Ancient Greek philosophers were on to something when they promoted drinking this antioxidant-packed tea.

By Katerina Solonos
February 09, 2021
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Brewed mountain tea
| Credit: Diana Moutsopoulos

The ancient Greek shepherds high up in the mountains were on to something when they started to brew this unique plant to keep warm and protect them from getting sick. Read on to learn all about Greek mountain tea and its benefits.

What Is Greek Mountain Tea?

Mountain tea is a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea made from a single variety of the sideritis plant. Also known as "Shepherd's Tea" or "Greek Mountain Tea," it is referred to in Greece as Tsai tou vounou, translating directly to "Tea of the mountain." It is brewed using the dried flowers, leaves, and stems of the sideritis plant, found in the Mediterranean mountain regions of Greece, which is the largest consumer of mountain tea, as well as in Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia.

Sideritis, commonly known as ironwort, got its name from the Greek word for iron, sideros. In ancient times, the herb was used to heal wounds caused by iron weapons during battles.

The sideritis plant grows wild at high elevations over 3,200 feet and flourishes with the sun in partially-arid temperatures. Essentially, this means it doesn't need much soil, water, or care to survive. Because it is primarily found on the rockiest cliffs of the mountain sides, it is harvested in small sums. For centuries, Greek shepherds in the mountains have brewed sideritis for tea while tending to their sheep, giving it the nickname "Greek Shepherd's Tea."

What Does Mountain Tea Taste Like?

Sideritis is a flowering perennial therefore mountain tea has a floral, earthy, slightly sweet, and mild taste to it. Its taste is known to resemble a blend of mint, chamomile, and citrus.

Dried sideritis, a.k.a. Greek mountain tea

Health Benefits of Mountain Tea

Mountain tea was used by the ancient Greeks as a healing herbal, medicinal drink. Hippocrates, the Greek philosopher known as the father of modern medicine, hailed its benefits for the immune and respiratory systems. In Greece today, mountain tea is consumed most often in the winter, to combat the common cold and flu.

Mountain tea contains high levels of antioxidants, polyphenols, and essential oils, including flavonoids. One study found that thanks to its powerful levels of antioxidants, mountain tea is as potent as green tea at promoting the body's antioxidant defenses and preventing oxidative stress. There continues to be a number of studies examining the health benefits of mountain tea, which has been shown to have the potential to boost immune response as an anti-inflammatory, aid in digestion, and even prevent osteoporosis.

Mountain Tea and Alzheimer's Disease

Researchers are also beginning to investigate mountain tea's potential as a weapon against cognitive decline. A recent study showed extracts from the sideritis plant can help prevent and treat Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. According to the Journal of Alzheimer's disease, consuming mountain tea has a positive impact on existing mental and cognitive conditions.

Side Effects of Mountain Tea

There are no known side effects or negative effects of mountain tea. Mountain tea is naturally caffeine-free so it can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

Mountain Tea and Pregnancy

While folk wisdom promotes the consumption of mountain tea during pregnancy, it is important to note that no herbal teas have been studied for their affects on pregnant women or a developing fetus. For this reason, all herbal teas should be consumed with caution by women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.

Where to Buy Mountain Tea

In Greece, mountain tea is easy to purchase at all grocery stores and even in pharmacies. Some in Greece can even pick sideritis fresh and dry it at home. But thankfully you don't need to climb Mt. Olympus to brew your own cup of Greek mountain tea!

In the U.S., you can find mountain tea at your local Greek or Mediterranean grocer. Mountain tea is also easy to purchase online, sold as dried bunches that include the stems, leaves, and flowers. Mountain tea packaged in tea bags is now available, as well.

If you can't find it locally, look for mountain tea online from:

How to Make Mountain Tea

Most teas are packaged as tea bags, ready to use in any cup accompanied by freshly-boiled water. Mountain tea, on the other hand, is most often packaged as loose tea, comprising the stems, leaves, and flowers of the sideritis plant. You can brew it in a pan on the stove or by the cup using a tea infuser.