Dittany of Crete

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Background & General Info

Dittany of Crete (Latin - Origanum dictamnus - is an herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the mint family, or Lamiaceae, which are well renowned in the culinary sphere for their aromatic parts. It is also referred to as Cretan dittany or hop marjoram and is a local endemic to the hilly and mountainous regions of the island of Crete, Greece—hence the name.

Dittany of Crete - Botany

Dittany of Crete is an aromatic cushion-forming perennial plant that grows to a height of 20–30 cm and thrives in rocky areas and crevices located generally from 500 m to 1800 m above sea level. [1] Because of such habitant preference on mountainsides, wild dittany of Crete is indubitably difficult to get hold of, resulting in the traditional romantic belief that only a person truly and passionately in love can muster the courage to climb and gather Dittany shoots to be offered as love tokens. Presently, Dittany of Crete can be conveniently kept as an ornamental plant in hanging baskets, rockeries, or pots so long as it receives full sun exposure and is grown in dry, warm, slightly alkaline soil.

Its arching stems and ovate green leaves are distinctly covered with dense, soft white hairs, consequently conferring the plant a woolly, velvety appearance. In the summer months, the Cretan dittany bears small rose-pink flowers that are bordered by brighter purple-pink overlapping bracts.

Dittany of Crete - History & Traditional Use

Krigas, Lazari, Maloupa, and Stikoudi (2015) claimed, in their study published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, that Dittany of Crete is associated with a strong ancient mythological and historical context, from which a number of vernacular Greek names for Dittany of Crete derived. [2]

Several evidences attest to the herb’s long-standing traditional use by humans, including archaebotanical evidence of seeds of Dittany of Crete found during excavations in the Knossos palace near Heraklion, Crete, which date back to Minoan times (27th–15th century B.C.). Documents reveal that Dittany of Crete was originally dedicated to Diktynna, the ancient Cretan goddess of Mount Dikti where Zeus was supposedly born. This indicated that “dittany,” or “dictamos” in Greek, may have derived its name from the goddess Diktynna or from Mount Dikti. [3] Historically well-known Latin writers such as Cicero (2nd–1st century B.C.) and Virgil (1st century B.C.) linked the wound healing of the Trojan hero Aeneas to Dittany of Crete. [4]

The Herb Society of America (2005) mentioned the Cretan dittany as of limited culinary use; nevertheless, its inflorescences and leaves can be frequently added to salads, sauces, and vermouth and the plant’s dried leaves and extracts have been integrated in fish sauces and bitters. [5] It has been documented as well that the Benedictine and Trappistine monks extensively used dittany in liqueurs of medieval monasteries. [6]

Dittany of Crete - Herbal Uses

In ancient times, the Greeks conventionally considered Dittany of Crete as a universal remedy and sought the plant for its therapeutic utility against common digestive ailments such as gastric ulcers and peptic system and spleen disorders, rheumatism, and gynecological disorders. [6] The nonwoody aboveground parts of dittany are used as a comminuted herb to prepare an infusion locally referred to as “vrastari” in Crete, Greece. The ancients also incorporated the herb in a tincture by decoction, which is applied on the skin. Some natives occasionally chew it crude against gingivitis, cough, and cold. [3]

The most outstanding “big names” in ancient Greek history have even been revealed to have documented a few accounts of dittany’s therapeutic power. For instance, Hippocrates (5th–4th century B.C.), the father of clinical medicine himself, administered the plant as cure to gastric complaints and tuberculosis and used it in poultices on wounds. Aristotle and then later Τheophrastus (4th–3rd century B.C.), Dioscorides (1st century A.D.), and Galen and Plutarch (1st–2nd century A.D.) mentioned dittany as a cure eaten by wild goats of Mount Ida, Crete, to heal their wounds created from poisoned arrows. The Greeks were not the only ones who held the tradition of using Dittany of Crete as an herbal medicine; it was also used by the Romans.

As mentioned previously, Dittany of Crete has accumulated over the years numerous vernacular names; most of these ancient names elucidate the plant’s curative properties. For example, its vernacular name “veloulko” or “velotoko,” originating from the term “velos,” or “arrow,” highlights Dittany’s ability to remedy wounds from arrows, and its other vernacular name “stomachohorto,” from the Greek term stomachos and horto, which means “stomach” and “herb,” respectively, originates from its therapeutic property to relieve stomachache. [2]

