12 Important Aromatic Herbs of Ancient Greece - Benefits and Uses.


12 Important Aromatic Herbs of Ancient Greece.

The Greek climate is ideal for growing herbs, which are to be found in abundance, flourishing on mountain sides, and green meadows, where they grow naturally.

When walking through the beautiful countryside of Greece, it’s difficult not to crush the wild carpet of herbs underfoot; they grow so profusely, giving the air an aura unique to Greece.

The herbs found in Greece today, are the same herbs gathered thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece, and their uses have remained unchanged, not only to flavour delicious Greek cuisine, but also for medicinal purposes.

Where to begin and end, when making a list of Greek herbs?

Aromatic Greek Herbs
Aromatic Greek Herbs

Many resemble each other, in flavour, aroma, and in appearance, but Greeks, through experience, and through knowledge, handed down from generation to generation, know what they are looking for, when they go out to the fields, collecting various herbs for tasty, Greek dishes.

Not for Greeks, shop-bought, plastic-wrapped, bland-tasting herbs, found in supermarkets!

 All over Greece, especially in villages, a common sight, is that of someone bent over,  clutching a plastic bag and a knife,  searching for the best fresh herbs, growing wild, along hedgerows, and in fields.

Here is a list of the twelve most popular herbs found growing naturally in Greece,

along with few details of their history and uses.

Hippocrates, great Greek physician, father of medicine, wisely said:

“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food”

1.Oregano (Rigani)

Oregano Photo Ivana Jurcic
Photo Ivana Jurcic

Oregano is maybe the most commonly used herb in Greek Cuisine, in soups, stews, with meat and fish, and of course, no Greek “Horiatiki” salad worth its salt, is without oregano.

In Ancient Greece, it was believed to encourage good luck and good health and symbolise joy. Oregano was planted near homes to ward off evil spirits and when worn on the head during sleep, encouraged psychic dreams.

2. Marjoram (Mantsourano)


Marjoram is a close relative of oregano, with a slightly more delicate flavour, but with similar uses, in soups, stews meat and fish and sprinkled on salads.

In ancient times, marjoram was placed on graves, to help fill the final resting place with eternal happiness and peace.

A symbol of happiness and love, it was made into wreaths, and given to newly married couples to ensure happiness and love.

3. Dill (Anithos)


Dill is used in fresh green salads, and in spanokopita, (spinach pie), its main use in ancient times though, was medicinal.

It was popular as a wound healer and for burns and was said to promote sleep, if placed over the eyes before going to bed.

Dill was made into crowns, at victory celebrations, for returning heroes.

Dill was also used in ancient times to flavour wine.

4. Fennel (Maratho)


Fennel is similar to dill in looks but the taste is very different, with a distinct anise flavour. Today it is used to flavour savoury foods.

The Greek name for fennel is marathon, taken from the place name Marathon, where the Greeks defeated the Persians (49BC), the battle is said to have taken place in a field covered with fennel.

Ancient Greeks believed fennel promoted endurance and longevity.

5. Mint (Menta)

Mint Photo by onegirlinthekitchen
Photo by onegirlinthekitchen

A Greek myth has mint being named after Minthe, a water nymph, who drew the attention of Hades, God of the Underworld, when Persephone, his wife learnt of this, she turned Minthe into a herb.

Mint is excellent, in the form of tea, for indigestion, nerve disorders, dizziness, sore throats, coughs, headaches and insomnia.

Mint is used in many Greek dishes; Greek mint is of a superior quality, both aroma and flavour, owing to the rich soil and the warm temperatures of Greece.

6. Rosemary (Dendrolivano)


The latin word for rosemary, rosemarinus, means “Dew of the sea” as it is said the plant emerged, alongside Aphrodite (Venus) when she rose up from the sea.

Ancient Greek students wore wreaths of rosemary, to aid memory.

A member of the mint family, rosemary is thought to be an antiseptic, to purify blood

Mint is beneficial for asthma and breathing problems, as well as relieving headaches and indigestion.

Rosemary goes particularly well with roast meat, especially lamb.

7.  Sideritis, (Greek Mountain tea)

Greek Mountain Tea - Shepherd's Tea - Sideritis Herbal Tea   Ironwort  Tσάι του βουνού
Greek Mountain Tea - Shepherd's Tea - Sideritis Herbal Tea
 Tσάι του βουνού

The name is derived from the word iron, (Sideron), and in ancient time was used to heal wounds caused by iron weapons, such as arrows and swords.

