Cretan dittany – characteristics, cultivation and use

Cretan dittany
Cretan dittany - by Peter A. Mansfeld

For a long time Cretan dittany was a rather unknown herb. However, ever since dittany was mentioned as a magic herb by the magical apprentice of Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, the medicinal and spice herb has moved into a new public light. But already ancient Greek doctors used dittany as a medicinal herb, whose name dates back to the original natural occurrence of Dikti Mountains on the island of Crete.

Profile of Cretan dittany:

Scientific name: Origanum dictamnus

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: dittany of Crete, hop marjoram

Sowing time / Planting time: precultur (in-house) – February – March

Flowering period: August – October

Harvest time: June – September

Useful plant parts: leaves, shoots

Location: full-sun

Soil quality: calcareous, low-humus and nutrient-poor soils

Use as a medicinal herb: bacterial infections, stomach and intestinal complaints, sore throat, dermatitis, common cold, tonsillitis

Use as aromatic herb: potatoes, eggs, hearty stews, vegetable pan

Plant characteristics and classification of Cretan dittany

Cretan dittany (Origanum dictamnus) is also commonly referred to just as dittany. However, it is strictly distinguishable from another species, which also bears the name dittany/burning bush (Dictamnus albus). This species belongs to the soapberry family and is often sold as an ornamental plant.

Origin and Occurrence of the Cretan dittany

As mentioned, Cretan dittany originated from the Greek island of Crete. Ancient sources limit its origin to a mountain called Dikti. Most of the wild Cretan dittanies are usually found in mountainous areas or limestone walls, canyons or slopes. Meanwhile, the herb is also found in other Mediterranean countries. In Europe and North America, it can not grow wild due to its low frost tolerance.

Plant order of Cretan dittany

Cretan dittany belongs to the mint family. The herb is thus a member of a very rich herbal family, as well as sage, thyme, rosemary and savory. In the closer relationship the plant belongs to the genus of the Origanum. This genus includes more than 40 species, which include also oregano and marjoram.

Characteristics of the Cretan dittany


Cretan dittany is a perennial, creeping to hanging growing plant whose stature height is between 25 and 40 cm (10 and 16 in). The fragrance of it is spicy, slightly balsamic and peppery.


Striking, in comparison to the related oregano or marjoram, is the appearance of the leaves. The leaves are roundish, as young foliage of reddish color and later blue-green, silvery shimmering colored. However, the leaves look as if they are dusted with a fine layer of ice. In fact, there are very fine dense, felt-like hairs on the leaf surface.


Cretan dittany forms during flowering (August to early October) pink to purple flowers, which have the typical form for members of the mint family. The pollination of the flowers is done by insects.


The ovaries develop schizocarps, which form the typical black seeds.

Cretan dittany – cultivation and care


Cretan dittany has some demands on the location. Preference is given to full sun locations


The soil should be calcareous, nutrient-poor and humus-poor. To regenerate the natural conditions, the substrate should at best consist of a mixture of sand, pumice and some soil.


Sowing outdoors is relatively difficult, as the herb is quite demanding on germination. To germinate the seeds need an extended warm phase and a following cold phase of up to eight weeks. Therefore, the preculture at home is recommended. In order to grow on the windowsill in the house, the seeds are kept for about 6 weeks in a warm location before they are moved to a cool place (about 5 ° C / 41 ° F). The growing substrate should be a slightly moist mixture of sand and soil.


Alternatively, the propagation takes place with young shoots of older plants from which cuttings are grown. Also division of the rootstock is possible.


The plant grows naturally in calcareous mountainous areas, which are usually relatively sparse and contain only limited nutrients. Fertilizer should therefore only be incorporated in the soil after the plants have germinated. A few organic fertilizers such as cattle manure, compost or lighter herbal fertilizers are sufficient. If dittany is grown in flower pots or plant pots, light nutrients should be applied at intervals of 6 to 8 weeks.


