While most people associate the act of tea drinking as 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) which translates to “he who is made of or has iron.” Fun fact: my great grandmother was a Pappasideris. I heard she had an iron will. Tsai tou vounou, also referred to as Shepheard’s tea, offers deep health benefits that have been enjoyed 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, it translates to “drive out illness.” Other regions have their own names for Greek mountain tea, such as Olympos and Parnassos tea—both reflecting the mountains on which the tea grows. During my last visit to Crete in 2014, relatives wouldn’t let me leave the horio (village) until my suitcase was bulging with this flowering plant. The Cretan malotira sat in my pantry for an entire year and a half. I didn’t feel sick so it didn’t budge. But deeper research into Greek culture and healthy habits changed my habits. Drinking tea is a daily ritual for many Greeks. Many centenarians around the world also make a daily habit of tea drinking. And now so do I.
An anti-inflammatory, tsai tou vounou offers lots of iron, natural antioxidants, and 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 tastes great, 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. And if you’re sick, add lemon and more whiskey to really put an end to the cold.
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 works 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)
- Put 2 cups water in a small pot and turn heat to medium-high.
- Add leaves, stems and all, and bring water to a boil.
- Once the water boils, remove your pot from the heat and allow the tea to steep for 5-10 minutes, depending on how strong you’d like your tea.
- Strain and pour tea into a cup. Drink plain or add lemon, honey, whiskey, all or in any combination.