Hippocrates prescribed it as a tonic; it is one of the most popular herbal teas in Greece.

8. Sage (Latin Salvia) (Faskomilo)


Ancient Greeks believed Sage warded off death and brought about immortality, or, a long and healthy life.

Greek physicians praised it so much, that it inspired the Romans to name it salvia, meaning; saving lives.

Sage is thought to lower cholesterol, enhance memory and sooth skin irritations and inflammation.

It’s quite a strong-tasting, pungent herb, and is used primarily with mild, bland tasting foods.

9. Chamomile


In Greek the word chamomile means apple of the ground, so called for its fresh apple scent and its low-growing nature.

Hippocrates was the first to mention chamomile and recommended it for purification, protection and to fight colds.

Chamomile tea is well known for its properties as a sedative, a relaxant, as an aid for sleep and for stomach disorders.



Thyme, in Ancient Greece was as a source of courage, and was used as incense and infusions for bathing, and, to flavour liqueurs and cheese.

Placed beneath a pillow, in sachets, it was said to aid sleep and ward off nightmares.

Women gave it to warriors before they headed off into battle; it was placed on coffins to ensure a safe passage into the afterlife.

Thyme is one of the few herbs which will retain all its flavour when dried, and is one of the herbs used in Bouquet Garni, a bundle of herbs, tied together and used to flavour savoury dishes.

 Oil of thyme is an effective mouthwash and antiseptic. As a tea, it helps coughs and bronchitis.

11. Parsley (Maidanos)

Parsley Photo by Darren Muir
Photo by Darren Muir

Ancient Greeks associated parsley with death, it was supposed to have sprung from the blood of Archemorous, whose name meant, forerunner of death.

It was never used in Ancient Greek cuisine.

A saying was, when someone was terribly ill;

 “He’s in need of parsley”

 It meant he wasn’t expected to live!

The botanical name is petroselinum, the Greek word for stone, as it grows on rocky hillsides.

Early Greeks made crowns from parsley, for the victors of the Nemean and Isthmian games.

Very little doesn’t benefit from parsley, sauces, stews, cheese, fish, and of course, as a garnish.

12. Basil (Bassilikos)


Last but not least, basil, king of herbs.

The word comes from the Greek, basileus, meaning king, and is said to have first grown on the original cross of Christ.

Even though it represented hatred to the ancient Greeks, they placed it in the hands of the dead to endure them a safe journey to the afterlife, and to make sure the gates of heaven opened for them.

A practice was to hang basil on a door, or by an entrance, to bring good luck and wealth.

Only in the last century has basil become popular in Greek cuisine.

Basil has a rich, spicy flavour, and is always added at the last minute in cooking, to retain all its taste.

Basil, full of vitamins, and an antioxidant, enhances the taste of tomatoes perfectly, in fact, it is said;

 “Basil and tomatoes are best friends”!

 As you see, the ancient Greeks, believed herbs had magical powers, the ability to cure

certain ailments, to help memory, to bring about sleep, and to calm the soul.

Today, people are returning to old, tried and true remedies, they are wary of “Big Pharma”, 

questioning the integrity of large pharmaceutical companies, worrying the about side-effects of medications.

Fakes - Lentil Soup - Greek Style.

"Fakes" Greek lentil soup
"Fakes" Greek lentil soup

I love lentils, though I never used to, well, that’s not really true, I don’t know whether I did or I didn’t!

Silly isn’t it?

 But, I decided without even trying them, that this was not a dish for me.

My children do the self-same thing, it drives me crazy, but now we know where they get it from!

Anyway, I wouldn’t eat lentils; my children wouldn’t eat lentils, poor MGG (My Greek God) could only dream about lentils, unless he ate them elsewhere, they weren’t on the menu!

Dreaming of "Fakes" lentils
Dreaming of "Fakes" lentils

 My children grew up, left home, and MGG brought up the lentil subject; again!

To please him, I made them, “Never mind” I thought, “I can have a sandwich”

Where to find the recipe? Best to ask my mother-in-law, after all, it’s her lentil soup MGG’s familiar with.

Keeping in mind her strict instructions, I bought brown lentils, not green, not red, nor orange.

Lentils for every occasion
Lentils for every occasion

“No carrots or celery, and definitely no sausage or pork, and use fresh tomatoes, not juice or puree”, she told me, “Never mind what others tell you, listen to me, do it my way”

So, what could I do? I did it her way.

Everything went smoothly, it looked like it should, and, didn’t smell too bad at all, in fact, it smelled delicious.

