Mediterranean Mountain Tea or Sideritis is a herbal tea found mostly in Mediterranean and Balkan regions. This tea is very common in Albania, Kosovo, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria etc. In my native country of Albania, we call this tea Caj Mali (çaj mali) which means exactly Mountain Tea. The plant takes its name mountain tea because it grows in rocky terrains, in high altitude. The sideritis plant has a lot of varities, scientists sometimes can recognize which region or mountain it is from based on leaf & flower shape and size. Other names mountain tea is know by are ironwort and shepherd’s tea.
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How Does Mountain Tea Taste?
Caj Mali or Mountain Tea is not overwhelming in flavor. It feels like a mix between chamomille and lemon to me. Friends of mine have described it as green tea with lemon, however mountain tea is naturally caffeine free. It’s smell is pretty distinctive, I would recognize it with my eyes closed every time.
Health Benefits of Mountain Tea
Mountain Tea or Caj Mali has been used for centuries as a staple on dinner tables in several Mediterranean & Balkan countries. This tea is also know for its health benefits. As a child I remember that I was given the tea several times a day when I was not feeling well. My mom and my grandma used to say that this tea with lemon, would make the flu time shorter and make me feel better faster.
The tea is also known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial and antifungal qualities. The basis of it all is that it is supposed to boost the immune system, thus helping with digestive issues, respiratory problems, common cold, and stress. While researching about this tea, I came across few studies that are looking into this tea’s benefits in osteoporosis and Alzeimers. If I come across a finalized study, I will reference it below so you can look at the results.
How Do Locals Drink It?
Usually this tea is served hot with lemon & honey! When I was little, I remember drinking it only with honey but as i got older I really enjoy the lemon in it too. In Albania, people serve it with few typical sides like feta cheese, olives, toasted bread etc. The flavor and aroma of this tea is unmistakable. I miss it a lot, especially on cold days. My mom brought some tea bags few years ago and that didn’t work for me. Somehow, it had lost its flavor and taste. So last time my mom visited, she brought me bunch of dried tea exactly how we used to buy it when I was little.
How Do You Prepare Mountain Tea?
Well, if you have tea bags you usually steep it in hot water like you would any other herbal tea. However, if you get lucky and get to buy the dried plant, then follow the following steps.
- Boil water in a pot
- Add several twigs of mountain tea plant, include both flower and lead for full aromatic benefits.
- Let boil for few minutes. Turn heat off or just low.
- Let it cook for few minutes, it will still be hot but not boiling hot.
- Pour on a cup. It helps if you have a tea mesh or colander, if not use a spoon to hold off the plant from going into your cup.
- Add lemon & honey to taste.
Remembering the 90s
I hadn’t thought of mountain tea for a while. Lately, there were 2 events that made me think of back home and how things used to be.
First, it started to get cold and that is such a treat here in Miami. We get few cold days occasionally and we all rush to wear our boots and drink our teas.
Secondly, I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown about Armenia that reminded me of the 90s in Albania. In that episode, a girl was talking about the post soviet era and how they didn’t have electricity for most of the day. In Albania, we went through something similar. My high school years are marked by 20 hour days with no electricity. I remember how we all made this tea at night and waited for the lights to come back on. And so many more memories that I would need a book to share!!!
- I wrote a whole post on my feelings about Anthony Bourdain’s Shows. Read it here if you are interested.
Here is a small spread I prepared yesterday when I wanted to have some tea!! Tea itself had lemon and honey. While the sides are feta cheese with olive oil and oregano, boiled eggs, olives and toast. It was really a treat for me:).
Another way I like to serve mountain tea is with muffins or any fruit breads.
If you are looking for Mediterranean recipes, especially Albanians ones, please check out the following links:
- Stuffed peppers
- Mediterranean Potato Salad
- Orange Salad
- Cabbage, Orange Salad
- Instant Pot Bean Soup (Fasule)