(Oregano, Lavender, Chamomile, Sage) – “a place that smells of spakafrom one end to the other”
he aromatic plants and herbs generously offered by the rugged land of Mani are characterized by excellent aroma and taste and are famous for their healing properties.
People in Mani take utmost advantage of the rich flora of the area, using herbs to ensure and improve the quality of many local products. Besides honey, which owes its distinctive appearance and flavour to the thyme that dominates the slopes of the mountains, another treasure of nature is used in the production of syglino, a typical Mani delicacy: pieces of smoked pork get a unique flavour after being smoked in burning green sage.
Aromatic herbs feature prominently in the culture of Mani as they are used in folk medicine (linden, chamomile, sage) and in its cuisine as flavour enhancers (oregano, thyme, lavender).
Oregano blooms in May on dry, rocky and wild landscapes of Mani, in ravines or on the edge of woodland. In the past, it was used it as a preservative when drying figs that were plenty in the area and part of the people’s poor diet. They were dried using oregano as a preservative and were consumed with oregano and nuts, a combination of foods with high nutritional value. In Exo Mani, in spring, and more specifically on Easter Monday, it is customary to gather fresh oregano which is consumed as a vegetable with “cabrito” (young goat meat) and cheese pies.
Did you know that…?
- Oregano is a natural preservative used in fig drying.
- Even today, in Mani, during wild rabbit or partridge hunting, animals are cleaned and sprigs of dried oregano are put into their bellies to give them aroma until returning home.
- Oregano is 12 times more antioxidant than oranges! Also, it is a very good source of fiber. Fiber lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, reducing this way the negative impact of red meat consumption.
- It is rich in sterols, has a large amount of antioxidants (such as selenium and zinc), is high in magnesium, potassium and phosphorus and has some iron and vitamin E.
- There is a saying: “If you want to sneeze, rub your nose with oregano.”
In Mani, lavender is found in the area of Tainaro , (Marmari and Porto Kayo), and in the villages northeast of Gytheio where the soil is particularly wet. Lavender blooms during the first summer months.
As lavender has always existed in the area in abundance, since it is native flora and one of the richest in the Mediterranean, people have been using it for centuries. In the past they used insoluble lavender essential oil on wounds, cuts, bites, dermatitis and other inflammations of the skin.
Did you know that…?
- Greece has the third highest level of biodiversity in the world. The whole of Greece and especially Mani is suitable for the growing of aromatic and medicinal plants such as lavender, due to the ideal soil and climatic conditions.
- Lavender is often consumed as a beverage, and its oil is one of the best known essential oils used since ancient times. It is considered to have been the secret of Queen Cleopatra’s beauty who managed to charm both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
- It is used in perfumery, in soap making and in pharmacopeia.
- Lavender flowers are used to freshen closets and remove moths. They also provide protection against cough, asthma, whooping cough, flu and laryngitis.
- Lavender helps to reduce nerve pain in the stomach and generally calms the nervous system as it is nerve-soothing. It is ideal for insomnia and stress and helps with migraines and headaches.
Chamomile, with its characteristic white-yellow flower, is self sown in many areas of Mani. From April till June, during the period when it blooms, women systematically gather and dry it in order to cover the needs of their homes as chamomile has always been one of the most popular aromatic beverages.
Did you know that…?
- Chamomile owes its name (soil apple) to its aroma. Its beneficial properties were first described by Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine.
- It is one of the most common herbal beverages with lots of uses and benefits. For example, compresses in chamomile solution were used in cases of fever.
- It is the best natural cosmetic for baby skin care.
Fennel holds a prominent place in Mani. According to Greek mythology, Helen and Paris sought refuge on Kranai, a small island later named Marathonisi (Fennel Island), off the coast of Gytheio. It is said that this small island owes its name to the fennel plants that flourished on it. This, too, was the name used for Gytheio in pre-revolutionary times.
Fennel grows in many areas, between the cracks of rocks and next to heaps of stones. The old village called Marathos (Fennel), part of the Municipality of Alikoi (formerly called Municipality of Oitylo), took its name from the fennel growing in large quantities around it.
On Easter Monday it is the custom to cook Easter roast with fennel and artichokes.
The whole of Mani smells of sage. This aromatic plant is systematically used in Mani in the preparation of syglino, smoked pork that exudes its characteristic aroma. Sage is also used in the making of perhaps the spiciest honey in the world. Sage honey is different from all the rest due to its unique aromatic flavour and its light but unique sweet bitterness.
Although manousia do not fall into the category of aromatic herbs, they give off the most distinctive aroma in Mani. They grow in late autumn, on hilly fields, mountain slopes and rocky places. There are two kinds, the wild and the tame. Wild manousia are scattered in various places in Mani. In early December, they dominate the area, giving off their characteristic smell into the atmosphere.
During blooming time, they are gathered for home decoration by people who are out gathering herbs. They are also used for the freshening of country chapels and for adorning their icons by women in charge of lighting the small hanging oil lamps.
 In Mani, sage is called “spaka” from the ancient Greek word “sfakos”. The fruit of sage is called “alispakida” from the ancient Greek word “elelisfakos”