The 5 Most Important Healing Greek Aromatic Herbs
Aromatic plants have been playing a significant role both in the medical cabinets and in the kitchens ever since ancient Greeks discovered about their medicinal and culinary properties. Even Greek mythology mentions some of these plants in reference to different Gods and Goddesses.You can find plants such as oregano or thyme in abundance in Greece due to the country’s mild climate. Walking through the countryside, you can see lush mountain sides and green meadows entirely covered by these fragrant healing herbs.
We have collected a number of aromatic herbs from Greece, which not only give an incomparable flavour for the dishes but can also heal all kind of health conditions and ailments.
Season all kind of dishes and improve your health by incorporating these miracle plants into your everyday life!
Oregano –Ρίγανη (rígani)
Oregano is probably the most frequently used herb in Greek kitchens. Its name derives from two Greek words όρος (mountain) and γάνος (joy) which can be also interpreted as ‘joy of the mountain’. The story goes that oregano was created by Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and beauty. She planted this wild aromatic herb in her secret garden on the top of Mount Olympus. The Goddess, considering the everyday hardship of humans, offered them leaves of oregano to bring some joy into their lives. Later, the oregano plant became the symbol of happiness and joy. In the old times, or in smaller villages still to this day, young couples used to be crowned with sprigs of oregano in order to make sure that they will have a happy marriage. Apart from bringing luck to the newly weds, oregano’s benefits are plentiful, especially when it come stop health.
The health benefits of oregano oil were already known in the ancient world; therefore, people widely used it to prevent and cure diseases.
Oregano contains carvacrol and thymol which are two powerful antimicrobial agents to fight against the growth of microbes. They have antibacterial and antifungal properties thus can be effective home remedies for skin infections.
The herb also has tremendous antioxidant activity. Studies demonstrated that antioxidant content of oregano scores the highest content among all herbs and even beats some other plant species. Due to its rosmarinic acid compound it beats even apples, oranges, and blueberries in their antioxidant content (Murray, N.D., Michael, et al. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. 1st ed., Atria Books, Sept. 2005.).
If you are looking for a natural solution to treat acne at home diluted oregano oil can do the trick. Using this remedy is also beneficial to get rid of topical infections and cure big bites. People who caught the cold or are suffering from bronchitis can incorporate oregano oil into their steam inhalation therapies.
You can basically use this herb in any recipe you like. Oregano goes perfectly with χωριάτικη (choriátiki; Greek salad) or with a warm nourishing bowl of chickpea soup. The next time you crave some delicious veggie plate, add some extra oregano on top!
Thyme- Θυμάρι (thymári)
Just like oregano, thyme also belongs to the mint family. Even though more than sixty different varieties of this plant grow all around the world, Greece can proudly call itself one of the most significant importer.
Thyme has been just as highly favoured today for its flavour and numerous other beneficial properties as it used to be centuries ago. In the ancient Hellenic world, people used to burn branches of thyme during sacred ceremonies as an incense to please the Gods. Thyme was also considered as a symbol for courage and fortitude. The name of the herb actually comes from the ancient Greek word θυμός (thumos) which means bravery. It was thought that smelling the plant before going to a battle will make the warrior fearless and courageous.
Thyme has been widely used for therapeutic and medical purposes. The list of thyme’s health benefits can go on and on for pages, but let’s just a mention a few.
Back in the days, folk medicine books had already mentioned the herb as a great remedy for diarrhea and various gastrointestinal issues.
This miraculous thyme plant is commonly known for its volatile oil content including borneol, geraniol, and thymol. The antispasmodic properties of these compounds both relieve and prevent muscle spasms. Thyme is specifically recommended for treating stomach cramps; it can be an effective pain relief in the form of a hot cup of tea. Thyme tea can be an excellent cure for nightmares, as well, as it aids the digestion if you take a heavy meal close to bedtime.
The essential oil derived from the plant can be used as a powerful treatment for candida and fungal skin infections. Due to its antiseptic properties, thyme is a common ingredient in mouthwashes. Nowadays, many people switch to DIY mouthwashes from the store-bought products to avoid their alcohol content. Adding thyme to your own home-made recipe can provide you a fresh breath that lasts for many hours.
