Dittany of Crete Origanum dictamnus or Το Δίκταμο τις Κρήτης is a small ground covering herb found only in the rocky mountainous regions of the island of Crete in Greece.
This rock-loving hardy little bush has rounded leaves, tough exterior and colonises in hard places. Known for its healing properties, this little tiny plant is the stuff of legends going back for centuries, becoming myths.
It is known by many different names such as Dictamnus creticus, dittany, diktamo, eronda, Crete dittany and Cretan dittany, hop majoram and winter sweet.
In Cretan dialect it is known as Ο Έρωντας τις Κρήτης or Erondas, which roughly translates as 'love', which is actually a derivation from the word 'eros' which is one of the Greek words for love and the Greek God of love, sexual desire and fertility.
This is because the herb was associated with love since the ancient times, it is said to be an aphrodisiac and traditionally given to newly weds to ignite their passion.
Aphrodite is said to have used it, and Hippocrates prescribed it. Its full medical value is still being researched, but from the oral and written history it is clear this is a unique healing herb.
It is mentioned in the writings of Homer, Aristotle, Evripides, Theofrastos, Virgil, Plutarch, Dioskourides and Galinos.
Its other healing uses are many and varied and when we speak to our grandmother yiayia she says it is "very strong, very strong and good for the stomach." It can be used in a poultice for application on wounds, used for menstral cramps and for digestive disorders.
In more modern times it has been added to drinks such as vermouth, see our story about Martini cocktail below.
Well, if you are not in the mood to trek into the mountains and gorges, you could head down to the market in Heraklion at 1866 street and ask in one of the herb and honey shops.
Sip it as a herbal tea at the Six Senses Spa at Porto Elounda Resort, or try it in a face mask.
In Chania, head down to the Chania Municipal Market and ask for it fresh from the herb sellers.
The village of Embaros, in Viannos of Heraklion prefecture, is a centre for cultivation of the herb, sitting at the foothills of the Dikti mountains.
Or head into the foothills of Psiloritis and find the little village of Zaros, and the wonderful vegetarian taverna of Vegera. Vivi will be able to point you in the direction of the little emporium named 'Lavender' where Nivritos Herbs Tsakalakis, from the next village, sell fresh and dried hand picked mountain herbs including dittany.
Did you know that Martini Rosso includes 40 herbs from around the world, including dittany of Crete?
Beppe Musso of Martini says "In a red wine base it includes dittany of Crete, Italian violets, for their sumptuous smell; iris root; distilled clove essence; and raspberries which are infused in water and then distilled in a two-step process for the lively fresh fruit flavours. Also included is cascarilla, a tree bark from the Bahamas which is dried on the beaches to allow the saltwater spray to infuse the drying bark, just one example of the complex processes behind each of the 40 ingredients used".
The Martini makers of Italy get their Cretan Dittany from growers in Embaros, Heraklion, Crete.