Raw Materials MOUNTAIN TEA: Sideritis, The Humble

MOUNTAIN TEA: Sideritis, The Humble

10/15/12 13:49:20 (9 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Shed a tear of compassion for Sideritis, the herb known for millennia as "mountain tea" or ironwort; it never gained the popularity of regular tea (Camellia sinensis), nor did it enter British salons accompanied by cucumber sandwiches and muffins to be enjoyed during "5 o'clock tea."

Instead it has remained a humble, low-profile herbal tea predominantly consumed in Spain and Greece, where centenarian grandmas (those yia-yias!) and grandpas recommend at least one cup per day as a cure-all; for every ailment and every foe, it comes wrapped in an aromatic blend that exhilarates the senses and gets you hooked once you taste it!

Often referred to as "shepherd's tea" as well, it beautifully evokes the rough, craggy and arid terrain of the Southern Mediterranean and the Balkans where shepherds lead their sheep and goats to graze on low vegetation that includes many fragrant plants, such as labdanum (rockrose), chamomile, clover leaves and immortelle (helichrysum)...a vista of pure, simple, humble pleasures...for everyone!

Maybe things aren't so grim for sideritis.


Sideritis of Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 AD), named after the Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist who wrote the well-known De Materia Medica, is an herb belonging to a large genus in the family of Labiaceae (the family of minty plants). Sideritis includes more than 150 species, bushes full of small yellow blossoms growing at high altitude in rough, mountainous terrain.

In Greece alone, 17 different species are indigenous, extremely fragrant and very productive: Sideritis athoa (growing on Mount Athos), Sideritis clandestina (growing on the especially rough Mount Helmos and Taygetos in the Peloponnese), Sideritis scardica (on Mount Olympus), Sideritis raeseri (on Mount Parnassus), Sideritis syriaca (on the mountains of Crete, known as malotira, pronounced mah-loh-TEER-rah) and Siderities euboea (on the mountains of the Euboea island). Of these, only one species is cultivated, sideritis raeseri...the rest are all wild.

The plant knows other variations throughout the Meditteranean, such as the Sideritis erythrantha of Turkey or the sideritis of Italy.


The name "sideritis" (ironwort) derives from the Greek word for iron, σίδηρος (SEE-thee-ros) because sideritis was considered a great "remedy against trauma from iron weapons," that is to say wounds of war in ancient times. Dioscorides advises the herbal infusion of "mountain tea" to soldiers as a rejuvenating, regenerating aid to help them heal quicker and fuller. In Crete, under the Venetian rule, sideritis gained another name, popular to this day on the island and throughout the world: malotira. This name derives from the Italian: male means ailment/illness, while tirare means to pull, to draw out. Malotira draws out the illness...

As part of the famous study on the Cretan Diet, it certainly contributes to the health and well-being that Cretans have enjoyed for so long, alongside good wine and virgin olive oil!


Indeed sideritis (and malotira) is a pleasant herbal remedy for a sore throat, a great aid in any disease of the respiratory system, possessing soothing and healing properties, as well as a healing cure for ailments of the digestive tract. These actions, known since antiquity, have been confirmed by recent scientific studies, along with its mild anti-anxiety action and its anti-inflamatory properties.

The percentage of flavonoids, monoterpenoids, diterpenoids, phenylopropanole, iridoids and carvacrol included in sideritis ascertain anti-oxidant, anti-infectuous, and pain reducing properties. It is bacteriostatic, disinfectant, diuretic, stimulant, antianaemic, detoxifier and combats diarrhea. Specifically the essential oil of the malotira, the Cretan variety, is especially helpful in fighting microbes, while the essences of Siderities euboea and Sideritis clandestina aid in the prevention of osteoporosis by augmenting the resistance of the bone with regular use.

In cosmetics, sideritis is only recently being exploited as a rich source of antioxidants, which help face creams claim better performance in anti-aging (due to fighting free radicals more effectively) and shampoos/hair preparations for colored and natural hair that better perform against the decolorizing and damage due to daily exposure to UV radiation. Greek brand Korres is among the pioneers of putting sideritis in their cosmetics, backed up by university research by teams working for the University of Patra, Ioannina and Athens.

