Flora, the mythical goddess of vegetation, endowed Greece with more than 5.600 species, some 750 of which are endemic, i.e. unique to the Greek land. When the dim skies of winter fill with the bright and frisky light of spring, myriads of multicoloured little heads pop up from the ground to marvel at the feast of nature and take part in it. From Zakynthos – “il fiore di Levante”= the flower of the East – to the botanical paradise of Lesvos, from the mushroom-clad area of Grevená to the rich in therapeutic herbs Crete, Greece bows to the grandeur of the Earth.
Humble wild flowers
On ancient monuments or on tower towns, the wild flowers give colour to our age-long heritage; they decorate our fields and plateaus; they tame gorges and steep mountains; they immerse their roots in peaceful lakes or sea-beaten rocks.
It is at this time of the year that these tiny intoxicating heralds of the spring come out of the ground to take their place in the divine canvas of the Greek nature.
Cyclamens in all the tints of pink, hooked on the stone pinnacle of Meteora. Vast areas on the mountain chains of Tymfi and Taygetos covered with the wonderful purple crocus flowers. Delicate lilies on the peaks of mount Olympus; yellow radial daisies high on mount Grammos; wild tulips on the White Mountains. Beautiful weaver’s grooms and scented wild roses, as well as fragile anemones at the foot of mount Oiti. Endless carpets of arrogant velvet puppies generously lend their purple beauty to fields and meadows. Iris and viola flowers grow on lands of glades like colourful pieces in a mosaic under the sunshine. Countless violet-coloured bluebells sway in the spring breeze. Ranunculus flowers, heather flowers and sand lilies strut about their reflection on the waters of brooks and lakes. Gorgeous yellow and purple spotted orchids round off the palette of nature.
Religion, myths, medicine, rituals and art in Ancient Greece were inextricably linked to flowers. To prove their influence on the life and culture of the ancient Greeks, there are some archeological findings on Santorini: the Spring Fresco with the sacred lilies, and the famous Crocus Collector.
In fir forests or alpine areas, in glades or in the hinterland, by rivers or lakes, there are hundreds of species of wild mushrooms growing every year. Collecting them, especially in the spring time, is like going on a safari excursion; its trophy is the mushrooms themselves.
Out of the 2.200 species of mushrooms in Greece, only 150 are edible. With a fine quality and a tremendous taste, the Greek wild mushrooms are a highly nutritious and absolutely healthy food. Proteins, minerals, and trace elements are there to be combined with delicious dishes and gourmet versions of otherwise common tastes.
There are clubs that organise guided tours into forests for those who wish to be acquainted with the magic world of mushrooms. Western Macedonia and, in particular, the area of Grevená, are the places where you will come across the widest range of mushroom varieties. Some very rare and extinct of them have already become a tourists attraction, not just for domestic, but also for international visitors.
Let’s get a closer look:
- Morel: Marked by its conical or ovate cap and a network of ridges with pits between them, the morel is considered to be one of the most delicious mushrooms existing. It smells of liver or foie gras and it gives a hedonic taste to soups, sauces, meat and also fish.
- Chanterelle: Orange or yellow, trumpet of funnel-shaped, it has an intoxicating, fruity aroma. It suits perfectly white sauces of poultry and lamb.
- Cep: Smelling of chestnut and hazel and tasting of meat, it is held in high regard thanks to its low fat and carbohydrates content and its protein, vitamins and minerals abundance. Grilled or fried straight, it is also ideal as a co-star to fish, omelets and risottos.
- Horn of plenty: This black trumpet has an exquisite flowery aroma and a subtle smoked taste and it is perfect with game meat.
- Caesar’s mushroom: It’s a very rare type of mushroom with a divine taste of shellfish. Ancient Greek and Latin writers have praised these so-called “cock’s eggs”.
Loads of aromatic and therapeutic herbs grow in Greece, one of the richest countries in biodiversity. Either as food or as natural remedies, they have been used since the ancient times, mainly as pain-killers. Nowadays, a good 75% of chemical medicines are based on the miraculous properties of herbs.
Here is a list of the most important ones:
- Pulsane: Good for raw salads, it protects the heart.
- Basil: A stomach tonic as herbal tea, it calms the nerves and the headaches. It’s famous for its wonderful aroma and its insect-repellent properties too.
- Valeriana: The anti-stress element of nature.
- Anis: As tea it invigorates the digestive and the nervous systems; in dough and drinks (ouzo, tsípouro) it gives a rich taste.
- Laurel: With antiseptic properties against the catarrh and bronchitis, it adds a tasteful aroma to pulses, salads and meats. In its oily form, it tonifies hair.
- Spearmint: In its essential oil version it fights against inflammations in the nasopharynx, gingivitis, and rheumatics. It is beneficiary in case of stomach conditions and migraines. Irreplaceable for sauces and meatballs.
- Rosemary: Anaemia, insomnia, dizziness and mind exhaustion can find a good rival in rosemary. If boiled, its vapour functions as a great face cleanser. It is used in hair lotions too.
- Dittany: Spasmolytic, tonifying, anti-diabetic as tea; useful in aromatherapy and for pharmaceutical applications as an essential oil.
- Eucalyptus: When boiled, its vapour helps as an antiseptic for the lungs. What is more, it makes a tea with digestive and tonifying effects.
- Thyme: Antiseptic and tonifying, it fights against fever and flu, as well as skin infections. It gives off a wonderful aroma when used to marinate meat.
- Coriander: Good for your stomach, it is used to season fish and meat alike.
- Lemon verbena: A natural analgesic, especially for the stomach.
- Lavender: It calms your body, it perfumes the house, and it is the perfect natural antibiotic against infections.
- Lemon balm: It makes a tea with excellent anti-stress, analgesic and tonifying effects.
- Mint: With its peppery pleasant taste it gives you a soft push and some digestive help. It is famous as an ingredient for pastry, for liqueurs, for perfumes and for medicines.
- Mallow: For relaxing and smoothing needs of the stomach.
- Dandelion: For anaemia, cholesterol, diabetes and skin conditions. Traditional pies and salads are lucky to have it as an ingredient.
- Oregano: If you suffer from diarrhea or travellers’ nausea and if you feel weak, it’s what you need. Enjoy it on the famous Greek salad and with all kinds of meat.
- Nettle: It detoxifies your body, it fights against cholesterol and stomach conditions and it helps you against anaemia. Take in its beneficiary properties in pies.
- Greek Mountain Tea (sideritis clandestina): It’s the commonest type of tea not just for its delicious taste, but also for its digestive, warming, tonifying and antioxidant effects. Get rid of your cold with its aid, and use it with lemon and honey as an antiseptic for your throat.
- Sage: Aromatic, digestive, disinfective, tonifying and soothing at the same time.
- Camomile: It will tonify you and it will calm you; but it will also be your loyal ally for beauty and skin health.