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Science

Myths & Medicine: Plant Walk in the National Garden with The Greek Herbalist

June 17, 2021
By Maria Christodoulou

ATHENS – From myths to medicine, plants in Greece hold a plethora of ancient stories and knowledge for us to explore. Among the country’s many beautiful wonders is the biodiversity of native flora. With 6,500 species and subspecies of flora, of which 1,300 are indigenous, the mountains, valleys, and seaside of Greece are abundant with living colors. These timeless plants were the inspiration behind countless mythological tales and medicinal recipes that both entertained and healed our ancient Greek ancestors for thousands of years.

Herbal medicine in ancient Greece was not separate from everyday living – medicinal plants played a significant role at home, on the battlefield, and in sacred temples. Remarkably, the power of these plants remains unchanged. By exploring the celebrated past of indigenous flora in Greece, we can keep these ancient stories alive and honor the role of plants in the history of Greece.

This summer, clinical herbalist Maria Christodoulou will offer plant walks in the National Garden in Athens. As ‘The Greek Herbalist,’ Maria researches, writes, and teaches about ancient Greek herbal medicine. This two-hour plant walk will reveal plants associated with Zeus, Athena, Apollo, and Dionysus, and explore plants with medicinal uses written about by Dioscorides (40-90 AD) in his five-volume medical textbook, De Materia Medica, approximately 2,000 years ago. While some of these plants may be familiar to many, the garden is also home to a variety of beautiful non-native species, including the magnificent palm trees (Washingtonia filifera) greeting visitors at the entrance and lining a main walkway. The garden is full of charming plants that can teach us about history, medicine, and the natural sciences. More importantly, plants can teach us about ourselves and how much we rely on nature for our physical and mental health.

The National Garden (Εθνικός Κήπος) is a scenic treasure located in the center of Athens, directly adjacent to the Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square. It was commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 and was opened to the public in 1920. The main entrance to the park is located on Leoforos Amalias, the street named after the Queen in honor of her vision to build the park. With 38 acres to explore, the National Garden offers an abundance of nature-filled possibilities for visitors to enjoy, including the vast collection of native and non-native plant species, several archaeological remains, delightful wildlife, and tree-shaded spots for picnics.

Today, to know Greece is to know the plants that brighten the natural landscape and sweetly fragrance the air. The flowers, trees, and herbs of Greece hold a bounty of possibilities to improve our health and remind us of our fantastically rich cultural history. These plants can also remind us of the power of nature to heal and inspire us. As proclaimed by Herodotus (484-425 BC), the father of history, “custom is king.” Since antiquity, the rugged and magnificent landscape of Greece and the flavors and aromas of the Greek civilization have enchanted visitors with a sense of nostalgia and timelessness, demonstrated by the impressive perseverance of nature herself.

Join The Greek Herbalist for Myths to Medicine: Plant Walk in the National Garden scheduled on June 12, 14, 19, and 21, at 11 AM. During this plant walk through the National Garden, participants will explore new and old plant friends and learn about their mythological, medicinal, and magical uses from ancient to modern times. They will stroll through the garden as Maria highlights some of the key plants of Greek culture with rich historical backgrounds. After the plant walk, Maria will offer a 20-minute guided tree meditation accompanied by the calming tunes of the African harp played by a talented Greek musician. Both the plant walk and the meditation are appropriate for all levels and ages. No experience with plants or herbal medicine is necessary. This event aims to provide participants an informative, nature-filled, and calming experience amidst the hustle and bustle of Athens.

Maria Christodoulou is a clinical herbalist and educator based in Athens and New York. As The Greek Herbalist, she explores the wisdom and whimsy of ancient Greek herbal medicine.

To register for the walk or to book a private group experience in Greece this summer, visit www.thegreekherbalist.com.

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