Cretan dittany – a herb with magical medicinal powers

One herb you may never had heard is Cretan dittany – origanum dictamnus – the name being derived from the Greek óros (mountain), gános (jewel) Dhíkti (a mountain range in Crete) and thámnos (bush, branch, twig), and describes a bushy plant about 20cms tall with circular, wooly, gray-white leaves on thin stems. In summer pendant, hop-like heads develop from red bracts, between which open small, pink, labiate flowers. Cretan dittany thrives at altitudes of 1600m.




Ancient Greek-Roman medicine attributed it with almost magical powers as a medicinal plant. In the 4th century B.C., Theophrastus extolled its versatility, but laid particular emphasis on its beneficial effect for women in childbirth. According to a story attributed to Aristotle, Cretan wild goats, injured by a poisoned arrow, ate this herb, after which the body eliminated the poison completely and the wound healed. This fabulous story must also have made an impression on Dioscorides, when he recommended the plant especially for healing spear wounds. Hippocratic medicine used Cretan dittany externally as a poultice on ulcerated wounds or as an infusion for gall bladder complaints and tuberculosis,.

Whatever the injury or atrophy, folk medicine attributes an aphrodisiac effect to a tea made from this plant and still recommends it as a painkiller for menstrual complaints and during childbirth. Modern pharmacology, however, has yet to find proof of any remedial effect of that sort.

Whilst it may not yet have a curative effect, there is no denying that it does have some sort of wonderful impact as it has been used for centuries by Christian monks in many monasteries to flavour their own homemade pick-me-up. In the 19th century some of the recipes were ‘secularized’ so you may well come across Origanum dictamnus in a herbal liqueur without realizing it.


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