Dittany of Crete

Origanum dictamnus

Herbs gallery - Dittany of Crete

Common names

  • Dittany of Crete
  • Cretan Dittany
  • Hop Marjoram

Dittany of Crete (scientific name Origanum dictamnus) is a member of Lamiaceae family and genus origanum. This herb is native to the island of Crete in Greece. This plant only grows in the wild in Crete, especially in mountain sides and in gorges. Dittany of Crete is well known as an aphrodisiac herb. Several young men have put their lives and limb in risk over the centuries to collect this herb. In fact, several people have supposedly died while trying to collect dittany of Crete as this plant always grows in places that are inaccessible. Greek mythology says that the father of gods, Zeus, presented this aphrodisiac herb to the island of Crete, especially for growing it in his birthplace - Mount Dikti. Even to this day, this plant grows there in abundance. In Greek, the term "thamnus" denotes bushes, hence the name diktamnus. It is said that the Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (who is known as Venus in Roman mythology), used this herb for her beauty as well as in the form of an aphrodisiac. On the other hand, since the times of Theophrastus and Hippocrates, dittany was popular as an herb that can perform miracles. In the prehistoric time, the former Minoans on Crete were also aware of this herb. It is said that Hippocrates used this herb to cure problems related to the stomach. He prescribed dittany to people suffering from stomach pain and asked them to make a poultice with the herb and place it over the tender area.

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Origanum dictamnus or the dittany of Crete is a very tender plant that grows perennially up to a height of 20 cm to 30 cm. This is an aromatic plant possessing healing and therapeutic properties. This herb is extensively used to add flavour to foods. In addition, it is also used for therapeutic purposes. Some people grow the dittany of Crete as a decorative plant in their gardens. The dittany of Crete is a small plant covered with fine hair (lanate), which is recognized easily owing to its characteristic soft and woolly covering of fine whitish-grey hairs on the stems. The plant produces round green leaves having a velvety texture. The flowers of the dittany of Crete have a rose-pink hue and they are encircles by vivid purple-blue bracts. These make the plant very colorful, especially during the summer and autumn months.

Origanum dictamnus has numerous branches and the shape of the green-grey leaves of the plant varies from discoid to ovate. The leaves of this herb appear on the lanate and slender arching stems opposite to each other. Covered with white velvety fine hairs, the stems measure anything between 13 mm to 25 mm in length. The color of the blooms varies from light pink to purple, having a dark lilac hued corolla which has several pink hued overlying bracts. The colorful flowers form a cascade of stretched out clusters. The hermaphrodite flowers are in bloom during the summer months. In other words, each flower of the dittany of Crete comprises both the male and female reproductive organs and they are pollinated by bees, which are drawn towards the flowers due to their fragrance and vivid colour.

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It is said that Origanum dictamnus symbolizes love and the plant is considered to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, those who went to the Crete mountain sides and ventured into the deep gorges there were young lovers who wanted to collect the plant and its pink flowers from the wild to present them to their beloved ones as a symbol of love. According to some legends, the dittany of Crete is recommended as an immediate cure for injured soldiers. It was believed that consuming the herb would help the embedded arrows to drop immediately and also heal the wounds almost instantly.

Since the ancient times, people have highly prized dittany of Crete and made all efforts to collect its flowers during the summer months. This herb is also exported to various countries for use in perfumery and pharmaceuticals. It is also used to flavour drinks - for instance absinthe and vermouth. When combined with parsley, pepper and rue, dittany of Crete can be used to make a delectable sauce for fish preparations.

Parts used

Leaves, flowers, roots.

Uses

Dittany of Crete has various therapeutic uses. It is said that the ancient Greeks believed to be panacea and used the herb in folk medicine for curing a range of health problems. In the Crete Island, this plant is found growing in the wild. In addition, it is also cultivated by some people for as a plant for herbal tea, condiment as well as spice in distilleries.

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The plant's aerial parts are employed for treating stomach and gastric problems. In addition, they are also used for maintaining one's overall health.

