The Greek countryside is considered ecologically to be among the richest and most diverse in Europe, with thousands of different species of indigenous vegetation growing wild on the country’s mountains and fields.
Over the ages, researchers have studied various Greek plant species for any attributes beneficial for human health, amid continued enquiry into the so-called ‘Mediterranean diet‘ and its apparent correlation with longevity, and the prolonged lifespan of many Greeks has attracted many seeking the ultimate elixir of life.
Aside from the obvious examples of olives, pomegranates, lemons and the everyday fruit and vegetables many take for granted, such is the wealth of Greek products that are famous for helping the body stay healthy that it would be impossible to list them, so here are but some of Greece’s unique and beneficial agricultural products.
Mastic is a resin obtained from the mastic tree, which grows widely around the Mediterranean, and abundantly on the Greek northern island of Chios, where it is protected due to the unique weeping properties of the local trees that give them the name “tears of Chios”. Its reported medicinal qualities are many, and include:
- antibacterial attributes
- treatment of the stomach bacterium helicobacter pylori, which is linked to the development of gastric and duodenal ulcer, as well as stomach cancer
- anti-neoplastic attributes, due to its high antioxidant content
- a clinical trial by the Harokopio University found that patients with Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease) showed an improved clinical picture after consuming mastic
Saffron is a precious spice used in cooking for its fine flavour and distinctive red color, once used to make paints and dye fabrics. It is derived from the careful removal of the stigma of a specific crocus flower thought to have originated in Crete, although the cultivation of the plant disappeared from Greece until about 300 years ago, when traders brought the plant from Austria to the northern area of Kozani, whence it takes its local name, krokos Kozanis and where it is exclusively cultivated. Greek red saffron is long among the world’s most expensive spices by weight and is reputed to have aphrodisiac, relaxing and sedative qualities, as well as:
- anti-neoplastic, anticoagulant and antioxidant attributes
- easing abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problems
- treating mild depression
Greek retsina and ouzo
Studies have shown that consuming small amounts of alcohol is actually beneficial for the well-being of the human body, especially if it’s retsina (a Greek white resinated wine) or the traditional anise-flavored aperitif “ouzo.” According to studies:
- white wine is good for the heart
- ouzo helps to absorb iron from food due to its high concentration in anise
- the essential oil found in anise (anethole) increases appetite
A study by the University of Athens’ Medical School found that the arteries of hypertensive patients who drank 1-2 cups of Greek coffee per day had greater elasticity, compared to the patients who drank smaller quantities.
The study, which was presented at a conference of the European Society of Cardiology, was conducted on the residents of Ikaria, who are famous for their prolonged lifespan, and involved 485 people aged 65-100 years. The qualities of Greek coffee are:
- antioxidant due to the metabolites flavonoids found in coffee beans
- helps in reducing caffeine intake, as Greek coffee is drunk in small cups and doesn’t have high concentration of caffeine, while a large amount remains at the bottom of the cup
- eases abdominal pain
- protects the arteries of the elderly suffering from hypertension
So the next time you choose to take a pill or another drug for dealing with some of the above described medical issues, bear in mind that Mother Nature so often provides an alternative in the medicinal plants dotted around the Greek countryside. Sadly for Greeks, however, coffee does not grow in Greece. It is shipped mainly from Brazilian rainforest, the lungs of the earth.