Mountain Tea

Latin Names: Sideritis syriaca, Sideritis scardica, Sideritis spp. 

Other Names: Tsai Tou Vounou (Greek); Mountain Tea, Ironwort (English)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Lamiaceae (Mint family)

Part Used: The aerial parts; the herb

Basic Qualities: Moderately heating, slightly drying

Other Qualities: Light, dispersing, loosening, opening, sedating

Taste: Pungent, aromatic, slightly sweet

Harvesting Shepherd's Tea in the mountains of Greece

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – vasodilator, improves blood circulation and immune function.  Phlegmatic – antihistamine, decongestant; improves fluid metabolism.  Choleric – anti-inflammatory, inflamo-modulatory, antioxidant.  Melancholic – mild sedative and nervine. 

Tropism: The lungs and respiratory tract; the immune system; the blood and cardiovascular system; the stomach and digestive tract; the musculoskeletal system; the nervous system.

Constituents and Pharmacology: A broad assortment of flavonoids, including hyplaetin, luteolin, isoscutelarin and quercetin; large amounts of essential oils, with various phenols, terpenoids, diterpenoids and triterpenoids; alkaloids, phytosterols, saponins and caffeic acid.

Medicinal Properties: Adaptogen, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antirheumatic, decongestant, diaphoretic, expectorant, immuno-modulatory, inflammo-modulatory, nervine, sedative, stomachic, tonic, vasodilator.

Cautions and Contraindications: None known.

Medicinal Uses: Shepherd’s Tea is consumed mainly as a tonic health beverage, and double strength for medicinal purposes. It is used mainly to improve circulation and immunity to fight off colds and flu, as well as chills and rheumatic aches and pains. Many Greeks consume it daily as a health tonic, either by itself or with other herbs such as Sage. Shepherd’s Tea has a beneficial effect on the stomach and digestion, and some even consider it to be useful against stomach ulcers. Shepherd’s Tea fits the classic description of a health tonic, in that it makes beneficial adjustments to several different bodily systems, principally the respiratory, immune, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems.

Other Uses: Shepherd’s Tea can also be used as a cooking herb, to impart a wonderful aromatic flavor to soups and stews.

Preparation and Dosage: Shepherd’s Tea is a rather mild herb, like Peppermint or Camomile, and as such can be used liberally without fear of an overdose.  When drinking the tea as a beverage, make an infusion of the herb with one teaspoonful of the herb per cup of boiling water.  When using the tea for medicinal purposes, the dose is one rounded tablespoonful per cup of boiling water, prepared as an infusion.  An alcoholic extract or tincture of the herb is also possible, prepared in standard doses; the alcohol would act as an excellent carrier or medium to take the medicinal effects of Sideritis to the circulatory system, muscles, bones and joints.

Herbal Formulation: Shepherd’s Tea works best in herbal infusion formulas, blended with leafy, flowery herbs of a similar nature and energetics. Its aromatic properties combine well with other herbs of the Mint family, for example.

Classic Combinations: In Greece, Shepherd’s Tea is most often combined with Sage (Salvia officinalis), since their therapeutic properties seem to complement and benefit each other.

Description: Shepherd’s Tea, also known as Mountain Tea or Tsai Tou Vounou, is an herb that grows wild in the highlands of Greece, at altitudes of over 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).  The tea is imbibed faithfully by many Greeks as a daily health tonic.  The herb is light green to pea green, with parts having a yellowish tint, and has a kind of whispy, ragged appearance that’s even a little ghostlike.  In addition to being brewed as an herbal infusion for beverage or medicinal purposes, the Sideritis herb can also be cooked into soups and stews, where it imparts a delicious and fragrant aroma in addition to its numerous health benefits.  Hippocrates considered it to have proven benefits for the immune and respiratory systems.  Aristotle considered it to be an energy tonic.  Mountain Tea was also known to the great herbalist, Dioscorides, as well as Theophrastus, the great botanist and student of plants.

Shepherd’s Tea is a very good example of what is called an herbal tonic – an herb that makes beneficial health adjustments to multiple bodily systems to give the entire organism a “tune up”, so to speak.  The main organ systems that are given a “tune up” are the respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, nervous and immune systems.  Many of Shepherd’s Tea’s numerous health benefits come from its abundance of antioxidants, which are chiefly in the form of various flavonoids.  The plant is also rich in essential oils, with the main active constituents being a wide assortment of phenols and terpenoid compounds, from which its stomachic and diaphoretic or sweat inducing properties are thought to arise.  Shepherd’s Tea has anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties, and its tonic effects are thought to have a beneficial balancing effect on histamine reactions, to help with allergies, as well as the inflammatory response, to have a beneficial effect in chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders.  As a beneficial side effect of these actions, Shepherd’s Tea is said to improve bodily fluid metabolism.

What does the scientific research on Shepherd’s Tea reveal?  Although Green Tea (Camelia sinensis) has a higher total flavonoid and antioxidant content than Sideritis, the antioxidant activity of Shepherd’s Tea is comparable to that of Green Tea because of a higher level of bio-availability of its antioxidants.  Because it is a vasodilator, Shepherd’s Tea may be helpful in lowering blood pressure if it is too high, as well as easing stress on the heart muscle – but more research studies are needed in this area.  Research has also shown that Shepherd’s Tea has significant stomachic and gastroprotective effects, but further research is needed to determine if the herb is actually valuable in the treatment of stomach ulcers.  Shepherd’s Tea has also demonstrated significant antimicrobial activity in the laboratory against organisms like Staphylococcus epidermidis, Candida albicans and E. coli.  One problem with scientific research into Shepherd’s Tea is that each one tests the therapeutic activity of one particular species of Sideritis for a certain purpose, whereas many different species of Sideritis – it has been estimated that there are over 17 of them – go by the name of Shepherd’s Tea, Mountain Tea, or the Greek name Tsai Tou Vounou.  Are they all equally effective?

Related Species: The colloquial names of Shepherd’s Tea, Mountain Tea, Ironwort or Tsai Tou Vounou are pretty much umbrella terms that can refer to a number of different species of the Sideritis genus. These species are endemic not only to Greece, but also to the broader Mediterranean world, the Balkans and even the Middle East and Central Asia. Sideritis syriaca is native to Crete, where it goes by the local name of Malotira. S. scardica is also called Pirin or Olympus Tea, and is native to the region of Mount Olympus in Greece – is this the Elixir of the Gods? S. purpurea, or the Purple Sideritis, is native to western Greece, the Ionian Islands and Crete, whereas S. theezans is native to the Peloponnese. At the western end of the Mediterranean world, S. hyssopifolia is native to Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, whereas S. barbellata is native to the Canary island of La Palma. S. cypria is native to Cyprus, of course. Since the distinctions between these various species of Sideritis can be quite subtle, botanists have had a hard time identifying and distinguishing many of them. More detailed information on the various species of Sideritis can be found in the Wikipedia article cited as one of my sources, below.

Greek Mountain Tea Demonstrates Significant Health Benefits In New Research Report
 The Health Benefits of Greek Mountain Tea 
Pure essence of Greek Mountain Tea

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.