A trip on the mountain   
Part B'

The Plateau at 5700 ft

(Part A is here)
                                                                       January 28th 2016
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    Dear Friends,
 This newsletter continues the presentation of our mythical land while at the same time expands our  wish to share our personal experience.
 We describe our findings, through the questions that arise and solutions that we discover during our  searches and travel over the last 5 years.
On our road to the Plateau, the first wild oregano plants started to appear

                          “The mountain realm of the bees!”

…The Wild Oregano was blossoming around us with it’s green and white flowers appearing like “the gems on the crown”.
And every plant was really impressive. Standing at  20+  inches (50+ cm)  tall, they were also the biggest and most impressive of every oregano plant we ‘ve seen till then!
Bees everywhere. On every oregano flower, inside every branch of the plant. Thousands. Working endlessly, committed totally to their work. Besides them, also many different insects were trying to get their share from the plant. All in harmony. We still remember the “music” of their wings breaking the silence.
For the first seconds, we ‘re really dazed and confused about the next steps.
How could we proceed and start gathering the plants amongst so many bees and their friends?
With trembling hands, we approached the mid of a plant and then an incredible thing happened.
All the insects started gently moving to other branches and parts of the plant leaving us the space to proceed. Only a few minutes after, we found ourselves working in silence with our new friends buzzing close to our hands. We were touching them sometimes with the edge of our fingers, trying to show our grateful for letting us work with them.
The “sharing” of the plants worked like a charm. We were cutting some branches while we were leaving to our friends enough ones to harvest.
Incredible view from 5800 feet .  You can see Sparta and the valley of Eurotas river.


                                    “Troubles in heaven”

Totally exposed to the hot sun we were taking short brakes every few minutes to drink water and enjoy the surrounding view. Thank’s to Jim’s advice we had carried enough bottles.
Hats and glasses couldn’t provide enough protection at that moment.
After filling a couple of linen bags we had to stop. Though it was like time had stopped in this plateau the truth was that three hours had passed.
Under the shadow of two huge fir trees, the humble snacks (bread and cheese) were the most luxurious and tasty lunch ever!
And then we started to wonder how these plants are growing so much and blossoming under the hot summer sun.
We noticed lots of animal tracks. Also with the closest look at the base of some plants they were residue feces which served as a natural fertilizer for the area!
We remembered Jim’s words: “Lot of wild goats and lost sheep are wondering at the high mountainsides looking for food from April to October”.
At the same time, that specific spot of the mountain is holding more water than the usual, allowing significant growth for the plants.
Working together with one of our new friends

                                “We have company”

For the next hour, our curiosity “won” and we decided to stop gathering and observe the plants further.
Then we noticed them:  Tiny white spiders were the residents on many leaves, sharing their “home” with some green beetles!
And who knows how many others - perhaps too small for the human eyes - were present too.
Our linen bags with fresh wild oregano


                         “Buying wild oregano locally”

Some years ago, without today’s knowledge and experience we had asked from a professional -  who ‘s still considered amongst “specialists”  -  to provide us some wild oregano. As he showed up a few days later holding a bag with crumbled oregano we asked him to supply us too with some wild oregano in branches.  It was something unusual because these people prefer to sell their oregano always crumbled in small plastic bags of little more than  ½ oz (15 - 20gr).
By instinct, we felt that something was probably wrong with this. 
After a short dialogue and negotiations, he agreed to come back next day with a box of wild oregano branches. And strangely he asked a 50% more money than the crumbled oregano!

Simple questions arose: 
a)    How we could be sure that the crumbled oregano was truly wild? 
b)     How we could be sure that it was not a mix of “cultivated and wild one”?
c)    Why did the seller ask a higher price for the oregano branches? When we all know and understand that we can get less than half of clear oregano and we will do the labor work? 

Two months later we got the first answers.
During a very hot July late evening when we decided to crumble the oregano branches by ourselves.  Kids were at the village with the grandparents and it was the ideal time for this. 
Now close Your eyes and imagine our living room with all the furniture moved aside, a couple of large linen sheets on the ground and some old traditional sieves from the village with wooden boxes filling the scene.
No chairs for us, just two big pillows to sit and at our left the cartoon box with the oregano branches ready for the procedure!
It was really harder than we thought. When we opened the cartoon we were sure(!) that it ‘ll be a piece of cake.
"Maybe a matter of 1 or two hours labor work"  we both agreed!
The cartoon with the wild oregano branches which we bought back in May of 2012


                             The truth:
After 8+ hours of crumbling, we had changed our mind.
Our hands with lots of burning scratches from the wooden oregano sticks, and the oil that emerged through the process.
Those “few branches in the box” seemed endless.

