`Wild Edible Vegetables, a Hidden Gem of Greek Cuisine - Olive Oil Times

Wild Edible Vegetables, a Hidden Gem of Greek Cuisine

By Costas Vasilopoulos
Apr. 16, 2021 10:08 UTC

Wild edi­ble veg­eta­bles have been a tra­di­tional salad dish of Greek cui­sine for mil­len­nia, with writ­ten reports of their con­sump­tion dat­ing back more than 2,500 years.

The veg­eta­bles grow nat­u­rally, with no human inter­ven­tion what­so­ever, and are again the cen­ter of atten­tion after sci­en­tific research demon­strated their impor­tance to the health of the Greek peo­ple, espe­cially the Cretans.

Knowledge about the wild veg­eta­bles of our coun­try is fad­ing from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, but for­tu­nately, there are still peo­ple who keep the tra­di­tion alive.- Panayiotis Sainatoudis, founder, Peliti

By ana­lyz­ing a total of 70 species of veg­eta­bles, we found that the wild veg­eta­bles are those that can bet­ter pro­tect from var­i­ous types of can­cer and heart dis­ease,” Antonis Kafatos, a pro­fes­sor of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine and nutri­tion at the University of Crete’s med­ical school, said in a report.


Photo: Greek Gastronomy Guide

They con­tain many antiox­i­dants that pro­tect us from oxida­tive stress, which is respon­si­ble for car­cino­gen­e­sis and ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis,” Kafatos added. They also pro­tect the cell mem­brane and the DNA from toxic agents, such as diox­ins. The rural pop­u­la­tions of the past, wisely act­ing, used to mix 20 to 30 dif­fer­ent kinds of veg­eta­bles in the pies they made every day.”

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Kallia Gianitsopoulou, a clin­i­cal dieti­cian and nutri­tion­ist based in Athens, pro­vided a thor­ough overview of the traits and health ben­e­fits of the veg­eta­bles.

The wild edi­ble veg­eta­bles are rich in min­er­als includ­ing cal­cium, iron, mag­ne­sium, sodium and potas­sium,” Gianitsopoulou told Olive Oil Times. They also con­tain a lot of vit­a­mins, such as B, C and A‑carotene, and exhibit antiox­i­dant behav­ior.”

They are low in car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein and they do not bur­den the human body with unnec­es­sary fat,” she added. A diet rich in veg­eta­bles seems to coun­ter­act many poten­tial threats to human health that relate to our lifestyle: it relieves stress, improves the con­di­tion of the bones of the human body, tames the tox­ins, helps reduce the bub­ble of gas in the stom­ach and metab­o­lize the iron.”

Wild veg­gies pre­pared at home or in restau­rants are always served with olive oil, the per­fect com­ple­ment to bring out their fla­vor and nutri­ents.

The com­bi­na­tion of the veg­eta­bles with olive oil is very impor­tant,” Gianitsopoulou said. Research car­ried out 10 years ago showed that when we con­sume a salad with oil, we absorb more antiox­i­dants from the veg­gies. On the other hand, those who con­sumed the salad with no oil hardly absorbed any of the ben­e­fi­cial ingre­di­ents of the veg­eta­bles.”

The high intake of veg­eta­bles is cru­cial in adjust­ing our blood pres­sure, and con­sum­ing them with lean pro­tein like fish or chicken and extra vir­gin olive oil is the ideal com­bi­na­tion of nutri­tional sources of macronu­tri­ents in our diet,” she added.

Popular among Greek peo­ple, wild veg­gies are also a treat for for­eign­ers vis­it­ing Greece in search of new fla­vors, said Matina Koumertas, a tav­ern owner on the island of Naxos, in the Aegean Sea.

Our island is known for the tra­di­tional food prod­ucts it grows and makes like pota­toes and cheese, and our wild veg­eta­bles are also a point of ref­er­ence,” Koumertas told Olive Oil Times.

The tourists who visit our island, before the pan­demic that is, usu­ally pre­fer the Greek salad as a side or even a main dish, but quite a few of them are well-informed about our local prod­ucts and they order a por­tion of wild veg­gies which they really enjoy,” she added.

Of course, we cul­ti­vate veg­eta­bles, but their wild cousins are way bet­ter,” Koumertas con­tin­ued. There are no tastier and more nutri­tional greens than these and they are all organic.”

Wild veg­eta­bles can be bought in farm­ers’ mar­kets, gro­cery stores and super­mar­kets, but hand-pick­ing them in the moun­tains is a unique expe­ri­ence that requires some knowl­edge and prac­tice.

Anyone can start pick­ing wild veg­eta­bles and there are some rel­e­vant books to read, but it is always bet­ter to learn from some­one who already knows how to do it,” said Panayiotis Sainatoudis, the founder of Peliti. The group pro­motes the pro­tec­tion and the con­tin­u­a­tion of the indige­nous plant vari­eties and seeds of Greece.


They are avail­able almost all year round,” he told Olive Oil Times. Depending on the sea­son, we can col­lect dan­de­lions and sow this­tle in the autumn, wild fen­nel, wild leek and sor­rel or aspara­gus in the spring, and even capers in the sum­mer, if we hap­pen to be on an island.”

Of course, we must be able to dis­cern the edi­ble veg­eta­bles from those unsuit­able for con­sump­tion and avoid pick­ing them near the roads as they can con­tain lead from the car exhausts,” Sainatoudis added. We should also avoid uproot­ing the whole plant and use a knife instead, caus­ing the least dam­age pos­si­ble so that the plant can grow again.”

Sainatoudis high­lighted how the Covid-19 pan­demic has led more peo­ple to visit the moun­tains for some fresh air and veg­gies.

Back in the day, mostly the women used to col­lect wild veg­eta­bles in Greece,” he said. It was a chance for them to spend some time together away from their homes. Today, and with the two lock­downs we have expe­ri­enced, I see a lot of peo­ple who pick wild veg­eta­bles for the same rea­son, to go out­side, maybe meet some friends, and relax.”

While Greek natives are used to con­sum­ing wild veg­gies, for­eign­ers vis­it­ing the coun­try are not accus­tomed to this type of food.

We Greeks con­sume wild veg­gies sys­tem­at­i­cally, and they are present on the menus of small tav­erns and also gourmet restau­rants,” he said. Over the years, in our group, we have coop­er­ated with a lot of vol­un­teers from abroad, who had never heard about wild veg­gies before.”

When we put them on the table, they just could not com­pre­hend that we had picked them our­selves. We washed them and then boiled them. But they liked what they tasted,” he added. Greece is very rich in wild edi­ble veg­eta­bles, and they have helped the pop­u­la­tion to sur­vive some tough times in the past.”

Inevitably, the knowl­edge about the wild veg­eta­bles of our coun­try is fad­ing from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, but for­tu­nately, there are still peo­ple who keep the tra­di­tion alive,” Sainatoudis con­cluded.


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