Thyme has powerful antioxidant activity, as well, since it contains high amount of flavonoids, the largest group of phytonutrients. Important flavonoids such as luteolin and thymonin along with thyme’s manganese content make this plant a high-standing item on the list of antioxidant foods.
Thyme can give a great flavor to a wide variety of dishes; for example, hearty legumes, soups, or Greek lemon potatoes. Fancy something sweet? Munch on a yummy spoon of golden thyme honey!
Mint – Δυόσμος (diósmos)
Mint is one of the most significant culinary and medicinal herbs cultivated in Greece. There are 25 different species of this plant; however, the most commonly used in Greek cuisine is spearmint. The spearmint plant has rounder leaves with a more grayish green-like color in comparison to peppermint. The taste is also less cooling and rather sweet.It’s a native plant which grows wild throughout the Mediterranean region.
Concerning its origin, even ancient Greek tales give us a unique explanation how this aromatic plant was created. The herb was named after a mythical figure called Minthe. She was a beautiful water Nymph who presided over Cocytus, one of the five rivers of the underworld. These mysterious creatures were nearly as worshipped like Gods in some places. Residents who lived close to water springs used to organize annual ceremonies and rituals to please their local nymphs.
According to the myth, one day Minthe set her eye on Hades and decided to seduce him even though the king of the underworld was already married to Persephone. In her jealous rage, the goddess of spring growth turned the impudent nymph into garden mint. She calculated that now being a plant the nymph will be trampled on by passers-by for an eternity. Hades couldn’t help feeling compassion for his former lover and gave her a sweet intense smell that mesmerizes everyone who comes across the plant. Mint is considered the symbol of hospitality as ancient Greeks used to rub their dining table mint to give it a clean and fresh scent.
Mint has a wide range of health benefits.
Like many other species of the mint family, such as the previously mentioned thyme, this herb also has very beneficial effects on the digestive system. Mint tea is good for all sort of stomach issues, in general. A cup of spearmint tea can even relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Mint oil extract soothes stiff muscles therefore it is recommended for runners and everyone who is physically active. Due to its perillyl alcohol content, it has strong anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that mint is a potent chemopreventive agent and it can fight against colon, skin, and lung cancer (Belanger JT. Perillyl alcohol: applications in oncology. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Dec;3(6):448-57. PMID: 9855569). Steam inhalation with mint extract oil could be a good solution for a blocked nose when you have a cold or suffer from allergies. It opens the nasal tunnels thus will help you breathe more effortlessly.
Spearmint mixes well with a variety of dishes. It gives the signature flavor for many beloved Greek dishes such as gemista (stuffed tomato and paprika) and dolmades (stuffed vine leaves). Don’t be afraid to experiment with strong flavours like mint the next time you prepare something delicious!
Bay leaf – Δάφνη (dáfni)
Among all the Greek aromatic and therapeutic herbs, bay leaf stands out with its incomparable aroma and surprising health benefits. These sweet dried leaves come from the ever-green bay laurel trees which are indigenous in the Mediterranean area. Interestingly enough, the fresh leaves have very mild flavour; the actual taste comes out after the drying process. Bay leaves belongs to the kind of herbs which have a more prominent fragrance than taste when it comes to seasoning.
According to Ancient Greek mythology, the plant was named after the daughter of the river god Peneus and his wife Creusa. Both mother and daughter were nymphs who were in charge of the fountains and streams of the Thessaly region. Nymphs were known about their attractive look and their seductive nature. Men lost their mind upon encountering their dashing beauty. That’s exactly what happened to Apollo as well. Dafne didn’t respond well to the proposals of the infatuated God. When Apollo’s attempts became even more bothersome, Dafne asked for help from Gaia the Mother Earth. At the next occasion when the God tried to pull the nymph into an embrace, Gaia used her magic and turned Dafne into a bay tree. The grieving lover broke off a couple of leaves and formed a wreath out of them. From that time on, Apollo always appeared with this wreath on his head.
