Effective Plants, Herbs, and Medicines Used by the Ancient Greeks

Effective Plants, Herbs, and Medicines Used by the Ancient Greeks

The Greeks were the fathers of philosophy and democracy. The Hellenic city states that flourished throughout the Mediterranean in the middle of the first century BC paved the foundations for modern literature, art, and thought. This period also experienced some of the biggest advancements in medicine that the ancient world had ever seen.

Of course, much of what the ancients believed about the human body has since been disproved, including the “four humour” principle, which is often (probably incorrectly) attributed to the enigmatic Hippocrates.

But, whether by trial-and-error or sheer luck, many of the herbs and remedies used in Greek medicine have since been proven to possess benefits similar to what Greek doctors believed.

Greek Mountain Tea

Sideritis, or Ironwort, is one of the best-known herbal teas to come out of Greece. It’s one of our biggest sellers, the reason we founded Shelgo Tea, and it can be found in the majority of Greek homes. In ancient times, the word sideritis was used to refer to any plant that could heal wounds following battles.

The name Ironwort actually comes from the belief that it could heal wounds caused by iron weapons. Theophrastus, considered by many to be the father of botany, first wrote about the plant sometime between 350 BC and 287 BC, around the same time Alexander the Great was enthusiastically spreading Greek values across Asia and North Africa.

Sideritis, also known as Greek Mountain Tea due to its proclivity for mountain growth, later became known as a panacea, a “cure-all”. Modern Greeks believe it can combat cold and flu, and they could be right.

As discussed in our complete guide to Ironwort tea, research has found multiple links between sideritis consumption and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as an improved immune system and a potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory response. 


Burdock became popular with ancient physicians around the turn of the first millennium. The Romans believed it could help prevent damage from venomous insect bites when added to wine and applied directly, and this belief actually persisted for centuries. Medieval pagan cultures believed it could ward off evil spirits or, in some cases, invite them.

The Greeks got closer to the truth, however. Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician born in 40 AD, wrote that burdock could be used to help with coughs and other minor complaints, sentiments that echo more modern beliefs.

Burdock is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and, like sideritis and a multitude of culinary herbs, can help reduce the risk of chronic disease. It also acts as a diuretic and antibacterial. It became popular in 19th-century England for its ability to soothe cold and flu symptoms, which is likely the reason it was later used in tonics and cordials.

This is where we get Dandelion and Burdock from (contrary to the popular myth, it was not created by a 13th-century monk who fermented the first two herbs he saw during a drunken expedition). And the irony here is that a mixture of dandelion and burdock would actually create a very potent and healthy tonic, due to the unique properties of both these substances and the many recent studies conducted on them.

However, and as you might suspect, modern varieties use synthetic flavourings, along with an abundance of sugar, and there’s very little dandelion or burdock in sight.


In Greek, fennel is μάραθον or Marathon. In modern English, Marathon is recognised as the name of the famous race, but the history of this word is a little more complicated and interesting.

The name of the race comes from the name of the famous battle and town, and the town was so-named because fields of fennel once grew there. In Greek, Marathon literally meant “place of fennel”.

A fennel stalk is also said to have been used by Prometheus to steal fire from the gods, which he then gave to mankind.

Clearly an important herb to the ancients, fennel was used for digestive disorders such as bloating, and it continues to be used for this purpose today.

Fennel was also an important flavour enhancer, and its potent anti-inflammatory effects helped keep those ancient bodies strong.



Mint grows abundantly throughout Greece and is closely linked to the mythos of this great civilisation. Legend has it that Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell for a nymph named Minthe. This angered his wife, Persephone, so she turned the nymph into a plant, one now most commonly used to flavour chewing gum.

The mint plant was used by the Greeks to soothe gastrointestinal issues, including indigestion and flatulence, and it continues to be used for those purposes today.

Peppermint, which comes from the same family, is a common treatment for indigestion, and mint tea is a mainstay of countless cultures for this very reason.

Often consumed after a heavy meal, this fragrant tea can soothe your intestinal distress and its antibacterial properties may also help with bad breath, something the ancients also believed.

It’s for this reason that Shelgo Tea Mint comes straight from the wilds of Greece.


Liquorice was actually used before the growth of Athens and the explosion of Greek culture. It was coveted by the Babylonians as a cure for breathing disorders and continued to be used throughout the age of the Greeks as a treatment for a host of issues.

Today, liquorice is known to be a strong antibacterial and antiviral herb and can also act as a diuretic. It’s one of the few herbs that can cause multiple side effects, but with moderate and responsible use, there are generally many more positives than negatives.


When you hear marshmallow, a flower probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. But it’s from this flower that the sticky, chewy confectionary first emerged, and mallow had been used for many hundreds of years before that.

Our own Greek Blue Mallow has a history that dates back to the early Greeks and spans countless uses. The ancients used it as part of a concoction designed to treat wounds (clearly a major issue in the age of expansion), and many hundreds of years later, it was discovered to have a wealth of other properties, including the ability to supress coughs and help with digestive disorders.
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