                 “The first discovery”
As we were picking the branches from the cartoon, we noticed them for the first time.
Very small white spiders were appearing, frightened and annoyed by destroying their homes.
An the begining, we considered this as a normal fact, but soon we started wondering how they survived for months in the closed cartoon (and bags before).
Later we understood that they had hatched from the stored eggs under the oregano leaves upon gathering many months before!

    And then new questions came up: 
a)  How could we be sure that the crumbled oregano was clean from any similar eggs and insects? This is very important because we usually add the oregano over salads, fish, meat just before serving.
b) Why has no one ever mentioned this before? When we ‘ve been told that the usual process of dried “wild oregano” is : “gather, dry, crumble”?

Washing the wild oregano in our mountain spring back at the village home

                             “It was more than obvious now”

       Back on the mountain, we remembered that day.
       We understood that gathering the wild oregano was just “half of the work”.
    As we were already 4 hours at the plateau it was getting really too hot to stand it further. Despite the liters of water we had drunk we were dehydrated and risking of staying more under the sun would be dangerous for our skin.
   Returning back to the car was a little more difficult than expected.
It took us double time due to carrying the equipment plus the linen bags with the wild oregano and our stamina almost depleted.
      “Sweating too much”  
  While driving back, we had a new issue. The wild oregano – due to the extremely heat – has started to “sweat”. It was a matter of few hours before getting “brown” and finally altered.
   Making a stop to the nearest mountain spring was both necessary and salutary for the oregano.
Thankfully our small car had enough space to spread the oregano at the back seats in a way that it will “breathe properly”.
   We had gained few valuable hours and were heading to the village house.
Green Beetles on a milkthistle

                     "Working at home"

   Late that evening, after a strong cold coffee we started washing again carefully the branches.
It was almost midnight when we placed them in the dark warehouse for the drying process.
    Two weeks later, it was time for the crumbling procedure. The branches had dried perfectly and all the family members were ready to assist us. Under a shady place, we started with a big smile on our faces. It was the moment of truth.
     The final result was interesting and rewarding: 
  1. We had gathered 20 kilos (44 lb) of fresh oregano.
  2. The driving/gathering/washing/crumbling process took 60 hours in total.
  3. We got 2 kilos (4,4 lb) of fresh dried, wild oregano.
   But even then, the work hadn’t finished. 
Putting the oregano in new linen bags and transfer them to a close dry place was necessary. You see, we didn’t wanted to loose again from winter’s moisture all our dried herbs like we had 1 year ago.
But that’s another story for the future.
George's Mother crumbling wild oregano under the arbor, in a hot August morning


                                 "The road ahead"

    Looking back to our 5 year quest so far, we know that we ‘ve scratched only the surface of the “wild mountain herbs issue”.
    There are lots to discover, see, watch and learn and we are determined to intensify our efforts this summer.
    As for the questions we had, we ended up with some simple answers and solutions.They are not perfect or even not easy to prove but upon our future searching and wondering we feel that  will find further facts, raise new questions think new ideas which lead to additional solutions.


Jehny at the balcony of the village house, while crumbling wild herbs and making the olive paste during shooting a film about "The Spartan Table", last August.

                                    "What's next?"
                       The basic questions remain!
Why we search and seek the wild herbs? For what reason? 
Where are they located and what we do with them?
How we gather and what we do to protect them?
How can we prove that they are truly wild and authentic?

   Lots of small details and info, from our personal perspective, – though may have not a particular interest for many people -  synthesizes an incredible mosaic of life.      
   This will be a continuous adventure with new chapters and opportunities to discover more about our lives, ourselves, and this Mythical land.
    But till our next meeting through another newsletter,  we humbly suggest to continue your reading here and discover the answers and conclusions we ended up.


A beautiful cutting board from 200+  year  old olive tree with some of our humble treasures.
This is a fascinating story which we hope to tell You soon.

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Dioskouron 41 str.
Sparta 23100

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