Dittany of Crete - Constituents / Active Components

A phytochemical study by Chatzopoulou et al. (2010) on the polar extracts of O. dictamnus aerial parts found fifteen secondary metabolites, such as salvianolic acid P; rosmarinic acid and rosmarinic acid methyl ester; two monoterpenes, namely, thymoquinone and thymoquinol 2-O-beta-glucopyranoside; two simple phenolic acids, namely, oresbiusin A and E-caffeic acid; six flavonoids, namely, apigenin, kaempferol, quercetin, eriodictyol, taxifolin, and naringenin; and two alicyclic derivatives, namely, 12-hydroxyjasmonic acid and its 12-O-beta-d-glucoside. [7] A wide range of nonpolar components such as fatty acids, lipids, sterols, and essential oil has also been identified in various O. dictamnus parts. [8]

Hervala, Menounos, and Argyriadou (1987) similarly reported that the leaves of O. dictamnus have significant amounts of flavonoids and flavonoid glycosides, some of which demonstrate spasmolytic activity. The essential oil of dittany of Crete contains carvacrol, α- terpinene, p-cymene, caryophyllene, borneol, terpin1-en-4-ol, and carvacrol methyl ether as predominant compounds. [9]

Argyropoulou et al. (2014) distilled independently different parts of dittany of Crete and analyzed the essential oils by gas chromatography and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. This study identified volatile components (the major ones presented in the table below), along with their corresponding composition percentages: [10]

Dittany Of Crete Compounds

Dittany of Crete - Medicinal / Scientific Research

A 2013 review on the medical importance of the genus Origanum details the various medicinal properties of dittany of Crete, particularly its antibacterial and antifungal attributes due to its high percentage of phenolic compounds (specifically, carvacrol, thymol, p-cymene, and their precursor c-terpinene). [8] The review further mentions that the plant can be used as a tonic and digestive aid and as treatment of mild kidney and liver disorders, obesity, and headaches. [8]


A 2004 study evaluated the in vitro antibacterial activity of Origanum essential oils against a panel of five food-borne bacteria, namely, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 NCTC 12900, Salmonella enteritidis PT4, Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 6538, Listeria monocytogenes ScottA, and Bacillus cereus FSS 134, and found good analytical data that support the notable bactericidal claim of Origanum essential oil [11]. In a phytochemical investigation wherein absolute configuration of salvianolic acid P, a component of O. dictamnus aerial extract, was determined by CD measurements, salvianolic acid P was observed to be significantly active against the clinical strains of Gram-negative bacteria such as Acinetobacter hemolyticus, Empedobacter brevis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. [7]

Another earlier study analyzed the essential oil of dittany of Crete by gas chromatography−mass spectrometry and provided scientific evidence on its high antimicrobial activity against eight strains of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. In this study, the high antimicrobial activity was attributed to carvacrol and thymol, two of the major components of the essential oil [12]. Carvacrol is also found in abundance in oregano.


Daferera, Ziogas, and Polissiou (2000) performed gas chromatography–mass spectrometry on the essential oils of a variety of Greek aromatic plants, including O. dictamus. The investigation found that O. dictamus essential oil is rich in phenolic compounds representing 78.0% of the total oil and that the radial growth, conidial germination, and production of Penicillium digitatum were inhibited entirely by O. dictamus essential oil at relatively low concentrations (250–400 microg/mL), with monoterpenes seemingly exerting more than an additive effect in fungal inhibition [13].


The carvacrol existing in Origanum essential oils is scientifically assumed to be what interferes in the release and/or synthesis of inflammatory mediators, such as prostanoids. This anti-inflammatory monoterpenoid phenol contributes appreciably to the wound-healing attribute of dittany of Crete and aids in the healing process of, for example, gastric ulcers. [8]

Antioxidant and Anticancer:

In a research evaluating the in vitro antioxidant activity of ethanol extracts acquired from 21 aromatic plants under the Lamiaceae family, the extract from O. dictamnus and ten other Greek aromatic plants exhibited comparable antioxidant activity with α-tocopherol [14]. Another study expressed that with respect to the extracts of O. microphyllum and O. vulgare subsp. hirtum, the ethyl acetate extract of O. dictamnus has the richest polyphenolic composition and highest values of antioxidant activity. In this 2014 study, the extracts of the three aforementioned Origanum species were partially fractionated through successive partition with ethyl acetate and n-butanol and all fractions gained were profiled for their major polyphenolic constituents through liquid chromatography-diode array–mass spectrometry [15]. These data support the ability of dittany of Crete to prevent cytotoxicity and tissue damage induced by oxygen radicals and hydrogen peroxide in diverse human diseases.

Kaliora, Kogiannou, Kefalas, Papassideri, and Kalogeropoulos (2014) assayed herbal infusions of rosemary, dittany of Crete, St. John’s wort, sage, marjoram, and thyme to investigate their total phenolic content, antioxidant activity, and phenolic profiles. Upon analyses, all herbal infusions demonstrated noteworthy antiradical activity that highly correlated with their total phenolic contents. Furthermore, inhibition of cell growth and reduction of IL-8 levels in HT29 colon and PC3 prostate cancer cells were observed to result from all infusions tested [16].

