Posted in Kafevend Blog

You may already be familiar with butter tea. High in fat, butter tea is the perfect all day every day drink for people who live and work at high altitude. It's standard fare in Tibet and Nepal. However, for folk more used to adding merely a dash of milk, and possibly skimmed at that, it might not sound terribly appetising. Fret not, for today's blog looks at a very different type of mountain tea which could be just the invigorating drink you're looking for!

We're heading away from the Himalayas and west to the Balkan mountains. Here, at elevations of a thousand metres and upwards, grows the sideritis plant, commonly known as ironwort and used to make mountain tea.  Ironwort is a tough plant, able to deal with both a lack of water and rocky soil. Its use in herbal medicines, as well as herbal tea, is a clue to its various health benefits. Anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-oxidant properties combine to help fight colds and flu and to relieve aches and pains. It's commonly used to relieve respiratory problems too. Mountain tea is popular across the Balkan region and southern Mediterranean, particularly in the colder months when a tonic is just what the doctor ordered. Scientific studies have also shown it to be useful in helping to prevent the loss of bone density that is seen in osteoporosis.

In Greece, mountain tea is known also as shepherd's tea because traditionally shepherds would have used the ironwort they collected while wandering with their flocks in the mountains to make a refreshing brew. Over two thousand years ago the Greek founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates, praised the tea for its health benefits and to this day many Greeks still prepare some mountain tea whenever they have a cold. Interestingly, sideritis, or ironwort, got its name from the Greek word for iron which is pronounced see-thee-ros, not because it's full of the mineral iron, but because it was valued as a cure for injury caused by iron weapons!

While it's commonly called mountain tea across the Balkans and southern Mediterranean and shepherd's tea in Greece, it's known as bergtee in Germany, malotira on Crete and in some places the tea is named for the mountain from which the ironwort was harvested. So, Pirin tea is an alternative in the Pirin mountain region of Bulgaria, while Olympus tea is found near Mount Olympus in Greece!

There are dozens of species of sideritis; some seventeen can be found in Greece alone. Most of these plants, which bare small yellow flowers, grow wild and although there are a couple of cultivated varieties most mountain tea is still a result of the harvesting of wild plants. The stems, leaves and flowers are gathered by hand and left to dry for a few weeks. Mountain tea is made by placing dried sprigs in a pan of water, which is brought to the boil and then left to infuse for up to ten minutes. It can be sweetened with sugar or honey; cinnamon or lemon are often added too.

As autumn creeps in and we all start to catch colds it could be the ideal time to develop a taste for mountain tea. Although you won't be able to go out foraging for sideritis here in the UK, it's readily available on the internet!

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