Herbs, bunches of Greece, naturally good
Left to right, bunches of Greek Mountain Herbs by Kalios: Oregano, Sage, Mountain Tea
Mediterranean cuisine is an explosion of flavors and in this respect aromatic herbs make all the difference. Thyme and sage, basil and rosemary, oregano and lavender …. All aromatic herbs, fresh or dried, without which many Mediterranean dishes lose their inmost qualities. That’s why it makes sense to have at hand a selection of herbs available for any type of culinary endeavor.
Foremost among Mediterranean countries, Greece is famous for its unique herbs that reflect the country’s variety of morphologies and landscapes and benefit from its spectacular sunshine. The Greek flora is so rich that, among the 7500 different species of plants growing in Greece, 850 can only be found here. Herbs have been part of the Greek culture for thousands of years, in the making of medicines, in rituals and incantations and in the kitchen.
The modern agro-industry is offering herbs with well calibrated fragrances that are supposed to fit with any dish and taste and in the end don’t have any distinctive personality. Mechanical processing and grounding degrade natural oils, phytoelements and antioxidants that make herbs extremely healthy. The word "antioxidants" typically conjures up thoughts of fruits, vegetables, tea, and even chocolate but it has been determined recently that most herbs are also teeming with antioxidant power. When adding a favorite ingredient increases the health benefits of the foods one already enjoys, that’s pretty good news, right? In the end herbs, with spices, are the very best way to add flavor and texture to a dish without adding fat or calories.
There is a large variety of species under the same vulgar name, and more than once industrial herbs are not the real thing. As an example, instead of the specific sub-species oreganum hirtum that has the most flavor and intensity among oregano species, what you regularly find in your store is a generic oreganum L., without indication of its geographic origin. It could come from anywhere in the world. And it could be one of 30 different types of oregano, and a culinary zero.
Kalios herbs are hand-picked and unprocessed, without any added ingredients, colorings or flavorings. They are hand packed with all of their natural components. In the bag, you actually have a small piece of Greece.
The name "oregano" means "joy of the mountain" and has its origins in the ancient Greek "oros" (mountain) and "ganos" (joy) and it is properly a delicacy found at high altitude in the arid Greek mountains.
Oregano has been used for millennia in ancient Egypt and Greece both medicinally and for the seasoning of meats, fish, vegetables, and wines. For the Greeks it was a remedy to pain, colds, asthma, fatigue and poisons and Pliny the Elder suggested it as an antidote for spider and scorpion bites. Newly married couples were crowned with garlands of oregano as a blessing of happiness.
It was brought to America by early colonists but was popularized after WWII by GIs coming back from Italy and addicted to pizza flavored with oregano. Hence its popularity as a “pizza spice” that can’t even begin to describe all its qualities.
The taxonomy of this herbal perennial is truly very complex but one thing is clear: what is offered in US stores under the name "Mexican oregano" has nothing to do with oregano at all. Its scientific name is Lippia graveolens and it is a member of a different botanic family with very different characteristics and qualities (for chili powders, hot/spicy dishes).
Origanum vulgaris hirtum is the authentic Greek oregano, with an intense spicy flavor, and is generally considered the best all-purpose culinary subspecies. Others have their qualities, of course, but very different flavors and intensities. Try to check on the jar at your store. Origanum onites is quite common as well as a generic Origanum vulgaris L., a culinary mediocrity, that is grown all over the world and is often offered as Greek Oregano nonetheless.
Among herbs and spices, oregano has been called recently a “super-herb” because of its high anti-oxidant power. According to a research by Cornell University, one teaspoon of oregano has as much antioxidant power as three cups of chopped broccoli.
Oregano is full of flavor and aroma, a robust spice, but nonetheless it partners well with other seasonings, rosemary, basil and thyme among others.
There are many many ways to enjoy Greek oregano in the kitchen, suffice it to mention just a couple here. Of course it is a must for Greek salad. Chopped and mixed with garlic, salt, and olive oil it makes a great marinade for pork, beef, lamb or roasted potatoes. It can be added to any tomato based sauce, meat or vegetable sauté (in particular zucchini), stir fry, and egg dishes. Great on top of a grilled cheese sandwich. A flavor enhancer for stewed vegetables. Oregano should be added at the beginning of cooking, so the flavor has time to emerge and blend with the other flavors of the dish.
