When people think of hotspots for holistic healing, Greece is unlikely to come to mind at first. And yet, Greece happens to have many endemic plants and properties that make it a bit of a holistic health nut’s dream. I grew up drinking tea gathered from the mountains around my village and brought *very legally* back to the U.S. There are so many medicinal, wholesome Greek herbs and teas, as well as delicious seasonings such as oregano. These also speak to why the Mediterranean diet is so effective: its essential ingredients are clean, healthy and delicious.
Enter Amorgos, a beautiful (are any of them NOT beautiful?) Greek island far less impacted by tourism than its buzzy Cycladic brethren. The lack of development makes it the perfect place for harvesting these wholesome Greek herbs. One need not create a protective environment for growing “organically” when a lack of pollution, development, and industry already sets the stage.
The founders of Aegean Herbs landed on Amorgos for this very reason. A small company that specializes in organic aromatic and medicinal plants, they only harvest that which grows naturally on Amorgos. Their story is one of extreme reverence for the gifts of this Greek island, which they’ve called home full-time since 2012. Their operation focuses on quality over machine driven quantity. In working first and foremost with nature’s cycles, their products have potent flavors and incredible healing properties.
Read our interview to get the full scoop on their biodynamic farming practice, rare offerings, and what makes Amorgos so damn special (hint, it has something to do with all the ways it’s different from, say, Mykonos).
Your brand’s story is inextricably linked to that of Amorgos. The island’s history lends itself to less tourism than that of the better-known Greek islands and therefore, more unspoiled land. How and why did you choose Amorgos? Is this where you’re from originally?
I first came to Amorgos when I was 19 or 20 years old and it was love at first sight. Perhaps then I actually made the decision to stay on the island, yet it took me almost 30 years to fully realize it …
So in 2012, I decided to leave Athens with my girlfriend to experience life from a fresh perspective. Aegean Herbs is both the driver and the result of this decision.
You only harvest plants that grow naturally on or are endemic to Amorgos. Are there any species specific to the island that you can’t find anywhere else?
The plants that thrive in the difficult climate of the Cyclades, with its poor soil and drought are natural champions. As nature’s outliers they develop highly potent features. The flavors and aromas are strong, but they’re also high in beneficial phenols, tannins, and essential oils.
Argania, the wild oregano of Amorgos, is a unique species of exceptional quality that grows only in Amorgos and a similar species in eastern Crete. The sage, the sour, the rosemary, and the wicker are special. Due to the microclimate of the island, wild plants develop specific features that make its herbs one-of-a-kind.
On the other hand, here is perhaps one of the last places that hasn’t been tainted by the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals.
It goes without saying that most farming in the modern age pillages and ruins the earth. You only create products that have no carbon footprint. It sounds like Amorgos is naturally well-suited to this type of production. Nonetheless, what challenges have you faced?
For us, the process is dictated by nature. As a a result, we do not plow, we don’t use fertilizers, we don’t use herbicides and pesticides. We ask of the earth what she can give us. We don’t force the results.
This results in much smaller quantities of crops than other systems yield, but with high quality results.
Even organic crops are sometimes so energy-intensive. Sometimes those who benefit from the consumption of a “clean” product actually stand against the overall environmental burden of the energy needed to produce it.
You collect herbs instead of using any machinery at all to harvest. How often do you do this? How many people does it take? I bet these collecting trips are amazing and inspiring, thanks to mother nature.
We work all year, except 2-3 months in winter, because each plant has its specific season. We collect peacefully, taking into account the lunar phases, weather and moods.
We do the post-drying treatment by hand only. This is the most time-consuming part of the job and one that calls for only the best, most experienced help. As for the process, observing nature teaches you a lot about yourself and life. It also shows us the mistakes we have made with society and the economy.
How do you scale your business up but also stay small and true to your process?
Our work must serve our life and not the opposite way around. If you change yourselfin in order to succeed in your work, then you may end up with a lot of money, but sometimes earning money costs more than it’s worth.
Tell me about your favorite product. Why? What about it is special?
The wild oregano. I gave a friend a potted plant and planted it in his garden in Serifos. (Another island quite close to Amorgos). When the plant grew up, 2 years later, it had changed to an ordinary oregano. The same plant, not its descendants. I cannot explain how this happened. Apparently, the plant doesn’t want to live elsewhere.
Many of the herbs have healing properties. Have large companies ever tried to tap into what grows on Amorgos?
Yes, they are interested, but we can only work on our own terms. Because of the way we work, we can only guarantee the quality of the result. We can’t work in a way that gaurantees a certain quantity or delivery of when the herbs will be ready. They grow naturally.
Are you developing any new offerings?
We design 2 -3 new botanical teas, some cosmetic oils and experiment with cocktail bitters with Mediterranean flavors, which I hope will be ready after summer.
As always, nature has the last word.
What do you wish people who haven’t visited knew about Amorgos?
(author’s note… this doesn’t lend well to English translation 🙂 )
Αντιγράφω από το site μας:
Όποιος ξέρει τις Κυκλάδες, ας μην νομίζει πως ξέρει και την Αμοργό.
Η Αμοργός είναι χθόνια και λαμπερή. Είναι λάμια και νεράιδα, κορίτσι και γριά, γυναίκα και στοιχειό.
Έχει σταθεί σε μια όμορφη, άχρονη στιγμή, σαν να ξέφυγε από την επιτήρηση του κόσμου.
Γελάει ξυπόλυτη στον ήλιο και την άλλη στιγμή, μουτρώνει και αγριεύει.
Κάποιους τους καλοδέχεται και σε άλλους γυρνάει την πλάτη.
Η Αμοργός κρατάει πολλά κρυμμένα.
Και κάθε που διαλέγει να σου φανερώσει ένα από τα μυστικά της,
τότε σε μαθαίνει και κάτι για τον εαυτό σου.
Είναι μια περήφανη, αρχαία θεά, που κρατάει την αξιοπρέπειά της στο χυδαίο σήμερα.
Και ένα απόσπασμα από το πιο παράξενο έργο του σπουδαίου ποιητή Νίκου Γκάτσου:
Ἔτσι κοιμᾶται ὁλόγυμνη
μέσα στὶς ἄσπρες κερασιὲς
μια τρυφερή μου ἀγάπη, Ἕνα κορίτσι ἀμάραντο
σὰ μυγδαλιᾶς κλωνάρι.
Do you think too much tourism would hurt the island?
Unfortunately, most tourists today do not travel to get to know a new place. They want to “conquer” it, to bring it to their feet. In Amorgos, we are lucky because most visitors who choose it already respect it. There’s a greater risk for some of the local entrepreneurs who sometimes do not realize that it is actually in their own interest to maintain slower development.
Santorini, Mykonos, and Paros are very close to Amorgos. These popular islands show how mass tourism has influenced the sensitive landscape of the Cyclades: it has eliminated much of the architecture, customs, local cuisine. Someone who visits these islands will think that every shepherd had a pool house in his traditional home!
Mass tourism spoils any place it attracts. May there be places like our island that attract fewer visitors, and those who do come will respect the place.
To purchase medicinal Greek herbs, plants and teas aromatic from Aegean Herbs, visit their website
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love reading our feature on organic Greek yogurt makers, Nounos Creamery!