February 3, 2008

Greek Mountain Tea

I've been in a very nostalgic mood lately, and I blame it all on this tea. I brought it back from Greece this summer, and it's been sitting in my cupboard ever since. I finally brewed a pot this weekend, and now I can't get memories of Greece out of my head.

Greek mountain tea (tsai tou vounou) is made of the dried flowers and leaves of the ironwort plant (sideritis), and is reputed to be good for whatever ails ya- digestion, respiratory problems, anxiety, you name it. It's available everywhere in Greece- and it's cheap, too. I got this huge bag at a supermarket chain in the Peloponnese for less than 1 euro (~$1.50).

The use of ironwort in the Mediterranean as an herbal remedy goes back thousands of years- Dioscorides, a physician born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the 1st century A.D., mentions the plant in his work De Materia Medica, a pharmaceutical encyclopedia.

The tea came in a huge bag of whole dried stalks. Not knowing how much to brew, or what part of the plant you use (flowers? leaves? the whole thing?), I crumbled up a few buds and steeped with a cup of hot (just off boiling) water. The resulting tea was bright, floral, lemony and herby-- tasting, strangely, exactly the way the Greek countryside smells in the spring and summer. I love it.

It makes an nice evening brew, as it's caffeine-free and very soothing. One of my fellow archaeologists on the project I worked on this summer used to brew up some iced mountain tea in a water bottle and bring it out to work- I'll have to try that too.

I've never seen mountain tea for sale in the U.S., but I imagine you might find it at some Mediterranean or specialty stores. Or, failing that, there's always the miracle of the internet.


Susan in Italy said...

Oh do I love tsai tou vounou! I discovered it in Pelion a couple years ago. It's one of the most delicious herbal teas around. I always brew everything, stalks leaves and flowers.

Haris said...

Here is a village where tsai tou vounou grows, especially a bit higher than the pictured village, near the lakes that are show and that are also a quite unique phenomenon. The hills after the lake have lots of tsai tou vounou.
Have a look at those pics from there:

Anonymous said...

hi there. i just came across your blog post when i was looking up greek mountain tea. i just bought some today from a farmers' market here and i think it's amazing. i've checked out the rest of your blog and i think it's very interesting and wanted to add it to my rss feeds but your feed is only the first line or so (short version) of your post. i think it'd be much more user friendly if you made the whole post send out through rss... that way people can read it without loading your blog in a browser (which helps out us people with slow internet). just a suggestion i think you should take into consideration. :o)

Maddy said...

Hi T,
Thanks for stopping by. I don't know what's going on with my feed- it appears that now there is no text at all being published in the feeds. I've changed it so that the whole post will be published.

Unknown said...

there's a shop in chicago called tea gschwender that sells greek mountain tea. it's great to drink leisurely or to knock out ailments when you're getting sick. you can steep the whole plant, stems, stalks and buds multiple times for tea. yum!

ElGrecus said...

My family is Greek and we bring "Mountain Tea" back with us after each visit. You are meant to brew stalks, flowers and leaves. You can use surprisingly little to get a good brew. I used to use too much until my mother corrected me. It's mostly drunk in cold months; drinking it on ice would send my octogenarian aunts into fits of epilepsy. They tolerate no variance from tradition. But if it tastes good, do it... just don't let them know.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if it is ok to drink for women who are nursing?

sk8asd123 said...

In Chicago they also sell it has Fresh Farms on Devon Ave. The brand is Krinos. I tried growing it, but that's tough indoors.

Anonymous said...

You can find Greek Mountain Tea in any Greek Market in the USA. I always have it on hand and drink it often! Just "smell" the package before buying. Sometimes it is not as fresh and has a mustier taste when brewed. Enjoy!!!

Kon Kiparoglou said...

Add some natural honey (around 1 - 2 teaspoons for extra sweetness)

For them days that the nose is runny squirt some lemon juice or even just a slice of lemon & it does wonders.

The anti-oxidants in the tea are very beneficial.

Also this tea stimulates brain waves which aids in proper mental concentration.

Anonymous said...

I am from Albania and I have spent all my summers at my grandmothers, she lived in a village up on the mountains in the southern Albania. Mountain tea has been and will remain a part of my life forever. her home smelled like herbs including mountain tea and oregano which grow wildely on the mountain. I too bring with me mountain tea from every visit for in the stores it is not always fresh. The best way to keep it fresh for long, and I have kept mine for years, is to keep it wraped in journal paper.