The Greeks are a nation of coffee lovers, not tea drinkers, but Greek mountain tea – tsai tou vounou – is still about the most famous herb in Greece. And it’s really quite fascinating when you begin to look at it. Since it’s snowing here in Athens today, I’m sure it’s out in force. So let us indeed look at the mighty Greek tea.
I’m really intrigued by herbs, essential oils and other natural remedies. And this tea, commonly known as Shepherd’s Tea and in English, Ironwort, has been used as a traditional remedy for centuries.
If you like herbal teas this is one to know about. It has quite a mild taste. Some would say it’s an earthy taste but I think it’s floral too. Whenever I drink it, it reminds me of cold nights in Naxos when I first moved to Greece.
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In terms of benefits, I’ve seen it compared to green tea quite a bit. I think the main reasons for that are because of the antioxidating properties and its ability to help with weight loss and cognitive clarity.
One of the benefits of drinking cups of mountain tea over green tea is that it’s not caffeinated so you can have it at any time of the day.
Cup of tea made with dried flowers and leaves of the plant
What is the Greek Mountain Tea Herb?
Ironwort is the name given to various species of Sideritis plants although it’s usually the Sideritis scardica version that’s used as Greek shepherd tea. Sideritis is a flowering plant with yellow flowers and silvery leaves.
It grows in mountainous areas across the Mediterranean region so it isn’t exclusive to the mountains of Greece. But the country does have 17 indigenous varieties. The versions on Mount Olympus and the mountains of Crete are quite famous.
What is Shepherd’s Tea Used For?
Mountain tea has been used as a herbal medicine since ancient times. The word sideritis is associated with iron. The Greek philosopher and father of medicine, Hippocrates is said to have believed in its iron content.
The Greek doctor, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscorides proposed the iron connection was because it was good for treating wounds caused by iron weapons. Others say it’s called that because the shape of the plant is like an iron spearhead.
However it got its name, Sideritis was always believed to have a positive effect on the immune system, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal health, flu symptoms, chest infections, sleep issues and mild anxiety. Mountain tea is commonly drunk in winter to help stay healthy in the colder months.
What Are the Proven Greek Mountain Tea Herb Benefits?
There’s not a huge amount of research available on the medicinal properties of mountain tea. But the European Medical Agency has still accepted it for medicinal uses because of the long-standing traditional use for the ailments above.
Here is scientific evidence that DOES back up the effects of Greek mountain tea and its numerous health benefits.
Sideritis scardia is shown to be high in antioxidants. The presence of phenols means the tea helps mop up the free radicals that bounce around our bodies. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress which damages our cells and can lead to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
A 2016 study showed that scardia was one of two strains that could be a “potent, well-tolerated option for treating symptoms of cognitive impairment in elderly and with regard to Alzheimer’s disease by affecting its most prominent hallmarks”
Sideritis was also included in a study of Lamiaceae family of plants (of which this is one) on pain. The scientists concluded that Sideritis in particular should be considered as the basis for more studies on it’s effect on how the body deals with pain signals thanks to the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce oedema.
Its use in traditional and, in more recent years, modern medicine has also shown “promising beneficial health results” for:
- prevention of anaemia
- stress-related ailments like anxiety
- major depression
- cardiovascular disease (can lower blood pressure levels)
- neurological conditions
- neurodegenerative diseases
- rheumatic problems
- inflammatory pain
- gastrointestinal problems like gastric ulcers
- respiratory problems like the common cold/ sinus congestion, lung emphysema, bronchitis and asthma
It’s also being touted as a potential cancer treatment.
How Do You Make Greek Mountain Tea?
Ironwort is easy to find in supermarkets and specialist food shops across Greece. (And online if you want to have it sent to you in the UK or US.) Normally the stems of the Sideritis plant are packaged as dried herbs rather than tea bags. (Although they are available too.)
If you’re using the dried herb they’ll either come as long stems or pre-chopped. Take a couple of stems or a small amount of chopped tea and bring it to the boil in the amount of water you need to fill your cup or mug.
Once it’s boiled you can take the tea off the heat and let it steep to your liking. After 5 – 10 minutes strain the tea. It’s common to add honey, sugar or lemon but I prefer to drink mountain tea just as it is.
Choose your option and enjoy!
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