Comparison of odor profile of SIDERITIS/Mountain tea with REGULAR TEA

While regular black tea is rich in polyphenols, that tannic profile lends a smoky, more pungent and bitter profile to its flavor. Mountain tea on the other hand is different: the lower ratio of tannins, the lack of caffeine and the iris-like ingredients make for a light, ethereal and innocent wooly aroma that will remind you of the wild Greek hillsides. The infusion gains a honey-golden shade with a tinge of green. A drop of honey, especially Greek thyme honey, rich in herbal aromatic facets itself, enhances the flavor and heightens the experience. A stick of cinnamon or a slice of lemon are also good accompaniments in that cup of mountain tea you're brewing. Come winter and it's great to sip some when unwinding at home...


Although mountain tea/sideritis is a fragrant plant with a delightful aroma in infusion, its use in perfumery, contrary to other herbs of the Mediterranean (such as immortelle or labdanum) hasn't gained the popularity it deserves yet. The inclusion of α-pinene and β-pinene, linalool and eucalyptol make it an especially fetching marriage of the pine-like "clean" facet with the camphoraceous side.

Maria Candida Gentile, the Italian perfumer with the wonderful niche perfume line, recreates the arid, herbal aroma of the drought-resistant Mediterranean maquis in her creation Sideris.


Ironwort, sideritiis or mountain tea is extremely popular in Greece (and Spain and Turkey) so if you ever visit, make it a point to get some. It is sold in grocery shops, pharmacies/chemist's, specialized herb and spice shops, or it can be picked fresh during a mountain excursion and dried at home in the sun. Abroad it is sold as "Greek Mountain Tea," or "Greek Mountain Shepherd's Tea," at specialty shops and online. To find out more, please visit this non-affiliated link: malotira.gr


Author: Elena Vosnaki is a historian & perfume writer from Greece and a Writer to Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests. Her writing was recognised at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she has been contributing to publications around the world.

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Loved this article so much that I just bought some Mountain Tea from a seller in Greece :)

Can anyone here, who has natural access to this herb, send me some seeds? I would LOVE to grow it in our herb garden (or indoors). I tried to find these seeds on eBay but there are none...

If you can hook me up with some Sideritis seeds, PM me, please. Thanks!!!


Azzaro Chrome smells like greek mountain tea on me!Intresting article...


Thank you so much for this article, this is illuminating, just found sideritis in the local health-food store with not much explanation from the personnel, this helps a lot, I am going to buy it today!


What a great article!...very consise, to the point and very informative!!...bravo ms. Elena Vosnaki!...EUGE.
i live in greece too and sideritis has become a very important part in our lives...we as a family try to include it in our day...i recently read somewhere that it strengthens the immune system!..and its delicate fragrance on the other hand is incredible...i make my own face cream with olive oil and herbs and in the last batch i added mountain tea....im really looking forward to seeing the outcome....


Yes,it is very popular in Greece indeed...i also collect it where i live and it can be found everywhere up the hills and mountains.It is a remendy for flu and it is smells so intense and cool :)


This plant grows in all the Ballkan Peninsula and also in most of Mediterranean countries, you can find this plant starting from Croatia,Montenegro, Albania, Grece,Bulgaria, Turkey, northern parts of Morocco and Algeria also but not so popular in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
It smells great but I don't think that it can be used as a base note in perfumery, but more likely as an accent.


I used to live in Sydney, Australia, but my grandmother originally came from Loganikos, a small mountain village about 40 minutes from Sparta. Ever since I was little, we've always somehow had a full bag of mountain tea in our cupboard. Whenever we used to get sick, stressed, or hurt, there would always be a fresh cup of this with a little sugar. Now in Denmark, I find it a little hard to find - thank goodness for generous yiayias and their willingness to go to the ends of the earth (or hunt down plants from the Greek mountainside) for you!


I live in Greece too, in Euboea(a big big island), and this tea is found everywhere here. It's a must-buy of my town too. All our touristic stores sell it. It smells amazing and it could be a great ingredient in soothing, laid-back and refreshing perfumes. My yiayia and my mom collect it from the mountain. It should get praised, it absolutely deserves it!


I live in Crete, Greece and my mother in law (and yes, she is a yiayia!) collects this herb (together with some other herbs) to make mountain tea. Nothing beats a cup of this delicious and aromatic tea, especially with a teaspoon of Cretan honey. The mountain teas you find in the supermarket cannot compete with my mother in law's tea! Thanks Elena, for this beautiful and interesting article!


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