While most people associate the act of tea drinking to be sophisticated and paired with crumpets, I link it with being sick. In my family, it just takes one sniffle or a lousy cough for a pot of tea to begin brewing. Thankfully I was rarely the sick one, but I definitely mastered the art of fake coughing to get myself a cup of tea here and there.
We drink tsai tou vounou (Greek mountain tea) in our home. Tsai tou vounou comes from the Sideritis plant that grows high in Greece’s rocky mountains. Sideritis (ironwort) comes from the Greek word σίδηρος (sithiros) and can be translated into “he who is made of or has iron.” Fun fact: my great grandmother was a Pappasideris. Tsai tou vounou is also commonly referred to as Shepheard’s tea, and is a natural herbal tea that’s deep in health benefits and has been consumed throughout Greece for thousands of years.
I get my Greek mountain tea from Crete, where it is called malotira, named by the Venetians in Crete and translates to “drive out illness.” Other regions in Greece also have their own names for Greek mountain tea, such as Olympos and Parnassos tea—both reflecting the mountains the tea grows. During my last visit to Crete in 2014, relatives wouldn’t let me leave the horio (village) until they were satisfied with how full my suitcase was of this flowering plant. Because I formerly thought I only needed to drink tea when I was feeling under the weather, the Cretan malotira sat in my pantry for an entire year and a half. And then I began researching more and more about Greek culture and healthy habits of Greece’s inhabitants for this blog and past ones. I’ve learned that drinking tea is a daily ritual for many Greeks, and even found that many centenarians around the world also make a daily habit of tea drinking. And now so do I.
Tsai tou vounou is an anti-inflammatory that is rich in iron, high in natural antioxidants, and contains essential oils. It also aids in digestion, strengthens the immune system, can reduce stress and anxiety and is commonly used to fight off the common cold or flu. If I lost you during the long list of numerous health benefits, let me bring you back with some flavor. Tsai tou vounou is simple but tasty, especially when sweetened with honey or spiked with a shot of brandy or any other favorable whiskey. That’s all you need to reap the benefits of tsai tou vounou or any herbal tea, no need to add sugar or other unnecessary additives. And if you’re sick, add lemon and more whiskey to really put an end to the cold.
You don’t have to wait until you’re overcome with a hacking cough to enjoy tsai tou vounou. Brew a cup on a warm sunny day or the coldest winter night, when you feel 100% or when your body breaks out in a sweat, when you get promoted at work or when you’ve had a stressful day on the job. Tsai tou vounou is for any time of the day and any occasion.
Making tsai tou vounou is easy. Here’s how you can brew your own.
-Greek mountain tea
-1 cup of water
-1 Tablespoon Honey (optional)
-1 splash of whiskey (optional)
1. Fill a pot with water and turn heat to medium-high.
2. Place 1-2 stems of tea leaves and place them in a pot and bring water to a boil.
3. Once the water boils, remove your pot from heat and allow the tea to steep for 5-10 minutes and depending on how strong you’d like your tea.
4. Strain the leaves and pour tea into a cup and enjoy!
Serving suggestions: sweeten with honey, spike with a dash of whiskey or add a splash of lemon juice.
*Where to find Greek mountain tea: tsai tou vounou is popular in Greece, so if you visit you can find some in any grocery shop, pharmacy, or farmer’s market. You can also purchase the tea online at http://www.kliotea.com (not affiliated)