Hailing from the mountains of Greece, two of this plant’s common names of Mountain Tea and Shepherd’s Tea are self-explanatory. The third, Ironwort, comes from the Greek meaning of the botanical name Sideritis – ‘he who is made of iron’, as the plants were used to heal battle wounds from iron weapons (although some say it is due to the shape of the sepal, which resembles a spear).
The genus Sideritis is composed of low-growing annual or perennial herbs and sub-shrubs, which grow at high altitudes with little or no soil, and are adapted to drought. They are native not just to Greece but right across the Balkans and Mediterranean region. Sideritis are so closely related to the genus Stachys and may indeed be reclassified as such in future. You will notice that Ironwort looks very similar to Lamb’s Ears (also known as Fuzzy Wuzzy), whose botanical name is Stachys byzantina, except for the flower colour – Ironwort flowers are a delicate pale yellow not pale pink.
Sideritis species have been used as traditional medicinal herbs for thousands of years and an infusion of Ironwort has been listed by the European Medicine Agency (EMA) as a traditional medicine for the relief of mild gastrointestinal discomfort and against the common cold. Studies underlie the important pharmacological activities of the genus such as the antioxidant, anti‐inflammatory, antivirus, anticancer, hepatoprotective, antispasmodic, analgesic, neuroprotective activity, as well as its great effectiveness against diseases related to the central nervous and to the urinary system.
The herbal tea is commonly prepared by boiling the stems, leaves and flowers in a pot of water, then often serving with honey and lemon. The herb is also used for its aromatic properties in local cuisines in the aforementioned regions. The essential oil of of the plant is a very potent microbial and also recognised for its ability to enhance bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.
Like Lamb’s Ears, Ironwort is a tough, drought and heat-tolerant plant requiring very free draining soil and enjoying a spot in full sun. It’s a great landscaping plant, forming an attractive low, dense mound of silver foliage, covered in white fuzz and producing upright stems approximately 25cm tall of tiny, light yellow flowers in mid summer. Great for gravel gardens, rock walls, and any tricky dry spot as long as drainage is adequate.
Certified Organic Plant. 9cm pot.
Photo: – Sideritis syriaca – Botanisk Have, Aarhus C, Denmark, 28 July 2020Egon Krogsgaard© from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:459111-