Dittany of Crete - Contraindications, Interactions, and Safety

To date, we have not found reported health risks or potential danger associated with the administration of dittany of Crete as a medicinal herb: At the time of assessment of the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC), no side effects had been reported with dittany of Crete. [6] However, since this plant species has been subjected to limited phytochemical and pharmacological investigation, the usual caveats are still highly recommended, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women and those using pharmaceutical medications.


[1] Turland, N. (1995). Origanum dictamnus L., Vulnerable (VU). In A. S. D. Phitos, & A. S. D. Phitos (Ed.), The Red Data Book (pp. 394-395). Athens, Greece: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

[2] Krigas, N., Lazari, D., Maloupa, E., & Stikoudi, M. (2015, January). Introducing Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus L.) to gastronomy: A new culinary concept for a traditionally used medicinal plant. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science, 2(2), 112–118. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgfs.2015.02.001

[3] Skoula, M. K. (1997). Origanum dictamnus L. and Origanum vulgare L. subsp. hirtum: traditional uses and production in Greece. In S. Padulosi, & S. Padulosi (Ed.), Proceedings of the IPGRI International Workshop on Oregano (pp. 26–32). Bari, Italy: CIHEAM.

[4] Hunt, P. (2005). Aeneid XII.383-440 as inspiration for ancient art: the Roman surgeon. Retrieved from http://traumwerk.stanford.edu/philolog/2005/11/aeneid_as_inspiration_for_anci.html

[5] Herb Society of America. (2005). Oregano and marjoram, an Herb Society of America guide to the genus Origanum. Ohio, USA.

[6] EMA/HMPC. (2013). Final assessment report on Origanum dictamnus L., herba (200431/2012). Retrieved from European Medicines Agency/Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products: http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Herbal_-_HMPC_assessment_report/2013/08/WC500147179.pdf

[7] Chatzopoulou, A., Karioti, A., Gousiadou, C., Lax Vivancos, V., Kyriazopoulos, P., Golegou, S., & Skaltsa, H. (2010). Depsides and other polar constituents from Origanum dictamnus L. and their in vitro antimicrobial activity in clinical strains. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(10), 6064-6068. doi:10.1021/jf904596m

[8] Chishti, S., Kaloo, Z. A., & Sultan, P. (2013). Medicinal importance of genus Origanum: A review. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, 5(10), 170-177. doi:10.5897/JPP2013.0285

[9] Hervala, C., Menounos, P., & Argyriadou, N. (1987). Essential oil from Origanum dictamnus. Planta Medica, 53(1), 107-109.

[10] Argyropoulou C., Papadatou M., Grigoriadou C., Maloupa E., Skaltsa H. (2014). Evaluation of the essential oil content of Cretan dittany cultivated in Northern Greece. Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, 3(157). doi:10.4172/2167-0412.1000157

[11] Chorianopoulos, N., Kalpoutzakis, E., Aligiannis, N., Mitaku, S., Nychas, G., & Haroutounian, S. (2004). Essential oils of Satureja, Origanum, and Thymus species: chemical composition and antibacterial activities against foodborne pathogens. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52(26), 8261-8267. doi:10.1021/jf049113i

[12] Sivropoulou, A., Papanikolaou, E., Nikolaou, C., Kokkini, S., Lanaras, T., & Arsenakis, M. (1996). Antimicrobial and cytotoxic activities of Origanum essential oils. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 44(5), 1202–1205. doi:10.1021/jf950540t

[13] Daferera, D., Ziogas, B., & Polissiou, M. (2000). GC-MS analysis of essential oils from some Greek aromatic plants and their fungitoxicity on Penicillium digitatum. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 48(6), 2576–2581.

[14] Couladis, M., Tzakou, O., Verykokidou, E., & Harvala, C. (2003). Screening of some Greek aromatic plants for antioxidant activity. Phytotherapy Research, 17(2), 194–195. doi:10.1002/ptr.1261

[15] Tair, A., Weiss, E., et al. (2014). Origanum species native to the island of Crete: in vitro antioxidant characteristics and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry identification of major polyphenolic components. Natural Product Research, 28(16), 1284–1287. doi:10.1080/14786419.2014.896011

[16] Kaliora, A., Kogiannou, D., Kefalas, P., Papassideri, I., & Kalogeropoulos, N. (2014). Phenolic profiles and antioxidant and anticarcinogenic activities of Greek herbal infusions; balancing delight and chemoprevention? Food Chemistry, 142, 233–241. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.07.056

Article researched and created by Dan Ablir. © herbshealthhappiness.com 2016

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