Greek Mountain Tea (Tsai tou vounou)
Sideritis, the herb known for millennia as “mountain tea”, “shepherd’s tea” or ironwort, has never gained the popularity of regular tea but remained very popular in Greece and the Balkan countries where the plant, slowly dried in the shade, is used for the preparation of tisanes, using stems, leaves and flowers. Under strong guidance from grandmas, one cup per day, at the minimum, it used to serve as a cure-all and there is indeed considerable interest in this species as a medicinal plant known for its high levels of antioxidants containing also large amounts of essential oils.
It is an herb belonging to the large family of minty plants (as well as sage and oregano) and it grows only at high altitude on the rough, craggy and arid terrain of the Southern Mediterranean and the Balkans where low mountain vegetation includes many fragrant plants. In Greece alone there are 17 different indigenous species, on Mount Olympus, Mount Parnassus, Mount Athos, in Crete etc…. It is very common in the antique region of Thrace, at the border between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Actually in the ancient world, Europe was but a region within Thrace…
The name sideritis derives from the Greek word for iron, σίδηρος (sideros). In ancient Greek times, sideritis was a generic reference for plants used to heal wounds inflicted by iron weapons on the battlefield. The famous Greek physician Dioscorides advises the herbal infusion of mountain tea to soldiers as a rejuvenating, regenerating aid to help them heal quicker and fuller. In Crete, under the Venetian rule, sideritis gained another name, still in use, malotira, from the Italian words “male”(=disease) and “tirare”(=pull)). Indeed Malotira draws out the illness…
Mountain tea is different from regular tea to which it is not related at all. Its composition shows a lower ratio of tannins and a complete lack of theine. The decoction gains a honey-golden shade with a tinge of green and its aroma, herbaceous, minty and slightly spicy, reminds of the wild Greek hillsides.
Greek mountain tea is prepared by boiling the stems, leaves and flowers in a pot of water for 3 to 5 minutes to help release the herb’s essential oils, and more for a stronger taste. A drop of honey enhances the flavor and heightens the experience, a slice of lemon is common, and a stick of cinnamon is also a good accompaniment.
Once cooled, and with ice cubes, it makes a great ice tea or even, with the addition of rum and soda water, a tea champagne.
Greek Sage (Faskomilo)Sage has been revered for centuries for its culinary uses as well as health benefits, since it was named for that quality (its botanical Latin name "salvia" comes from a root meaning both "saved" and "healthy, intact"). Ancient Greeks and Romans used sage to cure snake bites and to invigorate the mind and body. In the Middle Ages, sage was used to make tea which was said to treat a variety of ailments including colds, fevers, liver trouble and epilepsy. Modern science attributes it to its high content of antioxidants and certain phytonutrients.
Why should a man die in whose garden grows sage?
Against the power of death there is not medicine in our gardens
But sage calms the nerves, takes away hand
Tremors, and helps cure fever.
Sage, castoreum, lavender, primrose,
Nasturtium, and athanasia cure paralytic parts of the body.
O sage the savior, of nature the conciliator!
From the “Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum” (A Salernitan Regimen of Health, 12th century C.E.)
There are many varieties of sage found around the world. Kalios mountain sage is hand gathered in the rocky mountains of Northern Greece, and shade-dried naturally in dedicated areas. In the kitchen, its warm and musky essence is essential for making the fragrant dressing that goes so well for the stuffing for roasted turkey and sausage but also in general for white meat veal, lamb and pickles. In Greece it is common with meat stews. It also complements tomato sauce, or pasta dishes with a good olive oil. Pasta “burro e salvia” (seasoned with just butter and sage) is a classic of Italian everyday cuisine. The herb is also used in many vegetable dishes, especially with beans ("fagioli all'olio e salvia"). It can be added to oil or vinegar to flavor them.
Discard stems before using in recipes. Sage is to be used sparingly, as it will easily overpower a dish. It doesn’t break down quickly and lose flavor in the cooking process, like many herbs, so it can be added early in the cooking process. As with most dried herbs, whole plants retain more of their essential oils and therefore provide more flavor than their crushed counterparts.
Faskomilo is used to make traditional Greek sage tea, which is also called “thinker’s tea”. Contrary to the Greek mountain tea, that is a decoction, sage tea is prepared just by steeping the herb with the stems for about 3-5 minutes. Sage tea may taste astringent; lemon and honey add a very nice touch and it is delicious both hot or cold.
This soothing herbal tea has bitter undertones and a special aroma that is very distinct and different from common tea. It is naturally theine free and can be enjoyed any time of day.