Discovering the Tisane Called “Greek Mountain Tea”

Technically a tisane, the infusion made from Sideritis syriaca is the Greek cultural equivalent of English black tea with a dash of milk; when you say “tea” in Greece, this is what you are referring to. I recently discovered this culturally specific infusion after getting into a discussion about tea with some Greek friends of mine. I have yet to try some (it is hard to find and expensive outside of Greece), but I was intrigued enough to do a bit of research into this herbal infusion.

ETS Herbals (Photo source: screen capture from site)
ETS Herbals (Photo source: screen capture from site)

Sideritis syriaca is a Mediterranean flowering plant also known as ironwort, and the “tea” it produces is often called mountain tea, or shepherd’s tea. This refers to the fact that the plant is found at high, rocky elevations (over 1,000 metres, or 3,200 feet) and as such was used for infusions by shepherds while they were tending their sheep. Or so it is said. But whatever its original uses, it has been around for a while, as it is mentioned in the writings of ancient Greek physicians and botanists.

The preparation of the beverage is similar to that of many herbal infusions: the dried leaves, flowers, and stems of the plant are steeped in boiling water for up to ten minutes, and then strained out. Often, the infusion is served with honey to sweeten it up. Sideritis syriaca is said to have a wide range of health benefits, including for the digestive system and immune system. This means it is often drunk to help alleviate colds, flus, and other nasty viruses of the sort that are going around at this time of year.

So, if you are headed to Greece any time in the near future (or, as in my case, have friends who will be going there soon), look for this tisane. It is the quintessential Greek “tea” experience, and not being a well-known cultural export, it is something new and different to try out. I am certainly looking forward to trying it for myself soon!

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

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