The field guide to Greek greens

I would love to be able to spend hours foraging for wild greens – but it is a time-consuming activity and you MUST have someone with you (preferably an older Greek person) who can properly identify what is what, so you don’t end up serving something potentially poisonous in your spanakopita!

To alleviate my foraging anxieties (and to learn more), I have started to grow many ‘wild’ greens from seed in my garden – the seeds being the (well identified and home cultivated) gifts of my Greek parents-in law, their family, cousins and friends and my lovely Italian neighbours - or the sellers noted below. 

Another good starting point has also been frequenting local grower’s markets to learn more about the wild greens being sold. In Australia, wild greens are growing in popularity at farmer’s markets and you can now easily buy a range of seasonal greens from dandelions to mallow leaves.

In Greece, at the laiki (local street market) you will always find an abundance of wild greens on display. They are seasonal and often divided into two categories – one for boiling/braising greens (think hot salads with extra virgin olive oil and plenty of lemon juice or vinegar) and aromatic or herb greens (for adding to speciality dishes or chopping finely and adding to pies). The fact that local Greek street markets still sell a variety of edible wild greens, shows the value that Greek people place on their horta.

Wild greens for sale at the market in Hania, Crete - vlita in the foreground. 

My love of wild greens has a recent history. One of my fondest memories is staying with my parents in law in Athens, when my husband and I were only still dating. My mother in law took me to the laiki early one morning and after perusing all the stalls and chatting to friends and neighbours, she selected some beautiful bright green vlita – that had been carefully inspected and the quality assessed against her 70 + year reference point of foraging, growing, selecting and preparing horta for her family. Afterwards, we returned home to her little 70s style kitchen and ma showed me how to clean and prepare the vlita for a hot salad, dressed with olive oil from my father in law’s family groves in the Peloponnese. It was at that point, I knew this was definitely the family to marry into!!

Since that trip, back in Australia, both my parents in law have generously continued to share their now 80+ years of knowledge of wild greens, their seasons and the best way they should be enjoyed. I have started this page as a reference point for collecting this knowledge specifically about Greek greens - along with a little glossary of those greens that I have had a chance to photograph and capture. I have also included a small list of places where you can buy wild greens and also the links for some places where you can buy similar seeds here in Australia. 

In terms of the glossary itself, I should note that the same species can have different names in different places in Greece. For example, my mother in law is from Zakynthos and the names that she has for certain greens are often different to what my father in law, who comes from a village near Olympia in the Peloponnese calls them. If you have a different name for the lists below, please don’t hesitate to leave me a note in the comments or send me an email and I will update the list.

Wild greens for sale at a laiki in Lefkada 

The field guide to Greek greens

Kafkalithra / kafkalida (Καυκαλήθρα / Καυκαλίδα)

Kafkalithra / kafkalida (Mediterranean hartwort) is known in some parts of Greece as Myristira or (in Corfu) as Moscholachan. In English it is sometimes called bud chervil. It is one of the most important aromatic herbs of Greece, found during winter and spring. Due to its rich aroma, kafkalithira, is used in herb pies and also in combination with other herbs as a hot boiled salad. My father in law also remembers his mother using it for its rich aroma in braised spring vegetable braised. According to old wives tales, kafkalithira rejuvenates the nervous system and acts against melancholy. It is best when used before the white flowers bloom.

Grow your own: I have been unable to find these seeds commercially, having been given them by my father in law's cousin, but some seed swapping sites and growers on etsy do have them. Try a Greek neighbour or friend.

Vlita (βλήτα)

Vlita is the Greek name for Amaranth (Amarantus blitum), this is the most popular green in summer, which is used in boiled salads but also cooked in summer vegetable stews, especially with zucchini. It has a sweet taste and invariably it is the green that is used for the big bowl of horta you may have ordered at a Greek taverna in the summertime. In Australia, you can buy it from Asian grocery stores, markets and other green grocers labeled as 'en choy'. It is available from late spring through until late Autumn. The leaves can be all green, or there is also a variety with a beetroot coloured blush.

