Zoniana’s other, healing, herbs

The town of Zoniana in Crete’s prefecture of Rethymno achieved notoriety in recent months when it hit the headlines as a lawless mountain stronghold where the main moneyearner appeared to be its illegal plantations of marijuana. If the locals are to salvage their village’s image, they might focus on other crops that have maintained a strong presence in the market over decades, namely medicinal herbs. Crete is one of the last remaining places where Greece’s endemic plants are to be found, among them the healing herbs used since antiquity to relieve a number of ailments. The producers of the organic brand Cretan Herbs, for example, are continuing a family tradition begun 50 years ago by their father, collecting herbs from the surrounding mountains, propagating, cultivating and drying them. To accompany its products, the firm publishes a useful free booklet as a guide to the healing properties of the various herbs. The island’s most famous endemic herb is dittany (in Greek, dictamo) one of the most «wondrous healing herbs of the ancients» according to author Hellmut Baumann in «Greek Wild Flowers and Plant Lore in Ancient Greece.» He cites its use by Hippocrates for gall bladder complaints, tuberculosis and in poultices for wounds. Ecologists say that Crete’s mountain ranges are one of the last remaining strongholds of plants that have been wiped out elsewhere by human activities. According to botanist and author George Sfikas in his book «Wildflowers of Crete,» there are about 210 species and subspecies endemic to the island, 44 percent of all endemic plants in the Aegean islands. This, he says, is due to the fact that the island has been geographically isolated from nearby land masses for a very long time. Crete’s endemics are largely concentrated in specific areas such as the west, the White Mountains, the edge of eastern Crete, the mountains of Siteia and the range south of the plain of Messara.