Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Diversity in Greece and Their Future



Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Diversity in Greece and Their Future
Agricultural Science
Volume 4, Issue 1 (2016), 9-20
ISSN 2291-4471 E-ISSN 2291-448X
Published by Science and Education Centre of North America
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Diversity in Greece and Their
Future Prospects: A Review
Alexandra D. Solomou1*, Konstantinos Martinos2, Elpiniki Skoufogianni2,
and Nicholaos G. Danalatos2
Hellenic Agricultural Organization “DEMETER”, Institute of Mediterranean and Forest Ecosystems,
Terma Alkmanos, Ilisia, 11528, Athens, Greece. E-mail: [email protected]
Laboratory of Agronomy and Applied Crop Physiology, Dept. of Agriculture, Crop Production
and Rural Environment, University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece. E-mail: [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected]
Corresponding author: [email protected]
Received: November 01, 2015 Accepted: December 03, 2015 Online Published: March 31, 2016
DOI: 10.12735/as.v4i1p09
Copyright © A. D. Solomou et al.
The Mediterranean, a biodiversity hotspot, is rich in medicinal and aromatic plants covering an
extensive area with different environmental conditions. The geographical position of Greece, its
geomorphology, the presence of flora of past geological eras and the coexistence and interplay of
biotic and non biotic factors have defined it as a region of high plant diversity and endemism, a fact
that also impacts the category of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs). The past 30 years there has
been a rapid growth of interest in MAPs as a result of the vital contributions these goods make to
large numbers of rural communities. At the same time there is a shift within many developing
countries from subsistence to commercial usage. MAPs are important factors in sustainable
development, environmental protection and public health. In Greece, they are expected to play an
important role in the country’s agricultural profile due to quantitative and qualitative advantages.
MAP cultivation can help small-scale farmers strengthen their livelihoods and as a result, greater
access to a wider range of assets can be achieved, and a capacity to build these into successful and
sustainable activities. This review aims at profiling the current state of MAP cultivation in Greece,
as well as their future sustainability prospects.
Keywords: sustainability, flora, agriculture, uses, benefits, biodiversity
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
License (
Licensee: Science and Education Centre of North America
How to cite this paper: Solomou, A. D., Martinos, K., Skoufogianni, E., & Danalatos, N. G. (2016).
Medicinal and aromatic plants diversity in Greece and their future prospects: A review. Agricultural
Science, 4(1), 9-21.
A. D. Solomou, K. Martinos, E. Skoufogianni, & N. G. Danalatos
1. Introduction
1.1. History
Western medicine can be traced back to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who believed that disease
had natural causes and used various herbal remedies in his treatments early Roman writings also
influenced the development of western medicine, especially the works of Dioscorides, Galena and
Avicenna (Bruneton, 2001). The herbaceous plants are an integral component of everyday life and
culture in all over the world for centuries. These plants are used in pharmaceuticals, in cosmetics, in
cooking and in recent years, in food technology as antioxidants. The Greek flora is rich in native
herbaceous plants and the climatic and soil conditions are prevailing with the possibility of their
cultivation (Stefanou et al., 2014).
The initiation of medicinal plant and aromatic production, as a gathering or cultivation of plant
materials, is lost throughout history. The origins of traditional herbal medicine predate all existing
records, and this ancient knowledge, across different parts of the world, is enormous.
These plants with unique chemical profiles that offered cures and flavors would soon be much
valued by early humans (Friedman & Adler, 2007). They have now become the main source for
medicines, seasonings, colorings, preservatives, and many other similar commodities. Several diverse
lines of data prove that medicinal plants represent the oldest and most widespread form of medication.
Until last century most medicines were derived directly from plant or animal sources (Craker,
Gardner, & Etter, 2003, Craker & Gardner, 2006).
There is abundant archaeological proof of medicinal plants being regularly used by people in
prehistoric times. People of the prehistoric times believed that illnesses was due to the presence of
evil spirits in the human body and could be cured using poisonous substances that make the body an
uncomfortable vessel (Voliotis, 1998).
In many ancient cultures botanical preparations were ingested for curative and psychotherapeutic
purposes. Evidence suggests that healers of those early times were aware of the mind-body
interconnection and the important role of patient relaxation in medical treatment and cures
(Adovasio & Fry, 1976; De Montellano, 1975; Sharon & Donnan, 1977).