Where to buy: From late spring to early autumn, at Asian green grocers or markets where it is sold as 'en choy'.

Grow your own: you can buy amaranth seeds in Australia from Green Harvest.

Sorrel / Lapato (οξαλίδα / Λάπατο / λάπαθα)

There are about 20 or more species of sorrel (Rumex acetosa) grown in Greece. Other names for sorrel include bitter dock called lapatho, Lapato, ksinolapato, ksinithra, agriosesklo. With its bitter, slightly lemon taste, sorrel is cooked in a variety of ways - similar to the use of spinach and vine leaves. For example, it can be used to roll up dolmades, mixed with other greens in pies or vegetable braises and also in omelletes etc.

Grow your own: You can buy sorrel seeds in Australia from The Italian Gardner.

Borage/ boratzi (μποράντζα)

Borage (Borago officinalis) is known in different parts of Greece as Boratsena, Bouratsino, Varatsina, Voratsene, Voratsino, Armpeta and Angouritsa. With an aroma reminiscent of cucumber, borage leaves and its beautiful blue lavender flowers go into springtime salads. Again, the old wives tales say that borage has been used since ancient times against melancholy.

Grow your own: You can buy borage seeds in Australia from The Italian Gardner.

Radiki (ραδίκι) (Chicory and Dandelion Greens)

The Greek term "radiki" covers a range of greens in the Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) family. Known as radiki in Greek, these greens are usually served in cooked in salads and can be used in pies. Wild chicory and dandelions have a bitter taste and generally, narrow leaves. One of the most popular of the winter radiki choices (and my mother in law’s favourite – because it is so bitter and therefore extremely healthy) is the 'Red Dandelion' known in Greek as ιταλικό ραδίκι or Italian Radiki. As a cooked green it actually maintains its crimson colour. Most radiki are rich in vitamins B1 , B2 and carotenoids as well as minerals such as K , Na , P, and Mg. The greens have been used since ancient times for the treatment of liver and bile conditions.

Where to buy: the Italian Radiki (ιταλικό ραδίκι) is available weekly during winter at the Ramsgate Organic Foodies Market, it is generally sold as "red dandelion".

Growing your own:

The Italian Radiki (ιταλικό ραδίκι) seeds are available at Green Harvest sold as "Chicory 'Red Dandelion'’. I can highly recommend these seeds - they have produced an abundant crop of winter radiki in my own garden and thst if my in law’s.

Common chicory seeds are available at The Italian Gardner. I prefer the "Chicory (Cicoria) spadona" seeds after becoming familiar with this green in Puglia, where the wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish "Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche".

Nettles / Tsouknida (τσουκνίδα)

Nettles, called tsouknida (τσουκνίδα) in Greek are sometimes also known as agkinida or knitha. Nettles are gathered from autumn until they bloom in Spring and have a flavour similar to spinach when cooked. The fresh leaves are eaten boiled salad or can be sautéed along with other herbs. They are often used to make omelettes or in pies, called tsouknidopies. In Rhodes, they are also used to make a traditional thick soup.

Where to buy: nettles are available weekly in late winter / early spring at the Ramsgate Organic Foodies Market.

Growing your own: nettle seeds are available at the Italian Gardner.

Purslane / andrakla/ glystrida (αντράκλα or γλυστρίδα)

Depending on which part of Greece you come from, purslane – this crunchy, textured, lemony summer green can be called andrakla or glystrida. It is added to fresh salads especially with garlic and yogurt or used in vegetable braises with plenty of other summer vegetables, such as zucchini and tomato.

Where to buy: purslane can be bought in the summer months from the Urban Farmacy in Marrickville

Growing your own: purslane seeds are available at Green Harvest.

Other greens you might like to try include:

Zogos / Zochous (ζωχος) or Sow thistle (sometimes sold at Australian markets as ‘dandelion’). The leaves are used in boiled salads and have a sweet flavour.

