Packed with goodness and aromas, Cretan herbs are responsible for an array of health benefits and the heavenly taste of local food and drink.
Crete is known for many things: Its palatable treasures are perhaps the most cherished among them. Sun-kissed climate aside, there is another reason why food tastes great here. Packed with goodness, the indigenous Cretan herbs boast an array of health benefits and delectable tastes. They grow everywhere throughout the island of Crete: In the mountains, in farming lands and coastal areas. A lot of them are endemic- botanical studies show Crete has one of the richest and most interesting ecosystems in Europe- and have been known since ancient times for their therapeutic properties. These aromatic plants also account for the distinct flavours and aromas of Crete’s culinary specialities.
Simply put, the lamb wouldn’t have tasted the same if it wasn’t feeding on Cretan herbs and greens. Neither would raki be as euphoric as it is if it wasn’t spiced up by their zest. If you are looking to take a taste of Crete back home, here’s an account of the most characteristic Cretan herbs and the wonders they can do for your health, appetite and palates.
Cretan Herbs: Cretan Earth’s Treasures
Malotíra or Sideritis
Known throughout Greece as mountain tea, malotira grows in dry and arid places around the mountains and is collected in July. It is a first-rate fodder, but most importantly it is used as a remedy for colds and stomach ailments and as a diuretic. Its properties were known since antiquity when it was called siderítis thanks to its ability to heal wounds caused by metal objects (sidera, in Greek). It was named malotira in Venetian times from the Latin words male (illness) and tirare (drag). Whether for medicinal purposes or simply as a beverage, malotitra is delicious with honey.
Díktamo or Érontas (Dittany)
Acknowledged by the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, Díktamo or Erontas is being used since ancient times for stomach ailments, digestive dysfunctions, as a poultice for healing wounds, and for inducing menstruation. It is also considered a potent tonic and aphrodisiac and a powerful symbol of love. Folk wisdom has it that when wild goats are injured, they rub their bruises on the plant and they are healed right away. Even the goddess Aphrodite herself employs this magical herb to cure the wounded Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid, while more recently, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione also uses dittany to help Ron after he was Splinched while Apparating.
Díktamo grows on steep slopes and cliffs, which makes its collection in the summer months quite tricky. Perhaps this is why the men who risked life and limb to climb Crete’s deep gorges and mountainsides in search of diktamo were considered to be virile and very passionate. They were named “erontades” (seekers of love) and as tradition mandated, they were to present thιs pink bloom to their girlfriends as a token of love.
Renowned for its therapeutic properties, this powerful antioxidant is used in the treatment of diarrhoea, bloating, and heartburn, but also depression, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s. Faskomilo also boasts a strong herbal aroma and earthy flavour and is employed in savoury, meat-based recipes. It is also a common ingredient in holiday stuffing while makes for a beautiful ornamental plant.
Renowned since antiquity as a nerve and heart tonic, mantzourána is used to boost blood circulation and treat depression, dizziness, migraines, nervous headaches, nerve pains and even paralysis. It also works wonders with colds, stomach cramps and digestive disorders. Considerable health benefits aside, mantzourána, with its subtle, albeit distinct flavour, is employed in cooking as a garnish for salads, soups, and meat dishes.
One of the most popular herbs in Crete and the Mediterranean, the wondrous rígani boasts multiple benefits and uses. It is valuable in beekeeping, on par with thyme. It is also an important source of income for the villagers that collect it. The characteristic sweet and spicy scent of rígani is moreover encountered in a variety of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, while it is a powerful antiseptic and remedy for toothaches and stomachaches. Oregano oil does wonders for persistent sinusitis and is also widely employed in perfumery.
A beautiful plant with characteristic blue flowers, thymári is important in beekeeping. Its honey is considered the finest in Crete, while its oil is widely used in the creation of toothpaste. Boasting invaluable antiseptic, diuretic, anti-parasitic and antipyretic properties, thymári lends its sharp, minty, somewhat sweet and at the same time peppery flavour to many traditional Cretan dishes.
A powerful remedy against indigestion, nerve disorders and insomnia, menta is also extensively used in Cretan cooking to flavour fruit compotes and salads.
Legend has it that snakes don’t dare come close to the shade of this tree, and in ancient Greece, tilio was used to cure snake bites. Nowadays it is considered great for rheumatisms and arthritis, while it helps in the dissolution of nephroliths. It is also widely known for its soothing and relaxing abilities, thereby constituting an ideal de-stressing, late-night drink.
Cretan herbs markedly contribute to the good health and longevity of the locals, and that’s not to mention their high spirits. Why not follow their lead? Indeed, holidays in Crete are all about unwinding and revitalising through a mosaic of sensory experiences in which taste plays a central role.
At the heart of the vibrant, seaside resort of Agia Marina -Platanias and just 9 km from the iconic town of Chania. The Oscar Suites & Village is your characterful base from which to embark on all sorts of exciting adventures. Our family-friendly hotel boasts a wide variety of apartments and studios in Platanias as well as a luxurious sea view, jacuzzi suite, to suit all needs and whims. Make yourselves comfortable and start enjoying life on our sun-dappled island. Ask us for tips and advice on how to make the most out of your stay in Crete and stay tuned to our blog for insights and ideas.