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Food

Stamnagkathi – A Sea Explosion in a Spoonful

Summer in Greece came with the first “heat waves” leading us to the nearest cooling spot at the sea or in the mountains. Whichever you choose, a vacation in Greece is an experience of all your senses combined. Even if this year a visit to Greece is impossible, planning for the best days in the next year can be a consolation and satisfaction. Finding the best scenery, happy people, and the best local food tastes is the triptych of an ideal Greek experience.

One of the plants offering you a great meze for your wine, tsipouro, or raki is the famous wild ‘stamnagkathi’. The name is from ‘stamna’, a special bottle to carry water and ‘agkathi’ meaning thorn of a plant. In the past, people used this plant dried, which was like a thorn, to cover a bottle of water and keep out dust and insects. It is most famous representative in the family of chicory is Taraxacum officinalis or dandelions.

This little plant, Cichorium spinosum (stamnagkathi), is a wild relative of cultivated dandelions for culinary use. Cichorium spinosum is a chamaephyte (‘chamae’ or ‘chamo’ meaning near the ground, and ‘phyte’ or ‘phyto’, meaning plant), is a perennial plant with a height more than 50 cm above ground level, a semi-woody herb. Its habitat is a combination of coastal areas, with marine water, sand dunes, and littoral rocks and xeric Mediterranean phrygana and grasslands, with Mediterranean shrub formations and annual lowland screes.

Even though it is known as a Cretan plant from Cretan cuisine, it is actually native to Ionian Islands, the Peloponnese, Sterea Hellas, and all Aegean islands, including Crete. This delicious plant can be eaten raw in salads, as a pickle-meze, but also cooked with meat.

A Cretan traditional dish is stamnagathi with lamb and eggnog ‘avgolemono’ sauce. In addition to its great taste, stamnagkathi has a superb nutritional value. It contains great amounts of antioxidants, vitamin C and E, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. In other words, it is great for your skin, liver, blood, immune system and urine system.

Nowadays, you can find it in many taverns due to its cultivation and sustainable exploitation, in contrast with the past. Next time in a tavern ask for it and feel a sea explosion in a spoonful!

* The above is not medical advice but mere suggestions for improving your diet. Before reach herbal use you should consult your doctor, especially those who have health issues, are pregnant or are under the age of 6.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.

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