In 1999 the National Centre of Nutrition, of the National School for Public Health, headed by Mrs. Antonia Trichopoulou, in collaboration with the Hellenic Chemistry Laboratory and company RTD of Food Industry (ETAT.S.A.) conducted a large-scale research concerning the nutritional value of a group of 17 different wild herbs which were used in cottage pie recipes.
Scientific examination of Cretan pies confirmed the existence of flavonoids, substances of plant origin containing flavone in various combinations (anthoxanthins, apigenins, flavones, quercitins, etc) and with varying biological activities. These substances are antioxidant and found in fruit and vegetable. Medical research on flavonoids has proven their positive action preventing cardiovascular diseases and tumor growths. The raw herbs or greens used in Cretan pies are rich in flavonoids with significant amounts are retained even after the pies are cooked. Herbs and greens rich in flavonoids are: the fennel, leek, poppy flower, sorrel and wild carrot.
The green parts of dandelion are rich in vitamin A. the nettle is a significant source of iron and carotene B. the chicory is rich in vitamin B 12 which is necessary for cell function. The seeds of the wild rosebush are rich in vitamin C and the carob-beans in proteins. The mint and thyme are characterized by anticeptic and anti-microbial qualities, while sage is used to heal wounds of the oral cavity. The chemical constitution of grapes is similar to mother’s milk while the consumption of a glass of red wine protects the arteries of the heart. Fruit provide ample vegetable fibers and minerals which aid the function of the intestines.
The eight basic points of the Mediterranean diet are
- High ratio of monounsaturates (olive oil) over saturated lipids (butter, lard).
- Moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 glasses of red wine/day)
- High consumption of greens/vegetables.
- High consumption of cereals (including whole grain bread)
- High consumption of fruits
- High consumption of herbs
- Low consumption of meat and related products
- Low consumption of milk and dairy products
The Antioxidant Qualities of Herbs
Vegetable oils scented with herbs and spices are extensively used in antiquity, but we have no knowledge of their application in the kitchen. We do know, however, that owing to their inherent qualities, vegetable oils were used for body care. Selected herbs were added to vegetable oils to lend them valuable curative, styptic and antioxidant qualities.
During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Constantine “the purple born”, legist Cassianos Vassos is credited with a number of recipes for scented olive oil. Some of these recipes provide instructions for improving medium and low-quality olive oils with the addition of aromatic herbs. For example, rancid olive oil improves with the addition of dill and foul-smelling olive oil with the addition of coriander or raisins. A popular practice in the villages of the province of Pediada, Crete, was to add 2-3 oregano sprigs in large earthenware jars as olive oil containers.
There has been a lot of research in the plant kingdom for substances with antioxidant qualities, particularly in herbs and aromatic plants, the main sources of antioxidants. Independent investigation results concur on the significant antioxidant qualities of rosemary and oregano.
In 1952 Chipault noted that consumption of salted meat should be combined with infusions of rosemary, sage, and thyme. In addition, he claims that oregano combined with mayonnaise acquires excellent antioxidant properties. Modern research is under way by the Aristotelian University of Athens with regards to the stability of olive oils mixed with rosemary, oregano, garlic and thyme.
Source: Myrsini Lambraki “Herbs, Greens, Fruit. The Key to the Mediterranean Diet”, Third Millennium Press Ltd.