Mallow / Molocha (μολόχα) also known as Mouloucha or ampelocha: the leaves are eaten boiled with other herbs, in soups or are stuffed. You will like mallow if you are a big fan of okra - as it has a similar texture. Principally, the juice of the mallow is used for health remedies including treating burns or stings from bees or wasps. You can buy frozen bags of pre-cooked and chopped molocha from Greek or Middle Eastern delis. 

Brighteye (γαλατσίδα): this is another green from the dandelion family. It is a favourite in Crete, where the leaves called galatsida (γαλατσίδα) are eaten in boiled salads or braises in olive oil.

Golden thistle (ασκολίμπροι):  this is another green favoured in Crete. Known as askolymbri, the roots of the common golden thistle (Scolymus hispanicus) are sometimes pickled and served as a meze or braised with goat and dressed in an avgolemono sauce.  The spiny, thorny stems do require some special treatment.

Stamnagathi (Σταμναγκάθι) this is another green favoured in Crete, where it grows wild and the leaves sprout in amongst a thorny bush. The roots and tender leaves are cooked and served with a lot of olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. This particular variety is now starting to be commercially cultivated and in Crete it is often served with other sweet or aromatic greens.

Volvoi (βολβοί): these little nutritious powerhouses are the bulb of the tassel hyacinth, most commonly they are eaten as a 'pickle' having been cooked and preserved with olive oil, herbs and a little vinegar. Often, they are eaten as a side dish with fakes (Greek lentil soup) during the fasting periods of the Greek orthodox tradition. They provide a load of rich antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities. Volvoi have been eaten in Greece and in Puglia in Italy since ancient times. They also feature regularly on the meze menu, to be enjoyed along with a good glass of tsipouro or ouzo. The first time I tried these little bulbs was actually in the region of Puglia in Italy, where they are know as "lampascioni." If you are keen to try them here in Australia, most Italian Grocer’s stock them. I got my recent supply from the IGA Lamonica in Haberfield.

Avronies (αβρωνιές): These are one of the most prized of all Greek greens. Wild asparagus are a particular delicacy in Greece, commonly foraged in Crete and other parts of Greece, such as the island of Ikaria and the Mani region. They are often served in a boiled salad, sometimes (because they are very long) they are cut into shorter pieces to fit into the pot and only the most tender part are eaten. Another favourite way to cook the asparagus is with scrambled eggs, polenta, as a fritter or in an omelette. Most deliciously, avronies are also commonly cooked with octopus. I have not been able to find these anywhere in Australia yet - a delicacy best enjoyed when visiting Greece.

Where to buy Greek greens in Sydney 

Ramsgate Foodies Organics Market
Every Saturday, 8am – 2pm
Ramsgate Public School
Corner Chuter Ave and Hawthorne St
Ramsgate Beach

Marrickville Organic Food and Farmers Markets
Every Sunday, 8.30am to 3pm
Addison Road Community Centre
142 Addison Road,

Urban Farmacy
179 Marrickville Road

Tips for buying and storing wild greens

* If you do not have a good knowledge of wild green varieties, it is always best to look for the at the local market rather than harvesting them yourself.

* Ask the seller about the origin of the greens you intend to buy.

* Avoid greens with obvious damage on the leaves.

* Wild greens are best consumed on the day of purchase.

*Always remove the yellow leaves soil or any other foreign matter before refrigerating, but do not wash them. If you must store them in the fridge, do so at the lowest compartment or crisper draw.

* Do not soak wild greens or they will lose many of their sugars, vitamins and minerals. Always rinse under running water, particularly the leaves and root sections.

* The exception to the 'soaking rule' is that if the greens have been harvested from areas where there are sheep or dogs, the greens are best soaked in a vinegar solution for 10 minutes and rinse thoroughly prior to consumption. 

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Maira Gall