One of the most enjoyable facets of being a tea lover is traveling and encountering local or regional teas that receive little attention outside of their native countries or cultures. Enjoyable yes, but a bit risky as well: frequently when tasting a local favorite, it becomes quite apparent why the tea never became more popular. Yet when one finds a tea that is relatively unheard of – and has a pleasant taste, becoming an advocate for the tea becomes a natural extension of the discovery process.
Such was the case when we tried Greek Mountain Tea (ironwort or shepherd’s tea), a botanical tea made from the “Sideritis” family of plants. A flowering perennial native to Greece, parts of the Mediterranean, and temperate regions of Asia, the tea (technically a “tisane,” not a true tea) is brewed from cuttings of the upper stems, leaves and blossoms. It was first suggested to us by a customer traveling to Greece to visit her family; she offered to bring back some for us to try. Researching the tea while she was traveling, our friend learned that the list of healthy properties of the tea were promising: aids digestion; strengthens the immune system; helps suppress the symptoms of the common cold, allergies, and shortness of breath. A perfect tea for flu season.
Upon her return, we were presented with a large pasta-size bag of dried Greek Mountain Tea and eagerly prepared a batch. The stems are too large to fit into an infuser or even the largest of teapots, so the tea is usually prepared by adding the stems to a large pot of boiling water, letting them infuse for 5-8 minutes, straining and then serving with honey and lemon. Without adding anything, the tea has a soothing, mildly citrus flavor and can certainly be enjoyed plain, while the addition of the honey and lemon definitely help bring out the best flavor notes of the tea. Although lightweight, the bulky-sized packaging of Greek Mountain Tea seems to make it an item found more readily in Greek or Mediterranean food stores rather than in specialty tea shops.
If you are looking to try something different this winter and need a little help making it through flu and sinus decongestion periods, give Greek Mountain Tea a try. If it worked for the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides, perhaps it can help you get through the coming winter in good health.
Image courtesy of the author.