Cytinus hypocistis - Pedanius Dioscorides

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Family:Cytinaceae Genus: Cytinus

Cytinus is a genus of parasitic flowering plants. Its species do not produce chlorophyll any more, but rely fully on its host plant. Cytinus only parasitizes Cistus and Halimium, two genera of plants in the Cistaceae family.

Several species are found in the Mediterranean Region, South Africa, with a possibly undescribed species from Madagascar.


C. capensis and C. sanguineus are dioecious, while C. hypocistis is monoecious.

C. hypocistis has been shown to infect mainly Halimium halimifolium and Cistus monspeliensis in Portugal.


The genus Cytinus was previously included in the parasitic family Rafflesiaceae, but is now put into the family Cytinaceae (order Malvales), together with the genus Bdallophytum with four species.

Cytinus ruber is no longer considered a separate species, but is now a subspecies of C. hypocistis.

The flower of C. hypocistis

The young C. hypocistis is cooked as an Asparagus substitute, and an extract has been used in treating dysentery, throat tumors and as an astringent. C. ruber is also edible, and was used in folk medicine as an emmenagogue.


Photo from north Crete (labdanum area).

Pedanius Dioscorides (Greek: Πεδάνιος Διοσκορίδης; ca. 40-90) was an ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist from Anazarbus, Cilicia, Asia Minor, who practised in ancient Rome during the time of Nero. He had the opportunity to travel extensively seeking medicinal substances from all over the Roman and Greek world.

Dioscorides wrote a five-volume book in his native Greek, Περί ὕλης ἰατρικής (De Materia Medica in the Latin translation; Regarding Medical Matters) that is a precursor to all modern pharmacopeias, and is one of the most influential herbal books in history. In fact, it remained in use until about CE 1600. Unlike many classical authors, his works were not "rediscovered" in the Renaissance, because his book never left circulation. The De Materia Medica was often reproduced in manuscript form through the centuries, often with commentary on Dioscorides' work and with minor additions from Arabic and Indian sources, though there were some advancements in herbal science among the Arabic additions. The most important manuscripts survive today in Mount Athos monasteries.

De Materia Medica is important not just for the history of herbal science: it also gives us a knowledge of the herbs and remedies used by the Greeks, Romans, and other cultures of antiquity. The work also records the Dacian and Thracian names for some plants, which otherwise would have been lost. The work presents about 600 plants in all, although the descriptions are obscurely phrased. Duane Isely notes that "numerous individuals from the Middle Ages on have struggled with the identity of the recondite kinds", and characterizes most of the identifications of Gunther et al as "educated guesses".

A number of illustrated manuscripts of the De Materia Medica survive, some of them from as early as the 5th through 7th centuries. The most famous of these early copies is the Vienna Dioscurides (512/513).

Arabic Book of Simple Drugs from Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. Cumin & dill. c. 1334 By Kathleen Cohen in London's British Museum.

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