The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits:
Stamnagathi, Wild Greens
ORIGIN AND TRAITS
After researching for the “Unique Foods of Greece” I have come to realize how the past cultural and culinary habits inextricably affect our present activity. Imagine that in this day and age, when gastronomy is constantly evolving, prestigious chefs choose to experiment with raw materials such as potherbs from the Greek mountains. Isn’t it fascinating when gourmet restaurants develop modern culinary trends that still bear a Greek identity and aroma?
Cichorium spinosum, or Stamnagathi, as it is commonly called, is such a case of a raw material with growing popularity. Stamnagathi is a wild variety of the radish family; its serrated leaves contain a bittersweet substance that makes for its unique taste and health properties.
This leafy green vegetable grows during the winter and is native in Crete while it can also be found in the Peloponnese, Cyprus and other regions of the Mediterranean Basin. Resistant to snow and low temperatures, is it found in snowy Cretan mountains or steep coasts. While the climatic and land conditions determine the nutritional value of the wild herb, the increased demand for Stamnagathi has led to its all-year-long cultivation in similar ecosystems so as to guard its quality.
Cichorium spinosum owes the name “Stamnagathi” to its thorns which were used to cover water crocks and act as a cap against insects, (stamna-agathi = crock-thorn). Stamnagathi is thought to be the king of wild herbs and for many, is the trademark of Cretan cuisine.
BENEFITS AND HEALING PROPERTIES
In antiquity, frequent consumption of Stamnagathi was said to bring longevity and welfare. It was found to have antiseptic and anti-rheumatic properties and was used by the ancient Greeks to treat conditions of the gallbladder and liver.
Stamnagathi is rich in vitamins E and C, Omega 3 fatty acids and linoleic acid which protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure levels. Having a high concentration of calcium and iron, frequent consumption enhances proper memory function and bone health.
Cichorium spinosum is also a good source of beta-carotene which fights against free radicals, offers anti-ageing properties and helps treat conditions of the skin.
According to Cretan folk remedy, a warm tea made from the leaves of the herb helps relieve stomach pain, detoxify and control cholesterol levels.
USE AND DOSAGE
With only three (3) calories per three and a half (3.5) ounces and yet, so many health benefits, Stamnagathi makes for the ideal nutritional addition to any diet.
In order to benefit from its health properties, you can consume it raw, in a salad with onions, dill and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon or cooked with legumes or meat. In Crete, it accompanies lamb or goat meat fricassee. It is also a tasty side dish to seafood and makes a great meze for ouzo or tsipouro.
Stamnagathi can be used as a key ingredient in salads or even pies, accompanying other herbs or leafy greens. From traditional recipes to gourmet gastronomy, Stamnagathi goes with everything!
However, bear in mind that in the market there are varieties of the radish family which are sold as Cichorium spinosum but are not; Stamnagathi has a distinct bitter taste and very curved leaves.
RESEARCH AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Stamnagathi belongs in the wider category of edible wild plants which have been praised since antiquity for the health benefits they offer.
Today, Cichorium spinosum has been the subject of research analyzing its antioxidant properties. A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture concluded that “further valorization of C. spinosum species has great potential, since it could be used as a new alternative species in the food industry”, underlining the probable dynamic of the leafy green.