So, when MGG, with his mouth watering, sat down to sample my efforts, and give his verdict, I thought “why not? I’ll try them”.

"Fakes" Greek lentil soup and garlic bread"
"Fakes" Greek lentil soup and garlic bread"

What a revelation, what had I been missing all these years, they were delectable!

French Puy lentils, the best! Difficult to find in Greece.
French Puy lentils, the best!
Difficult to find in Greece.

Now, apart from the hot summer months, we eat “Fakes”, Greek lentil soup, at least once a week.

Garlic bread is the perfect partner for lentil soup.

 The days we have lentils, MGG will bring home, two or three fresh, crusty baguettes from out local bakers, which I fill with garlic butter and pop into the oven, ten minutes or so, before we sit down to eat.

Ingredients for lentil soup
(This recipe makes enough for six people)

Ingredients for "Fakes" Greek lentil soup.
Ingredients for "Fakes" Greek lentil soup.

500 gr brown lentils

2 ripe tomatoes

2 large onions (Chopped)

2 garlic cloves (Chopped)

2 tbs vinegar

1 bay leaf

150 ml Olive oil

Aprox 2 litres water

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt


Put lentils into a large saucepan, add water, bring to the boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, and grate, using the largest holes of grater, discard skins.

Add the tomatoes, along with the chopped onion and garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar and bay leaf.

Grated fresh tomatoes
Grated fresh tomatoes

Bring to the boil again, add olive oil, turn down heat to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours, until lentils are soft, stirring occasionally, take care towards the end, as the soup thickens, it is more likely to burn.

Garlic bread

Garlic bread.
Garlic bread.

3-4 fresh baguettes

200 gr salted butter, softened

4 garlic cloves

Mince garlic, add to butter, and mix well.

Diagonally slice baguettes, don’t slice right through.

Spread garlic butter, liberally, between the cuts you have made in the baguettes.

Wrap in foil, separately, and place in oven, 200 degrees C for about 15 minutes

Remove from foil and enjoy!

By the way, my children still turn up their noses at "Fakes"

If only they knew!

More Greek recipes

How to Make the Perfect Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta
Panna cotta

Creamy, milky desserts are my weakness.

I choose, crispy-topped crème brulee, a wicked piece of custard tart, or a good, old-fashioned milk pudding, over “Death by chocolate” every time.

 A wobbly panna cotta though, beats them all.

 What is panna cotta, this delicious delight, which in recent years, seems to have taken the world by storm?

 Panna cotta, in Italian “Cooked cream”, has its roots in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, and, consists of cream, or a mixture of cream and milk, sugar and gelatin.

 A pure and simple dessert, but wait, this sounds familiar!

 Isn’t this the “Shape” or blancmange, brought to the afternoon tea-table, by my grandmother, many moons ago?

Blancmange Panna Cotta with an Italian accent, Photo by SKopp
Panna cotta with an Italian accent,
Photo by SKopp

Yes, it is panna cotta, blancmange with an Italian accent!

 Moving further East, Greece and Cypress have their own panna cotta, called mahalepi, flavoured with rose or orange-water, drenched in rose-water syrup.


 Turkey, Lebanon and other Arab countries call it muhallebi, and top it with chopped pistachio nuts.


All variations on a theme.

Just to be trendy, I’ll call it panna cotta!

 Such a simple dessert, how can you go wrong, when making it?

With no trouble at all, apparently.

 Unless I have sampled it there before, I never order panna cotta in a restaurant.

 I have consumed some terrible “Fails”, even in Italy, home to panna cotta.

 I have been shocked, by “Rubbery lumps”, presented to me on a plate!

 So, when Master Chef, Theodoros Aletris, offered me panna cotta, I thought twice before answering;

“Oh, yes please”


 This had to be the best panna cotta I had ever tasted, the flavour, the texture, (That's what makes or breaks a panna cotta) the strawberry sauce adorning it, everything was perfect!

I shouldn’t have doubted Theo, as he is an excellent chef, who, by the way, began his career in confectionery.

Theodoros Aletris Master Chef
Theodoros Aletris
Master Chef

 Anything Theo has cooked for me, has been “Heaven on a plate”

 I just had to pick Theo’s brains!

 Well, as great chefs tend to be, he was a bit cagey, guards his recipes with his life!

 He must like me, he caved in!

 So, clutching Theo’s secrets close to my heart, I hot-footed it home, to find out if I could create the perfect panna cotta.

