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Wild Herbs of Crete

It is the incomparable aroma of many plants and herbs that suddenly come to life after the first rains in winter – the intense blend of sage, chamomile, thyme, rosemary and many others that make South Crete a special place for herb harvesting

Crete’s flora is at its best in Winter & Spring, after the rain of the early season when all is green and hundreds of flowers, plants, and herbs start to blossom. There are about 150 species of wildflowers and herbs, which are endemic, so they grow just in Crete…. 

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates

On our walk through the Messara and the mountainsides of the Psiloritis Mountain, we found a spectacular amount of herbs and plants just beside our path, for others have to look a bit harder, but it is worth every step.

Sage (Faskómilo) 

One of the first plants you will see is probably the Faskómilo (Sage), which is one of the most popular Cretan herbs, with excellent flavor. It flowers in May and June with purple-blue flowers and it is known since antiquity for its medical properties. If you want to use it for food, its flavor it goes very well with meat and bean dishes.

Sage is a hardy perennial with pretty, grayish-green leaves. It grows spikes of spring flowers in different colors, including purple, blue, white, and pink, only the leaves are suitable for tea and seasoning. It can be harvested all summer long, until winter.

Not all sage varieties are culinary; the most popular kitchen sage is called Salvia officinalis.

Sage is also a stimulant herb and helps against depression. Sage tea is contraindicated in cases of hypertension and pregnancy. 

How to make Sage Tea: Put a half teaspoon directly in the bottom of a ceramic tea cup. Add boiling water and let it steep for 3’. Remember to cover your tea cup with a small plate in order to keep all smell and therapeutic benefits inside. Strain and serve. Enjoy it hot.

Thyme (Thymári)

Also very popular and widespread is the Thymári (Thyme),  which is one of the most versatile herbs, with a variety of cultivars and flavors. It grows quickly in sunny, hot conditions but can also withstand cold winters. The woody-stemmed herb has small leaves that add flavor to recipes and an aromatic touch to sachets and aromatherapy treatments.

Like all woody-stemmed herbs also Thyme ist best harvested just before blooming for peak flavor. Cut the stems for drying fresh thyme, just before a growth node. This will increase bushing and ensure a constant supply of tasty leaves. Morning is the best time of day for harvesting thyme.

Thyme is one of those herbs, like oregano or sage, which tastes great both fresh and dried.

Oregano (Rigani)

Rich in vitamin C, fibers, iron, and b carotene – Oregano is used mainly in cooking and traditional dishes of the Cretan diet for salads, potatoes, feta cheese, sauces, and meat, but its properties are most important in the homeopathic treatment for many diseases. It appears to have antibacterial properties, but most importantly dry oregano is one of the richest sources of antioxidants among herbs.

The Oregano plant has its origin in Greece and carries the name “the joy of the mountain”.

This aromatic, ancient culinary herb, also referred to as “wild marjoram,” grows in rocky and sunny places. Harvesting oregano couldn’t be simpler, you just cut the top part of the plant, about 1/3 of the length. To obtain the optimum potency of flavor, harvest oregano leaves just before the plant flowers, if you can time it perfectly.

Wait until the morning after the dew has dried when harvesting oregano. The essential oils in herbs are highest in concentration in warm mornings. The best flavor is achieved when the herb is harvested just as flower buds form. 

Dictamnus is an endemic herb of Crete and this little natural treasure has a reputation as one of the most healthy herbs with healing properties. Wounded goats will heal their wounds from the hunter’s arrow shots and Hippokratis prescribes it as a medicine for stomach or digestion issues. 

Dictamnus is a herbaceous perennial that grows wild on the rocky bottom and in the gorges of Crete – a multi-branched, 6 to 12-inch herb with round, soft, flaky gray leaves that originate from slender, arched stems. The white, covered leaves highlight the 6-8 inch petals with pale pink-purple that bloom in summer.

In Crete, it is widely used for teas, as well as, cooking. However, there are mentions of its use in witchcraft for the making of love potions, as well as, for the materialization of spirits through its smoke!!!

It has played an important part in Greek Mythology, as a medicinal herb through medieval times, and as a perfume and flavoring for drinks such as vermouth, absinthe, and Benedictine liqueur. Flowers are dried and brewed into an herbal tea for all sorts of ailments. 
The Dictamnus plants symbolize love and are said to be an aphrodisiac and have long been given by young men to their lovers as a representation of their deep desire.

Dictamus Crete

Harvesting the plant is a risky endeavor, as it favors precarious rocky environments. One of the many names given to Dictamus of Crete is Erondas, meaning “love” and the young lovers searching for the herb are called ‘Erondades’ or love seekers.

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