known in Greek
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...
as Δίκταμο (díktamo
, cf. "dittany
Dittany can refer to three different plants, the first two with similar medical properties, the second two closely related:* Dictamnus albus of the rue family...
") or in Cretan dialect Έρωντας (erontas
, "love"), is a tender perennial plant
A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. The term is often used to differentiate a plant from shorter lived annuals and biennials. The term is sometimes misused by commercial gardeners or horticulturalists to describe only herbaceous perennials...
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
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....
. The 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 bract
In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale. Bracts are often different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture...
s add an exuberant splash of colour to the plant in summer and autumn. The dittany is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species , founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species...
of Threatened Plant Species 1997.
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
An aphrodisiac is a substance that increases sexual desire. The name comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality and love. Throughout history, many foods, drinks, and behaviors have had a reputation for making sex more attainable and/or pleasurable...
, 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; 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
Vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with various dry ingredients. The modern versions of the beverage were first produced around the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Italy and France...
Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage. It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood", together with green anise and sweet fennel...
In Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...
it was believed, Hippocrates
Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles , and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine...
prescribed plant cures to aid all manner of ailments, and considered dittany of Crete useful for stomach aches and complaints of the digestive
Digestive may refer to:*Digestion, biological process of metabolism*Digestive biscuit, a British semi-sweet biscuit*Digestif, small beverage at the end of a meal...
system and as a poultice for healing wounds, as well as inducing menstruation.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...
in his work The History of Animals
"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
Theophrastus , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age, and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death he attached himself to Aristotle. Aristotle bequeathed to Theophrastus his writings, and...
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" (9.16.1).
Other scholars of Ancient Greece and later have made reference to dittany, but probably referred to Dictamnus albus
, known as false or white dittany.
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.
In Book XII Virgil's Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...
, Venus heals the wounded Aeneas with a stalk of "dittany from Cretan Ida", a plant "with downy leaves and scarlet flower" that goats eat when stuck with arrows.
In the fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the sixth and penultimate novel in the Harry Potter series by British author J. K. Rowling...
, dittany is the name of a substance which, when used magically, can prevent scarring if applied quickly enough after a cutting injury. The author is probably referring to the plant Dictamnus albus (white dittany)
Dictamnus is a genus of flowering plant in the family Rutaceae, with a single species, Dictamnus albus. It is known variously as Burning-bush, False Dittany, White Dittany, Gas-plant and Fraxinella. It is a perennial herb, native to southern Europe, north Africa and throughout...
, which secretes an oil that has anti-inflammatory properties.
The herb is used by modern witches
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...
in love potions and for divination
Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic standardized process or ritual...
and contact with spirits. When using it as an incense, it is cautioned that spirits materialize in the smoke.
Also, small doses of the herb are believed to enhance one's ability to perform astral projection
Astral projection is an interpretation of out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an "astral body" separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it...
, separating the consciousness from the physical.
Additionally, 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.