As the dittany of Crete encloses phenol carvacrol, it possesses antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal properties. This herb is used in the form of a stomachic, vulnerary, antirheumatic and oxytocic. In folk medicine, this herb is employed for curing stomach ache, sore throat, cough, menstrual pains, and hypertension. It is also used for healing wounds and is known to facilitate child birth. The roots of the plant are employed for curing sciatica, while the juice extracted from the plant is added to wine and the mixture is drunk to treat snake bites. In addition, it is mostly used to heal rheumatism, stomach disorders and gastric problems.

A warm drink prepared from the plant's juice works as anticonvulsive, thereby making the arteries and heart muscles stronger. In fact, this drink also serves as a tonic for menstruating women. You can also add some cinnamon and honey to the drink and consume it to get relief from cough.

When the plant is in bloom, it is used in the form of an oxytocic, vulnerary, stomachic and anti-rheumatic. It is also given to cure gastric ulcers, stomach problems, spleen disorders, cure gynaecological and rheumatism. Dittany of Crete also helps to ease child birth. The root of this plant has a bitter flavour and it was used to heal bleeding gastric ulcers. This herb also offers relief from cold and mild stomach disorders. A poultice prepared with the herb can be applied externally on wounds and bruises for quick healing.

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Aside from the above mentioned uses of this herb, dittany of Crete is also useful for treating skin-related problems and also diminishing cellulite. It is also employed for treating worms in the intestines and healing cramps. You can chew the herb to get relief from throat and mouth ailments.

You can also use the leaves and flowers of the herb to prepare a tisane (herbal tea), which can be consumed to cure headaches, neuralgia and period pains. It is believed that this tisane also provides relief from pains related to child birth. It is said that Aphrodite used this herb for this purpose during her labour when she was on Mount Ida on Crete. This herb is considered to be an effective aphrodisiac and, in fact, people on Crete still use this herb for this purpose.

Earlier, dittany of Crete mainly grew in the wild in Crete Island of Greece, but in present times many people grow it in their gardens as well as pots. Aside from the plant's therapeutic use, it can also be grown as an ornamental plant.

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Culinary uses

The leaves of dittany of Crete are also used for culinary purpose. They are used to flavour vermouth and salads. The dried flowering tops of the plant are brewed to prepare an herbal tea. In addition, they are used to add essence to wines and liquors. You can also use the leaves of dittany of Crete to season sauces and soups.

Habitat and cultivation

Origanum dictamnus is cultivated in Greeceā€™s Embaros and adjoining villages, which are located on the southern region of Heraklion Crete. People in this region used to prepare herbal tea with the leaves of the herb. They also used the herb in natural beauty products.

Dittany of Crete grows best in average, arid to medium soil that is well-drained in locales receiving full sunlight. The plant is also capable of tolerating partial shade. In places having hot summers, the young plants have a preference for some shade during the heat of the day. Dittany of Crete also has a preference for soils having a neutral to alkaline pH. It grows well in sandy, gritty loams. Well-drained soils are vital for the vigorous growth of the plant. Origanum dictamnus plants are capable of tolerating drought as well as good heat, but they usually loathe high humidity.

If you wish to grow Origanum dictamnus, it is advisable that you sow the seeds around six to eight weeks before the last spring frost date in your region. Alternatively, you may also sow the seeds outdoors roughly two weeks before the last spring frost date in your area. You can purchase the new plants at your local nursery where they sell them in cell packs. You need to cut down prior to the blooms as this would promote bushy growth of the plants. Generally, the flavour of the leaves is best when they are picked before the blooms appear. You can also purchase container plants for growing them indoors during the fall, but prior to frost. However, the plants usually do not grow well during the winter months. If you are growing the plants indoor, you need to reduce watering during the winter months. However, ensure that the soil does not become dry. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom, if ever, bothered by browsing deer.

Side effects and cautions

Although dittany of Crete offers a number of health benefits, pregnant women and lactating mothers should stay away from using this herb as there is insufficient information about its effect on such people. Others using this herb for therapeutic or any other purposes should discontinue dittany of Crete if they have any allergic reaction. They should also check with their physicians right away.

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