Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) known in Greek as Δίκταμο (díktamo, cf. “dittany”) is a tender perennial plant that grows 20–30 cm high. It is a healing, therapeutic and aromatic plant that only grows wild on the mountains and gorges of the Greek island of Crete, Greece.
Traditional Uses for Dittany of Crete:-
Dittany of Crete is widely used for food flavouring and medicinal purposes, in addition to it featuring as an ornamental plant in gardens. This small, lanate shrub is easily recognised by the distinctive soft, woolly covering of white-grey hair on its stems and round green leaves, giving it a velvety texture. Tiny rose-pink flowers surrounded by brighter purple-pink bracts add an exuberant splash of colour to the plant in summer and autumn. The dittany is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plant Species 1997.
Dittany of Crete has always been highly prized; it 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.
Today, the wild, naturally grown Dittany of Crete is classed as “rare” and is protected by European law so 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 herb is used by modern followers of Wicca in love potions and for divination and contact with spirits. When using it as an incense, it is cautioned that spirits materialize in the smoke. They believe that Dittany of Crete is one of the few well-known etheric condensers. In Hermetic practice, its primary use is to provide sufficient ether to allow for the construction of a physical body for spirits summoned via rites of evocation.
History of Dittany of Crete:-
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.
In Ancient Greece it was believed, 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, as well as inducing menstruation.
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 noted 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”