Dittany Of Crete (Origanum dictamnus )

Botanical Name : Origanum dictamnus
Family: Lamiaceae
Synonyms : Amaracus dictamnus – (L.)Benth.
Other Names :Origanum dictamnus , Dittany of Crete or Cretan  Dittany
Kingdom:
Plantae
Order: Lamiales
Genus: Origanum
Species:
O. dictamnus

Habitat : S. Europe – Crete.  Shady rocks in dry places in high mountains. It grows wild on the mountainsides and gorges of the Greek island of Crete, Greece.

Description:
It  is a tender perennial plant that grows 20–30 cm high. It is a healing, therapeutic and aromatic plant
It is hardy to zone 7. It is in flower from June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

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Origanum dictamnus is a many branched plant with discoid to ovate grey-green leaves that are sited in pairs opposite each other. The slender arching stems and lanate leaves are covered in a velvety white down and are 13–25 mm in size.

The flowers are pale pink to purple and have a deep lilac corolla with many deep pink coloured overlapping bracts. The colourful flowers forming a cascade of elongated clusters are in bloom in the summer months. The flowers are hermaphrodite meaning they have both male and female organs and are pollinated by bees attracted to their scent and bright colour.

Said to symbolize love and to be an aphrodisiac, only the most ardent young lovers scrambled on mountainsides and the deep gorges of Crete gathering bunches of the pink blooms to present as love tokens. There are numerous deaths reported throughout the centuries by collectors of this magical herb.

Even in recent times the collection of Dittany of Crete was a very dangerous occupation for the men who risked life and limb to climb precarious rock faces where the plant grows wild in the mountains of Crete. They were named Erondades (love seekers) and were considered very passionate men to go to such dangerous lengths to collect the herb.

Dittany of Crete has always been highly prized and is gathered while in bloom in the summer months and is exported for use in pharmaceuticals, perfumery and to flavour drinks such as vermouth and absinthe.

In Ancient Greece it is believed, that Hippocrates prescribed plant cures to aid all manner of ailments and considered Dittany of Crete useful for stomach aches and complaints of the digestive system and as a poultice for healing wounds.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle in his work The History of Animals (612a4) wrote:

“Wild goats in Crete are said, when wounded by arrow, to go in search of dittany, which is supposed to have the property of ejecting arrows in the body.”

The Greek scholar and philosopher Theophrastus agreed with Aristotle about the healing properties of Dittany of Crete. In his work Enquiry into Plants he notes that Dittany was peculiar to Crete, and that it was:

“Said to be true, that, if goats eat it when they have been shot, it rids them of the arrow” (9.16.1).

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Other scholars of Ancient Greece and later have made reference to Dittany but probably referred to Dictamnus albus known as False Dittany or White Dittany.

Today the wild naturally grown Dittany of Crete is classed as “rare” and is protected by European law so that it does not become extinct. The cultivation now centres on Embaros and the surrounding villages, south of Heraklion, Crete and is used to make herbal tea and for use in natural beauty products.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soil. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires dry or moist soil.

Cultivation :
Requires a rather dry, warm, well-drained soil, but is not fussy as to soil type, thriving on chalk . Prefers slightly alkaline conditions. This species is not fully hardy in Britain according to one report  whilst another says that it is hardy to zone 7, which means that it can succeed outdoors in most parts of the country. It is, however, very susceptible to winter wet and so is more commonly grown under cover in this country. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer.

Propagation:
Seed – sow early spring in a greenhouse at 10 – 13°c and only just cover the seed. Germination usually takes place within 2 weeks. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. The seed can also be sown in situ in late spring. Division in March or October. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer. Basal cuttings of young barren shoots in June. Very easy. Harvest the shoots with plenty of underground stem when they are about 8 – 10cm above the ground. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer.

Edible Uses:-
Edible Parts: Leaves.

Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.

The leaves are used for flavouring salads and vermouth. A pleasant aromatic flavour, especially when mixed with parsley, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. The flowering tops are dried and brewed into a herb tea.

Medicinal Actions & Uses:-
Antirheumatic; Oxytoxic; Stomachic; Vulnerary.

The flowering plant has been used as an antirheumatic, oxytocic, stomachic and vulnerary, though these uses appear to be obsolete in modern herbalism.

As a medicinal plant, the herb has been utilized to heal wounds, soothe pain, and ease childbirth. The root has been used in a salve to treat sciatica, and the juice was consumed in wine to cure snake bite.  In addition, it has been used as a remedy against gastric or stomach ailments and rheumatism.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Origanum+dictamnus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origanum_dictamnus
http://www.desert-tropicals.com/Plants/Lamiaceae/Origanum_dictamnus.html
http://www.arkive.org/dittany-of-crete/origanum-dictamnus/image-G18858.html

http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_DE.htm

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