 Yes, I could!

 Remembering Theo’s tips and secrets “Take it easy with the gelatin” and don’t be “Heavy-handed” with the sugar, I did it!

 I made the perfect panna cotta, well, alright then; maybe it was a notch below Theo’s!

 It was creamy, not rubbery, it wobbled, just as it was meant to wobble, and it was not too sweet, it was just right!

 The secret is in the amount of gelatin used, too much, and it loses its creaminess, too little and it’s a sloppy mess.

Gelatin soaking in cold water
Gelatin soaking in cold water

 In my opinion, if you can slice panna cotta, or, when turned out of a mold, it doesn’t “Spread” then, it’s a failure.

The perfect texture of panna cotta.
The perfect texture of panna cotta.

Here is the basic recipe I use, Theo tweaks it a bit, here and there, adds flavoured sugars, he experiments with diverse tastes, adds a soupcon of that “Je ne sais quoi”.

I have experimented by adding a couple of dessert spoons of any liqueur, brandy or grappa, all were delicious!

Ingredients for panna cotta
Ingredients for panna cotta

I use half cream and half milk.

1 litre double cream, or, 500 ml cream and 500 ml milk

100 gr sugar

10 gr gelatin

 (Sheets or powdered, gelatin sheets give a better result though) 

If using gelatin leaves, soak in cold water for about 5 minutes.

If using powdered gelatin, add 2 or 3 tsp cold water, mix, leave 5 minutes

 Vanilla  pod (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)

(Scrape out the seeds, and add them, together with the pod, to the milk, before boiling and don’t forget to remove the pod afterwards!)


Put the cream in a pan, add the sugar

Bring to just before boiling, stirring continuously.

Remove from heat, squeeze excess water from the gelatin, if using leaves, and add to pan, stir until dissolved.

Pour into molds, refrigerate for at least four hours, or, best I think, leave overnight.

Vanilla pods.
Vanilla pods.

Mold ideas for panna cotta
Mold ideas for panna cotta

To remove the panna cotta from the mold, run a sharp knife around the rim, immerse in very hot water for a few seconds, and turn out.

Some recipes suggest you lightly oil the molds, don’t!
Vegetable oil can affect the flavour of the panna cotta.

The list of toppings, which enhance the flavor of panna cotta, is endless.

 I have my favourites, any fruit coulis or purees, plus, what you see below.

I try my best to support the many young Greeks, bringing back tried and trusted, healthy Greek products, which along the road to "Progress", have been forgotten.

I admire their integrity, no cutting of corners, no use of chemicals and preservatives, using only good quality, fresh, local produce.

Panna cotta with homemade lemon cheese
Panna cotta with homemade lemon cheese

Lemon Cheese made by me!

Panna cotta with pomegranate petimezi
Panna cotta with pomegranate petimezi

Petimezi is a sweet syrup, made from concentrated grape, or, pomegranate juice, this petimezi is made by Panagiotis.

Panagiotis Giannakainas Photo courtesy of http://www.tallisvacations.com/
Panagiotis Giannakainas
Photo courtesy of

Panna cotta with grape petimezi
Panna cotta with grape petimezi

This delicious grape petimezi is made by another Panagiotis

Panagiotis Mantzioros
Panagiotis Mantzioros

Panna cotta with black cherry spoon sweet
Panna cotta with black cherry spoon sweet

Mouth watering, black cherry spoon sweet, made by the company, To Filema Tis Lelas, run by Sophia  and Georgos.

Sophia Dimitriou and Georgos Tassinopoulos
Sophia Dimitriou and Georgos Tassinopoulos

And, thank you Mamatsita for introducing me to these mouth watering, balsamic creams, not only perfect on salads, but absolutely delicious drizzled over pannacotta or ice cream.

I tried the fig one on my yogurt this morning, mmmmm!

Flavoured, balsamic creams
Flavoured, balsamic creams

 Maybe panna cotta, (Or, rather the gourmet chefs who make it), is getting “A bit above itself" 

 It has such a simple, pure taste, it should be left alone, kept simple, not drowned in strong-flavoured sauces and syrups, such as  three-chocolate sauce with chilies, or, salted caramel with rum, which absolutely blot out the delicate flavor of panna cotta.

MGG (My Greek God) has got it right.

This is how he likes his panna cotta;

Panna cotta, no frills.
Panna cotta, no frills.

 Left alone, with no fancy frills.

As they say "If it's not broken, why fix it"


"Less is more"

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