Cretan Mountain Tea, also known in Crete as “Malotira” or locally as tsai tou vounou, is a wild plant that grows in mountainous areas, at altitudes between 800 and 2,000 meters above sea level, but also in rocky areas with very little dirt. It is particularly abundant in the White Mountains of Crete, but it is spread out among all of the mountainous countries of the Mediterranean, where it is known as Mountain tea or Pastor’s tea. The scientific name is Sideritis Syriaca.
This plant is not to be confused with that Sideritis that Dioscoride spoke of in the first century BC, which is so-called due to its ability to heal wounds inflicted by iron weapons (indeed, sideros means “iron” in Greek).
Malotira is consumed by the inhabitants of the western part of Crete not only as a drink but also as a medicine. The plant has healing effects for those who suffer from heart problems and problems of digestion, and it is also used to fight off the common cold. Malotira oil is rich in antibacterial substances and antioxidants, and as such it is no surprise that the plant is considered a veritable panacea for several illnesses.
During their occupation of Crete, the Venetians learned of the plant’s healing powers, and it is possible that the name malotira comes from the italian words “male” and “tirare” which would mean “to extract the malady”. Malotira has a soft and hairy stem, with small yellow flowers surrounded by small, gray-green leaves. The wild plants are gathered by hand in July, which is when they bloom.
Today wild Malotira is considered a rare plant, due in particular to the excessive gathering of them and also to the over-crowding of the mountain pastures. The Cretans use the dried leaves and flowers of this plant to make teas. They add the malotira to very hot water and a bit of Cretan marjoram (origanum microphyllum), Cretan dittany (origanum dictamnus), and sometimes cinnamon, all of which is sweetened with honey. Traditional Cretan breakfast includes a cup of Malotira, a bit of cheese and barley toast.