One of the oldest written evidence of medicinal plants’ usage was found on a Sumerian clay slab
from Nagpur, approximately 5000 years old. It showcases 12 recipes for drug preparation that
incorporate over 250 various plants (Kelly, 2009).
The ancient Egyptians, as early as 6000 years ago, had developed an elaborate and effective
pharmacological collection of substances obtained from natural resources. Nunn (1996) states: “By
far the most common form of treatment recommended in the medical papyri was the use of drugs,
drawn from a very wide range of animal, mineral, and vegetable substances and administered in a
variety of ways”. The ancient Egyptians were renowned for their skill in this respect. Plant extracts
were prepared and received internally or applied topically, and administered by fumigation or vapor
inhalation. Oakes and Gahlin (2003) point out that “The Egyptians were the first people to use a
number of drugs that modern studies have proved would have been medicinally effective.”
A Chinese book on roots and grasses, “Pen T’Sao,” written by Emperor Shen Nung at approximately
2500 BC mentions 365 drugs that derive from dried parts of medicinal plants (Bottcher, 1965; Wiart,
Other early discoveries of useful medicinal plants lie in several early historic cultures, 1000 to 2000
years ago in China, India, and Tibet. The herbal specialist, or the ’witchdoctor’ was seen as a person of
influence and stature in these societies (Lao, 1999; Cai & Zhen, 2003; Badmaev, 1999; Steiner, 2003).
About 1000 years ago healers in the Aztec and Maya Indian cultures of Mexico and Central
America were experimenting with natural curing substances and exploited at least 132 medicinal
herbs for the treatment of specific ailments (Evans, 2004; Berdan, 2005).
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Hippocrates (460-370 BC), around 400 BC provided us with a list of more than 400 drugs
including substances of herbs and medicinal plants, of which about half are used today. Systematic
observation and research led Hippocrates to the conclusion that herbs combine tasty treat with
therapeutic value and thus expressed the following view: "Make food your medicine and medicine
your food." Hippocrates (460 BC), "father of medicine", mentions about 400 plants in his books,
most of which are medicinal and aromatic.
According to passages from the Bible and the holy Jewish book of the Talmud, during various
rituals that were part of a treatment, aromatic plants were utilized such as myrtle and incense
(Dimitrova, 1999).
Marco Polo's journeys (1254-1324) in tropical Asia, China, and Persia, and America (1492) as
well as Vasco De Gama's journeys to India (1498) brought many unknown medicinal plants into
Europe. Botanical gardens sprouted all over the continent, and attempts were made for cultivation
of plants imported from the new world.
1.2. Medicinal, Aromatic Plants and Their Uses
Nowadays, the world is rapidly developing and population demographics are continuously growing.
Consequently, the use of natural available resources is a new provocation and it has become a
typical approach, where the environment permits it. It is of high priority to do so in areas that have a
favorable climatic conditions (Bogers, Craker, & Lange, 2006), and the Greek area is one favorable
place where the aromatic plants are an important natural resource (Lange, 2001; Mateescu, Paun,
Popescu, Roata, & Sidoroff, 2014).
Aromatic and medicinal plants are important factors in sustainable development, environmental
protection and public health. Since ancient times, medicinal and aromatic plants have had wide
applications, and continue to be used fresh, frozen or dry, as well as transfused into oils, extracts
and essences, initially for the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries (Miguel et al., 2004;
Bogers et al., 2006). Moreover, beekeepers utilize these plants in honey, pollen and bee-glue
production during spring. Among MAPs, the more salable species like mint, lemon balm, lavender,
chamomile, etc., are cultivated with conventional or sustainable management systems (Lawrence,
1985; Bown, 2001; Zuazo et al., 2008).
To be more specific, aromatic plants can be divided into groups based on how they are used:
a) As raw materials for essential oil extraction: a major use of these plants.
b) As culinary spices: the non-leafy parts are used as a flavoring or seasoning.
c) As culinary herbs: the leafy or soft flowering parts are used as a flavoring or seasoning.
d) Medicinal group: the development of natural or semi synthetic medicine,
e) Miscellaneous group: MAPs and their extracts become components of cosmetics, dyes, air
fresheners, disinfectants, botanical pesticides, insect repellents, etc.
Medicinal and aromatic plants can help small-scale farmers strengthen their livelihoods directly
through income generation from their trade as well as health care provision. With strengthened
livelihoods comes greater access to a wider range of assets, and a capacity to build these into
successful and sustainable activities, thereby reducing vulnerability to poverty in the long term.
