Galicica mountain tea (Sideritis scardica) is also known as Sharplaninski tea, tea pirin or sheep tea. It is an herb native to the Balkans that is harvested when the plant is one year old, and is known for its healing characteristics in traditional medicine. It has been used for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Greeks. It grows wild in high altitudes (over 1500 meters above sea level) in dry areas, in sandy soil or rocky crevices, on Precna/Galicica Mountain. It is also cultivated in the village of Konjsko in southwestern Macedonia’s border with Albania. For cultivation, planting takes place during two periods (October-November and February-March), and the harvest occurs at the end of June and the beginning of July, especially during the Orthodox Christian feast day of St. Naum, when the herb is in full bloom. Producers use the seeds from the plants’ flowers for four to five years before going up into the mountains to collect ‘new’ tea plants. The collected blossoms are put into a hotbed called a vragia for the seed production period. Once picked, the tea is bound in bundles and left for drying. To prepare the beverage, one teaspoon of ground tea is put into 200 ml of water, boiled for about 20 minutes then strained. Essential oils make the tea quite aromatic. It can be prepared on its own or combined with other teas. Galicica mountain tea is rich in antioxidants and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is recommended in treatment for colds and the flu, allergies, osteoporosis and cancer. It is said to strengthen immunity and reduce stress and regulate digestion. It also prevents the adhesion of thrombocyte, a cause of heart attacks in people with high cholesterol. Galicica mountain tea is sold in dried bundles in retail markets in the area; however, traditionally the tea has been collected for personal use. In the past, producers sold the tea to a nearby hospital. Today, careless harvesting techniques threaten this tea’s survival. Wild harvests of large quantities of immature plants disrupt the natural reproductive cycle of the plant. Furthermore, there are few people still cultivating the tea in Konjsko village, with only three or four family farms still active today.
Image: © Marco Del Comune & Oliver Migliore