Cretan dittany can be harvested all year round. For healing purposes it is used both fresh and dried. Whereby, it seems to be stronger when used fresh.

But if you want to create a healing supply, the dittany is cut 5 – 10 cm (2 to 4 in) above the ground at the beginning of its flowering. The healing power of its soft, plump leaves is greatest at the time of flowering. The leaves are very easy to dry and the plant will grow bushy again.


Although Cretan dittany tolerates frosts for a short time, it can not be described as a hardy plant. Wintering in the garden is therefore problematic, so that measures for over-wintering are required. Covering with brushwood, leaves or straw is often not enough to protect the frost-sensitive plant. Cretan dittany is best kept as a pot culture and taken to the winter garden or staircase at the beginning of the frost.

Cretan dittany and its use

Cretan dittany in the kitchen

In terms of taste, Cretan dittany can be classified between marjoram and oregano. It tastes stronger than oregano and comes very close to marjoram with its slightly peppery note.

As a spicy herb, the Cretan dittany is therefore suitable for hearty meals such as fried potatoes or spicy egg dishes and Mediterranean-style stews. The small leaves are also excellent in salads – both dried and fresh.

Whether fresh or dry leaves are used is not particularly critical in dittany. The aroma remains very well-preserved during drying and can therefore be processed well.

Cretan Dittany as a medicinal plant

Ancient physicians administered Cretan dittany as an aphrodisiac or to speed up the birth and make it less painful. Even then it was already described a medicinally valuable plant, which occurs exclusively in Crete. There it was mainly used for the treatment of snake bites, skin diseases and arrow injuries.

Even in the great herbal books of the Middle Ages, Cretan dittany was already known. Again, the dittany, boiled in wine, was used for snakebites. However, the herb was also used against urinary stones and constipation.

Today, Cretan dittany is used mainly for bacterial diseases. Classic indications are sore throat, gastrointestinal infections or external inflammation of the skin. For the treatment of internal diseases usually tea, brew or the pure plant is used. Its tea is nowadays being given supportive treatment for diseases such as tonsillitis, various cold symptoms, cough and pharyngitis. Pure leaves are used for toothache, gingivitis and menstrual cramps. For the purpose of external application Cretan dittany is used in the form of envelopes. Also, a brew of leaves of the dittany to help with rheumatic pain.

Cretan dittany can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • cold
  • cough
  • external inflammation of the skin
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • gingivitis
  • menstrual cramps
  • pharyngitis
  • sore throat
  • tonsillitis
  • toothache

Medicinal properties

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antimicrobial
  • antioxidant
  • antiseptic
  • cancer-preventive
  • circulation-promoting
  • invigorating
  • relaxing
  • skin conditioning
  • uterine contracting
  • wound healing

Preparation of a Cretan dittany tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how you prepare a Cretan dittany tea by yourself

  1. put 1 to 1.5 teaspoon of fresh or dried Cretan dittany leaves in a tea strainer in cup

  2. dash with boiling hot water

  3. let steep for 5-10 min

  4. if you like refine with honey

  5. drink up to three cups daily


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Cretan dittany – What to pay attention to?

If you buy Cretan dittany pay attention to the botanical name. The far more frequently offered dittany is mostly burning bush (Dictamnus albus). This dittany is a beautiful to look at ornamental plant, which is advised against its use due to toxic components. The original Cretan dittany bears the botanical name Origanum dictamnus. Incidentally, the plant is rarely to be purchased in the specialist plant trade, but finished plants are available from a few online retailers as well as specialized herb traders. The prices are about 5 to 7 EUR / $.

Cretan dittany as a tea herb is relatively rare to find. Some herbalists and online retailers offer the herb, sometimes also available as Cretan tea or mountain tea Diktamo. Since the tea, however, due to its versatile healing properties, sometimes has high demand, it is also relatively expensive. The 100 gram (3.5 oz) packs are available for between 7 and 20 EUR / $. 100 grams are enough for about 50 tea portions.

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