Origanum dictamnus (dittany of Crete, Cretan dittany or hop marjoram), known in Greek as δίκταμο (díktamo, cf. “dittany”) or in Cretan dialect έρωντας (erondas, “love”), is a tender perennial plant in the Lamiaceae family that grows 20–30 cm high. It is a healing, therapeutic and aromatic plant that only grows wild on the mountainsides and gorges of the Greek island of Crete, Greece.
Dittany of Crete is widely used for food flavouring and medicinal purposes, and is also found 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. Dittany is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plant Species 1997.
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 and are quite a pretty sight in the rocky mountains of their native land. The flowers are hermaphrodite, meaning they have both male and female organs, and are pollinated by bees attracted to their scent and bright colour. The primary ingredients of the herb’s essential oil are carvacrol (68.96%), β-phellandrene (18.34%) and p-cymene (4.68%).
The herb symbolises love and is reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Traditionally, only the most ardent young lovers would scramble on mountainsides and go into 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 erondádhes (“love-seekers”) and were considered very brave and passionate men to go to such dangerous lengths to collect the herb.
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