Since Apollo was the god of divination and knowledge (among many other attributes), bay leaves became the symbol of wisdom and prophecy. In the Apollo Temple of Delphi, Greek priestesses used to burn or eat the bay leaves for their mildly narcotic properties. Once they had achieved a trance-like state, it helped them to deliver forecasts and prophecies for their believers.
Laurel wreaths were also given to poets, as well as, for athletes to be awarded for great achievements.
Consumed in small quantities, bay leaf is a perfectly safe culinary and medicinal herb though. Bay leaf extract contains a significant amount of good stuff. Maybe the most important to mention is the health benefit of eugenol essential oil.
The eugenol essential oil has powerful antibacterial, antioxidant, and antifungal activity. Due to its antineoplastic properties, eugenol can be a potent agent to stop tumor growth. According to a study, essential oil extract from bay leaves has been proven highly effective against the growth of cell mutation in various medical cases such as melanoma, breast cancer, colon cancer, and even leukemia (Bennett, L. & Abeywardena, M. & Burnard, S. & Forsyth, S. & Head, R. & King, K. et al. (2013). Molecular Size Fractions of Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis) Exhibit Differentiated Regulation of Colorectal Cancer Cell Growth In Vitro. Nutrition and cancer. 65. 746-64. 10.1080/01635581.2013.796999).
Bay leaves can be a great home remedy for cold, as well. Using the extracted oil helps to get rid of a stuffy nose. Add some drops in your purifier or into a bowl when you do herbal steam inhalation.
Due to their distinctive flavor, Greek people like to add bay leaves to all sort of local dishes such as fakes (Greek lentil soup) or fasolakia (Greek green beans). Channel your inner Greek, and throw a bunch of bay leaves into your pot the next time you cook lentils!
Rosemary – Δεντρολίβανο (dentrolívano)
This unique herb is beloved by all for its incomparable aroma, flavor, and outstanding healing properties. Rosemary grows all over the Mediterranean region; however, you can find the best quality wild rosemary on Pindos mountain, in northern Greece. Many people are confused whether rosemary and thyme are same or different plants because of their similar appearance. Thyme has small rounded leaves while rosemary is characterized by rather longish needlelike leaves. Regarding flavor, rosemary has a stronger pungent slightly bitter taste compared to thyme which leaves a more herbal wood-like note in your mouth.
Just like oregano, rosemary is also associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and fertility in Greek mythology. In some versions of the classic birth tale of the goddess, in which she emerges from the currents, Aphrodite is draped is rosemary. There was also a widespread belief that rosemary strengthens the memory therefore students were given a spring of rosemary before the exams. Rosemary flowers were also thrown into the grave during funerals as a symbol of remembrance.
The fragrant plant has a long history of herbal and culinary use. Due to its connection with Aphrodite, the ancient Greeks viewed rosemary as a natural fertility booster herb. Undoubtedly, rosemary tea is good for variety of ailments and conditions.
The health benefits of rosemary tea include menstruation cycle regulation, stress and anxiety relief, and brain health promotion.
Sipping rosemary tea is especially beneficial for women who have problems with menstrual cycle. Herb infusion also helps to ease cramps. Pregnant women should not take rosemary in large dose though. Some components of the extract might stimulate flow thus it risks miscarriage. People who look for a natural stress relief also benefit from a huge cup rosemary tea. The herb contains ursolic and rosmarinic acid which are proven to fight stress and burnout. Rosemary has been shown to increase blood flow in the brain as well therefore it can naturally improve memory.
As for beauty tips, it’s enough to take a look at Aphrodite’s long flowing hair as she steps out of the white foam. Rosemary oil extract is a great hair growth home remedy for men. A study from 2015 even demonstrated that rosemary oil compared to a popular hair growth drug acts more effectively when used for certain kind of hair loss conditions. Making home treatments with herb extracts always requires using a carrier agent oil. Rosemary blends well with olive or coconut oil.
Rosemary is best for cooking mushrooms or preparing marinades. In case you’ve got also hooked on making your own bread at home during lockdown, add some rosemary into the dough! Enjoy the divine aroma that will still linger around in your home long after you have taken out your rosemary bread from the oven!
Written by our guest writer and content editor