Anti-Wrinkle Creams and Rock Candy
Number 14 - November 2006
Katerina Grigoriadou Ph.D.
The Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia (BBGK), a relatively new botanic garden in Greece, has based its priorities on meeting the 16 Targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), to be achieved by the year 2010.
One major priority of the BBGK is to support, promote and contribute to the integrated conservation and management of medicinal and aromatic plants and other major socio-economically valuable native Greek species. This constitutes a contribution to Targets 3, 6, 9, 11 and 12 of the GSPC.
Pilot projects have been followed for two greek native species the Origanum dictamnus and the Pistacia lentiscus var. chia. They are both endemic in Greece originated from a greek island, they belong to the category of aromatic/medicinal plants with exceptional properties, with difficulties in reproduction and they play an important role in the local economy.
Origanum dictamnus (Labiateae) or 'Dittany of Crete' is an aromatic, perennial chasmophyte, endemic to Crete island.
The dittany of Crete is widely used for food flavouring and medicinal purposes, in addition to it featuring as an ornamental plant in gardens.
It’s classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plant Species 1997. Cretan dittany is also listed as “vulnerable” in The Red Data Book of Rare and Threatened Plants of Greece, and as “strictly protected” in the Revised Appendix 1 of the Bern Convention in 1990.
The plant is widespread throughout the island, though it is rarer towards the east. Records from outside Crete refer only to cultivated plants or casuals. It grows in calcareous stony soils and it has a wide altitude range, from sea level to 1900 m. It’s very difficult to grow outside of the island because of its sensitivity to low temperature.
O. dictamus is known to have antimicrobial and antioxidant action. Recently it has been exploited in the cosmetics’ industry for anti-ageing, anti wrinkle products and other products related to oily skin or hair. The plant is also widely sold in Crete in the dried state for herbal teas. The increasing demand may pose a threat to wild populations, as many local people collect and sell dry plant material of Origanum dictamnus, although cultivated plants may be the main or the sole source.
A Protocol for Protection
BBGK has collected 22 different accession no. of Origanum dictamnus from the place of origin. These plants belong to 5 main groups (based mainly on the area of collection). Research conducted on them has given:
BBGK managed to gather together:
with the aim of protecting wild populations and ensuring market demand was fully met by cultivated plants.
Transfer of Know-how
BBGK transferred the know-how of vegetative propagation (cuttings or in vitro) and the mother plants to Vitro Hellas S.A. nurseries for the mass propagation of the selected plant material. Plants produced en masse at Vitro Hellas were passed on to the Laboratory of Conservation and Evaluation of Native and Floricultural species of NAGREF, where trial field cultivations of Origanum dictamnus were tested.
The dry plant material produced at NAGREF was then given to Korres Natural Products S.A. who are now going to:
The aim of this project is the establishment of pilot cultivations from the farmers of Crete through contracts with private companies which will take their product (the dry material of the aromatic plants) for use in the natural cosmetics industry.
Now however, the tree is weeping for a new reason. There are not enough trees to meet demand for mastic, and the local economy is largely dependent on this tree for income.
Masticha is an exclusively Greek product protected by the European Union as it is not produced in any other part of the world except Greece. The product is a significant source of agricultural income for the island of Chios.
More specifically, it is produced only in the southern-east part of the island of Chios in the 24 villages and communities known as "Mastichochoria" (literally "the mastic villages"). The conditions suitable for mastic production are due to a unique combination of the genotype of the plant and the special soil and climatic conditions of this region (hot, dry climate with volcanic soil). Almost 5.000 families in the southern Chios earn a significant portion of their incomes by cultivating the mastic tree. Most of the product (almost 90%) is exported, mainly to the Arabic countries.
An Ancient Tradition
Masticha of Chios, is a highly valued
Masticha is also used
Masticha is still produced using traditional, manual methods by the local people. During summer the soil under the trees is cleaned and covered by a thin layer of special clean lime soil. The farmers chip the bark of the mastic tree with a kind of traditional knife and masticha drops like tears to the soil. After it is collected, it is spread out to dry and it is washed manually. The final product is like rock candy and has a distinctive aroma, taste and chewiness.
The would-be propagator of mastic trees faces many difficulties, because sexual propagation by seeds leads to strong variability among genotypes, while asexual propagation by cuttings is not effective due to very poor root induction.
Furthermore there are difficulties in finding adequate plant propagation material, as there are limited mother plants in Chios and the geographic area for locating possible initiation material is very restricted.
So BBGK together with the Prefecture of Chios have implemented a program involving:
BBGK has thus far collected 3 different cultivated selections of the mastic tree. Research is now being conducted into the identification of this plant material using molecular methods, with the aim of determining the possible differences between P. lentiscus originating from other Mediterranean areas and these selections from Chios island.
Research is also focused on:
The goals of the project are:
It is hoped that by developing and sharing new
In realizing projects like these, BBGK hopes to achieve its main target: the conservation, study and promotion of the Greek & Balkan Flora towards the challenge of 2010.
For more information on this and other projects in the Balkans, please contact:
National Agricultural Research Foundation (N.AG.RE.F.)
Laboratory of Conservation and Evaluation of Native and Floricultural species Balkan Botanic Garden of Kroussia
P.C. 570 01 Thermi, Thessaloniki, P.O. Box 60 125, Greece, e-mail: email@example.com