellaria cordifolia, Heart-leaved Scutellaria. Mexico.
  5. Betonica grandiflora. Siberia.
    1. Flower of Salvia.
    2. Ovary and Pistil.
    3. Section of Ovary.
    4. Seed.
    1. Flower of Lavandula.
    2. Calyx and Pistil.

*7 was mentioned in the original description but only 7a and 7b were illustrated.

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