From November until May, the colour green takes over any one of our views from our home on South Crete. And it’s not plain old grass, but mostly delicious, wild edible greens!!
The colour green is everywhere, and we love nothing more than going out and harvesting these amazing plants!
Why the exclamation marks you may ask, about something as simple as green salad?
1.Because it is not mere salad, dear friends, but beautiful, healthy, free and wild nourishment for all!
2.Because I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for the sheer abundance of life! Sounds corny, but this is how I truly feel.
It all started when I was seeing neighbours going out for a leisurely walk, feeling and picking these wonderful leaves or ”horta” in greek. Our neighbours seemed so relaxed, natural, healthy, self-sufficient and really OLD.
I was thinking, I gotta get my hands on some of those greens! Our elderly neighbours have since taught us which greens are edible and which aren’t. With much curiosity and handfuls of greens, we knock on their doors almost daily. Because they KNOW.
Our neighbours have been eating these wild greens forever.
The Cretan Diet became famous in the 1960s, when a scientist visited Crete and noticed the longevity of its population. He noted that they ate mostly wild greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and very little dairy and meat. They only ate meat 2-3 times per year on a holidays and dairy was used (and still is) widely used as a condiment, and not a major part of any dish.
Wild greens have been a staple for Cretans for hundreds of years, and have played a major role in the longevity of Cretans. More than 1700 different plant species have been registered in Crete, making it one of the most species-rich areas in Europe.
There have been a number of scientific studies on the nutritional benefits of these wild greens, including a study from 2002 and the results are staggering! The scientists collected wild greens from a number of villages between mid-January and early March in 2002 from Iraklio, Rethymno and Lassithi. They compared the following vitamin and antioxidant content of these wild species with 6 other commonly cultivated vegetables in Crete including lettuce, artichokes, broad beans, beets and spinach. They found that the carotenoid (antioxidant) vitamin C (immune system booster), total polyphenols (powerful antioxidants), tocopherol (may slow the deterioration associated with aging) and phylloquinone (vitamin K1 that may help prevent some forms of cancer) content was significantly higher from the cultivated food. No wonder the average age in our village is 85!
Another interesting discovery from this study: Some wild green species from Italy and Spain had lower polyphenol content compared to the Cretan varieties of the same plants, while the same species from different regions of Crete also showed some differences, perhaps due to environmental factors.
I feel grateful that this precious knowledge is being passed down to us from our elderly neighbours.
We can hardly wait until this November when we can step outside and gently pick these gorgeous plants, knock on our neighbour’s door and be given the gift of abundance..again and again.