On my third visit to the local garden centre, ΚΟΚΟΦΟΙΝΙΚΑΣ, Yannis recommended I try to grow some vegetable native to Crete. At the time, I couldn’t remember the name of it, and I had no clue what to expect after planting it. So I bought four. Now, I wish I had purchased at least four more of these “greens,” which are often foraged for in the wild in Crete.
Today I finally decided that no matter what, I was going to find out the name of this plant and learn more about it. Out of the four I purchased, two have grown and the other two appear almost dormant – they are not dead, but there has been no growth in them. So, I decided to find out what they should look like, any care instructions I could find, and what they were supposed to give me after growing in the garden.
It seems I have what some consider a “superfood” in this green leaf vegetable that is called “Stamnagathi.” Some plants, like mine, also have a thin red stripe going along the length of some of the leaves, which are slender, long, and jagged. The botanical name of the plant is Cichorium spinosum and some claim it is related to Chicory while others say it is a wild radish. Researching this plant to get consistent information has been difficult.
But one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it is packed full of nutrition including vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds.
Is Stamnagathi A Cretan “Superfood?”
While researching the plant, I came across the description of Stamnagathi being a “Greek Superfood” while visiting SpecialtyProduce.com. This website claims that:
Stamnagathi contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and C, and linoleic acid, which is known to get rid of accumulated fat in arteries. It also has significant amounts of calcium and iron. It is also rumored to have anti-septic and anti-rheumetic properties, even being used medicinally in ancient times.
So I followed up, and sure enough there have been some interesting studies done on Stamnagathi which is not well-known outside of Crete, although it also apparently native to Malta and some N. African areas. Cretans have been known to live on a diet high in vegetable greens that includes Stamnagathi especially in the past, and their health was generally excellent.
Recently, the University of Sheffield and the Cretan Institute of Nutrition studied the plant and discovered some interesting qualities; it can aid in blood sugar management and also helps cognitive function. It has many nutrients and phytochemicals that it is said someone tried to develop a pill called “Glucospin” which would contain all the properties of stamnagatha. (Source)
There is not much information in English on Glucospin, but I did discover from a Greek website, translated to English using Google, that stamnagatha has an apparently numerous beneficial nutrients that include:
- Vitamin K1 (phyllocicone) at a concentration of 240μg (micrograms) per 100 g (grams) of fresh weight.
- Vitamin C (L ascorbic acid) in an amount of 27mg (milligrams) per 100 g of fresh weight.
- β-carotene content of 595 μg / 100 g fresh weight.
- Tocopherols (Vitamin E) in the amount of 1.23 mg of α-tocopherol and 0.83 mg of γ-tocopherol per 100 g of fresh weight.
- Polyphenols in an amount of 132 mg / 100 g fresh weight.
- Fatty acids in an amount of 0.2-0.4 g / 100g fresh weight of which polyunsaturated are over 76%. In fact, the ratio of polyunsaturated: saturated and omega-6: omega-3 is respectively greater than 0.45 and less than 4, which proves to be beneficial for the heart and health, stimulates the immune system and acts against cell oxidation and aging. of tissues.
- Minerals including iron, potassium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus and magnesium.
- Phenols with antioxidant activity.
- Glutathione especially in the leaves with strong antioxidant activity.
It is from this website that we learn that there were plans at one time (2018?) that a capsule named Glucospin would be developed and put on the market to allow everyone to enjoy all the vitamins, minerals and compounds found in this vegetable.
In Malta, this vegetable has been used as a “cure” for diabetes and may be related to caffeic acid. Further, it’s also said to have anti-rheumatism properties, has been used in traditional medicine to treat liver and gallbladder issues, may possibly have anti-cancer effects, and could be used as an anti-aging food.
With all these apparent benefits, perhaps I should have filled half my garden with this vegetable!
Some say it has a bitter taste that is helped with lemon juice and olive oil – and is eaten raw or boiled. I decided to give a leaf a try today, and while I did find it had a slight bitter taste, it was not something I detested and needed anything to mask. So, I’ll definitely be adding it to my salads – but am still not sure about when to harvest, or how. It is a perennial, but apparently in Crete, they harvest it by the roots and pluck the whole plant from the ground.
Hopefully the two of mine that have not grown will kick in soon, and I will try just harvesting some leafs from each one and see what happens.