Çaji i malit
Mountain tea is also known as shepherd’s tea because it was traditionally gathered in the mountains. This plant is known for its use as an herbal medicine, and is mainly prepared as tisane (like many other species of Sideritis throughout the Mediterranean).
Mountain tea has sage-green leaves and stems, and greenish yellow flowers. its leaves are soft, covered in a layer of fine pubescence.
This herb grows all over Albania, especially at elevations above 800 meters above sea level. It is pollinated by insects and tends to attract bees. In addition to growing wild, mountain tea is also cultivated from seed in household gardens. Many villagers prefer to cultivate mountain tea in lower areas than collect it in the mountains, as the latter requires great effort. The plants are harvested using a knife, and the roots should not be pulled. Men, women, and children all participate in the collection of mountain tea, which begins to 29 “ripen” in May and June. Once harvested, the plants are spread out to dry on tables or on cloths on the ground, preferably in a covered but well-ventilated dry place—direct sunlight is not good, so some villagers make tents with tree branches to keep the mountain tea shaded as it dries.
Mountain tea is one of the most popular herbal teas in Albania. In addition to its curative properties, this tea has a wonderful aroma and is widely consumed on a daily basis. Years ago, mountain tea was offered as breakfast along with sliced bread and cheese in company and military canteens.
Mountain tea has been and continues to be an important source of income for many rural Albanians. Nowadays, it is mainly sold in farmers’ markets, although over the past 20 years the use of professional packaging has grown tremendously—several companies collect, package, and distribute cultivated mountain tea in supermarkets throughout the country, and some organic grocery stores buy it in bulk and package it.
The main threat to mountain tea is uncontrolled harvesting, often before the plants have reached an optimal stage of growth. Also, the plants are often harvested at their roots, which prevents them from regenerating the following season. This has drastically reduced the extent of wild populations in the mountains. When mountain tea is not harvested at the right time, its flavor and beneficial properties are reduced.
The flowers, leaves, and stems of Sideritis raeseri are all used in making herbal tea. After cutting the dried plants into smaller sections, the mountain tea is placed in boiling water, simmered for a few minutes, and covered with a lid until it is served. Honey and lemon can be added. Mountain tea aids digestion, strengthens the immune system, and is an effective treatment for common cold, flu and other viruses, allergies and asthma, sinus congestion, and even mild pain and anxiety. It is also consumed recreationally as a pleasant beverage.