Greek Mountain (Shepherd’s) Tea

Selling a house is stressful. Selling a beloved house filled with joyful moments is even more difficult. Selling such a house due to circumstances and not desire is harder still.

Yet here we are, in such a position within my family. And as the house lingers on the market, stress levels are, well, you can imagine.

greek mt tea

Of course all tea drinkers know that this calls for TEA. And as all tea drinkers know, this is a time to stand in front of your tea collection and consider which tea. 

Normally I’d reach for a comforting toasty tea, maybe houjicha. But today I’m trying an herbal that I’ve actually never tried, even though it’s long been on the TeaHaus tea wall—plus this tea supposedly soothes. We’ll see!

The Plant and Its Health Claims

Greek Mountain Tea (or shepherd’s tea) is actually ironwort, or Sideritis ssp., a perennial in the mint family that thrives in its high-altitude environment.

The Greek word sideritis is from its feminine form, meaning “of iron”; the plant was named “ironwort” either because it was thought to heal injuries from iron objects (weapons) or because the flower’s calyx (the leaf that protects the individual flower) looks like the head of a spear.

stalks closeup

The plant was also anecdotally said to calm stress and traditionally was used as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-ulcerative, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antiseptic, insecticidal, and more (González-Burgos et al. 2011; Çarikçi et al. 2012). As you might then expect, researchers have been looking into whether ironwort could actually be a viable medicinal plant.

Although there are some 150 species of ironwort, they are located mostly in the Mediterranean area. One study measured the antioxidant activity of various species from Turkey and found that some species had a lot of antioxidants—and herbal tea made of these had high antioxidant activity—whereas others species, and their teas, had very low activity (Güvenç et al. 2005). Similarly, some species have higher anti-inflammatory, or antimicrobial, etc. properties than others.

The beneficial qualities come from the plant’s flavonoids, diterpenes, and volatile components, although two specific phenolic acids and one flavone compound have more recently been shown to be the primary players (Wightman et al. 2018).

gr mt stalks

A 2018 study, using mice, evaluated doses of one species of ironwort and concluded that:

Mountain tea drinking prevents anxiety-related behaviors and confers antioxidant protection to rodent’s tissues in a region-specific, dose-dependent manner. (Vasilopoulou et al.)

With those kind of promising results, researchers have looked at the tisane’s effects on humans. Although the body of research remains small at this point, a 2018 study (Wightman et al.) had people drink the tisane for 28 days and found that:

  • there was a “significant reduction in anxiety” 
  • there was “significantly improved cognitive performance,” although this could be attributed to the lowered anxiety

Other studies are assessing its potential use for Alzheimer disease.

These are exciting results, with more concrete conclusions than are often found in evaluations of herbals. I look forward to hearing more about this plant!

So did it alleviate my current stress?

The Tea

Visually the herb is pretty. When in stalks, the sunny flowers nestled in their soft green beds make me happy. When chopped, the mix is soft to the touch, tactilely pleasing.

cut gr mt lvs

I brewed 2 heaping teaspoons of the chopped herb in 8 oz of boiling water for around 15 minutes; with the same parameters, I used 1 stalk.

brewing stalk

The liquor of that brewed with the stalk was a light golden brown with a lemony aroma, whereas that brewed with the chopped herb was a dark golden brown and its more herbaceous aroma had only a whiff of lemon.

Interestingly, the flavors were noticeably different as well. Although both were herbaceous, floral, and slightly sweet, that from the chopped herb had a more pronounced lemon note even though the tisane’s aroma seemed less lemony. I expected the opposite!

The tea from the stalk also had a slight bitterness at the end, although perhaps I simply didn’t use enough water for the size of the floral head I brewed. But again, based on its lighter color, I would’ve expected the opposite.

brewed stalk

Either way, this is a pleasant drink, especially if you like that herbaceous note, vaguely earthy, that you often get with herbal tisanes. As I found with fireweed, it reminds me of a meadow—in this case, one high in the mountains. And that, in and of itself, is quite soothing.

comparison of brews

Sources:
–Çarikçi, S., et al.,  “Chemical constituents of two endemic Sideritis species from Turkey with antioxidant activity,” Rec. Nat. Prod. 6(2):101-9. 2012.
–González-Burgos, E., et al., “Sideritis spp.,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 135(2):209–25. May 2011.
–Güvenç, A., et al., “Antioxidant activity studies on selected Sideritis. species native to Turkey,” Pharmaceutical Biology 43(2):173–7. 2005.
–Vasilopoulou, C. G., et al., “Phytochemical compositions of ‘mountain tea’ from Sideritis clandestina. . .,” European Journal of Nutrition 52(1):107–16. Feb 2013.
–Wightman, E. L., et al., “The acute and chronic cognitive and cerebral blood flow effects of a Sideritis scardica (Greek mountain tea) extract,” Nutrients 10(8):955ff. Aug 2018.

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