Chrysoskalitissa monastery on the west coast of Kissamos is the border of this area in the north. Recent botanical studies in the area have show its wealth in rare endemic plants of Crete, like the beautiful lily with with white, green-pink edgest flowers that bloom in spring and Bellevalia brevipendicellata, a plant that has only been found σ’ in this area.
Around the Monastery we will see formations of «heathers» (Erica manipuliflora), that bloom in autumn and mark the place with their pink-purpur colour, lentisks (Pistacia lentiscus), carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua), «prickly brooms» (Calicotome villosa) etc.
Here, in the vertical rocks, we will meet the famous «dittany» of Crete (Origanum dictamnus), an endemic plant of Crete with aromatic and pharmaceutic properties, also known as laquo;erontas (love)» (because it takes the sufferings of «love» to collect), or the «”stamatohorto” (stop-plant)» (because it stops bleeding) or the “stomahohorto” (stomach plant) (because it is good for the stomach) or the “malliarohorto” (hairy plant) (because its plants are covered with a white down) etc.
The dittany (referred to as “diktamon” by Homer in Ilias) was know to the ancient Greeks for its pharmaceutical properties and was in the classical antiquity the most famous herb for the treatment of a large number of illnesses. The plant is referred to by Hippokrates (460-377 B.C.) as pharmaceutical and «as a means to enable labour («About woman’s nature»).
Aristotle (384-322 π.Χ.) mentions the pharmaceutical properties of dittany «as treating arrow wounds in the body» saying that the wild goats that were wounded by bows ate dittany to reject it («About the stories of animals»). Moreover, Theophrastus (372-287 π.Χ.) mentions the pharmaceutical properties of the plant and makes its botanical description («About the History of Plants»). The plant is also referred to by Aratos (305-240 π.Χ.), Antigonos of Karystos (2nd – 3rd’ cent. B.C.). Among the Roman writer it is mentioned by Marcus Tilius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), Virgilius (70-19 B.C.), Aulus Cornelius Celsus (1st’cent. B.C.), Gaius Plunius Secundus (23-79 B.C.), Statius (40-96 B.C.). The pharmaceutical properties of the plant are also mentioned by Ploutarhos (46-127 A.D.), Dioskourides (1st’ cent. A.D.), Damakrates the Servilian (1st’ cent. A.D.), Galenos (129-201 B.C.), Oreivasios (4th’ cent. A.D..), Isihios (5th’ cent. A.D.) and others.
The dittany contains titerpenic acids (oleanolic and ursolic) phlavonoids (apigenin, caffeic acid, diktamin) and an essential oil with carvacrole as its main compound (about 70%). Today the dittany is widely used in Crete as tea against stomach disorders, intestine illnesses and amoebas as well as against colds and as hemostatic antiseptic. Its extract participates in the preparation of the well-known alkoholic drink of the firm Martini who is also the main buyer of dittany.
Another endemic plant that we will see hanging on the slopes is the Verbascum arcturus and the so-called «maroulida» Petromarula pinnata, an edible species εδώδιμο. Note: In other areas of the prefecture of Chania with the name “maroulida” they mean another plant, the Taraxacum officinale).
Of course the area is also rich in «oregano» (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum), the famous aromatic, pharmaceutical and apicultural plant, which is extensively used in cooking. The name oreganon is from Homer and comes from the words “oros” and “ganos”, which mean mountain and brilliance respectively. The plant is referred to as oreganon by Theophrastus, Dioskourides and Plinius. Its main pharmaceutical ingredient is the essential oil which is very rich in«carvacrole», a higher alhohol with strong antibacterial action (it is mentioned as 50 times more potent than penicillin for a wide spectrum of microorganism).
The main use of oregano is as a spice. In popular medicine its is used against diarrhoea, for mouth and throat washes, as well as against catarrh of the respiratory tracks. The essential oil also has antioxidant properties and is used in the food industry as a preservative.
Another plant that we meet here is the well know thyme (Coridothymus capitatus) with the unique aromatic, pharmaceutical and apicultural properties that is referred to by Dioskourides as a spice and as a medicinal plant, while Alexandros Trallianos mentions it in his pharmaceutical recipes. The pharmaceutical value of the thyme is due to its essential oil which consists mainly of «carvacrole» and «thymole», substances with similar strong antibacterial properties, so that this essential oil (Oleum thymi) is used as a seasoning in food industry.
Thyme is used as a substitute for oregano in cooking, while in popular medicine its tea or the extract of its boiled stems and flowers are used as a medicine against diarrhoea, cough, spasms, as a medicine for the stomach, in throat inflammations etc. The plant and its essential oil are recorded in Italian, French, German and Swiss pharmacology as antiseptic, antispasm, anti-cough and anthelminthic. It is perhaps the most important apicultural plant both in terms of size and distribution in Crete, and in terms of the quality of the produced honey («thyme honey»).
In the streams near the monastery we will meet«salt cedars» (Tamarix parviflora) and «oleanders (Nerium oleander), plants with very toxic substances in their leaves, branches, even in their beautiful flowers. On the lower side of the Monastey toward the sea we will see a grass forming thick tuft: It is the perrenial african plant Lygeum spartum, that waves in the sea breeze.
But of course the clumps of cedars will draw our attention, which exists in two types (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp macrocarpa and Juniperus phoenicea). The wood of all the kinds of Juniperus is rosy and does not rot, so it was used in the past to make vessels for water and other objects. With distillation of the branches the essential oil was obtained which was used as a veterinary medicine against skin diseases of goats and sheep and against the ulcers of horses. The essential oil from the distillation of the fruits of various kinds of Juniperus is used to frangnance the alhoholic drink Gin. The fruits are considered to have pharmaceutical properties (toning the body and strengthening fertility).
After the historical Monastery of Chrysoskalitisa, going along this part of the dry and wind-swept coast of Crete, which has been “domesticated” in recent years by humans, who planted watered olive trees, thanks to irrigation works, in the place of the bushes and the weak carob trees, an earth road leads us to the beach of Elafonisi.
The historical Elafonisi is a natural beauty with golden sand but also a place of martyrdom.It is separated from the opposite coast with a narrow band of sea. In this beach we will be impressed by the cedar clumps, also here in two types (Juniperus oxycedrus ssp macrocarpa and Juniperus phoenicea) which occupy the beach forming a small rare forest. The Elafonisi along with its sand dunes has micro-environments and a unique flora of endemic species as well as geographically isolated species.
Here we will meet the reare plants Androcymbium rechingeri and Ipomoea stolonifera which can be found in less than 100 place in the whole Europe. Here and in the opposite coast we will meet populations of the wonderful «lily of the sea» (Pancratium maritimum), and of the endangered and rare species Silene succulenta ssp. succulenta, an endemic plant of Crete and Viola scorpiuroides, which is rare in Greece and in the whole Europe.