2. Contribution to Sustainable Livelihoods
An estimated 50,000 – 70,000 species of higher plants - 1 in 6 of all species - are used in traditional
and modern medicine throughout the world, and many more species are important to the growing
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market for plant-based cosmetics and other products, representing by far the biggest use of the
natural world in terms of number of species (Leaman, 2008).
Today, in many developing and transition countries these species make an essential contribution
to health care, providing the only effective medicine for the significant proportions of the
population, where other forms of medication are either unavailable or unaffordable. An estimated
80 percent of the population in Africa and Asia rely largely on these plant-based drugs for their
health care needs, and the WHO (2008) has estimated that in coming decades a similar percentage
of the world population may well rely on plant-based medicines. There is also an interest in using
aromatic plants in animal nutrition, in order to replace the use of antibiotics and ionophore
anticoccidials (Greathead, 2003).
Many aromatic plants thrifty worldwide, with many originating from the Mediterranean area,
either in the wild or cultivated (e.g. rosemary, oregano, sage, thymus, peppermint and garlic)
(Bampidis, Christodoulou, Christaki, Florou-Paneri, & Spais, 2005; Botsoglou et al., 2009;
Christaki, Bonos, Giannenas, & Florou-Paneri, 2012). They include chemical substances such as
polyphenols, quinines, flavonols/flavonoids, alkaloids, polypeptides or their oxygen-substituted
derivatives (Perumalla & Hettiarachchy, 2011; Negi, 2012; Christaki et al., 2012). Several of these
substances can operate synergistically, so their bioactivity is enhanced (Tiwari, 2008). Some
bioactive compounds indicate therapeutic value, such as antioxidant and antiseptic activities
(Madsen & Bertelsen, 1995; Christaki et al., 2012). As a result, aromatic plants may reduce the risk
of cancer or cardiovascular diseases (Duthie & Brown, 2004; Milner, 1994) and may find
application as treatments in curing or managing a wide range of ailments such as respiratory
diseases and stomach or inflammatory disorders (Kadri et al., 2011; Christaki et al., 2012).
2.1. Essential Oils
Aromatic plants contain odorous, volatile, hydrophobic and highly concentrated compounds called
essential oils. These are obtained from several organs of the plant such as flowers, buds, seeds,
leaves, twigs, bark, wood, fruits and roots (Brenes & Roura, 2010). The essential oils are
complicated mixtures of secondary metabolites consisting of low-boiling-point phenylpropenes and
terpenes (Greathead, 2003). The most important families are: Asteraceae, Lamiaceae or Labiateae
and Apiaceae (Bernath, 2009; Christaki et al., 2012).
Figure 1. Activities and uses of aromatic plants (Christaki et al., 2012)
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Circumstantial compositional analysis of volatile compounds of the oils can be achieved by gas
chromatography and mass spectrometry (Brenes & Roura, 2010). It was found that there are
valuable mixtures of mainly terpenoids such as linalool, geraniol, borneol, menthol, thujanol,
citronnillol, α-terpineol and a variety of low molecular weight aliphatic hydrocarbons such as
phenols (thymol, carvacrol, eugenol, gaiacol) and aromatic aldehydes (cinnamaldehyde, cuminal
and phellandral) (Bakkali, Averbeck, Averbeck, & Idaomar, 2008; Christaki et al., 2012).
There are more than 3000 plants used for their essential oils of which about 300 are used
commercially as flavors and fragrances (Van de Braak & Leijten, 1999). Some Medicinal and
Aromatic plant species in Greece is presented in Table 1. According to Figure 1, the food industry uses
the oils in soft drinks, food confectionary, etc., and the cosmetic industry includes them in perfumes,
skin and hair care products, aromatotherapy, etc., whereas the pharmaceutical industry utilizes them for
their functional properties (Lubbe & Verpoorte, 2011; Christaki et al., 2012).
Table 1. Medicinal and Aromatic plant species in Greece
Scientific name
Sideritis sp. (Figure 2)
Pimbinella anisum (Figure 3)
Origanum sp. (Figure 4)
Origanum dictamus (Figure 5)
Crocus sp. (Figure 6)
Hyssopus officinalis (Figure 7)
Salvia sp. (Figure 8)
Origanum majorana (Figure 9)
Jasminum officinalis (Figure 10)
Lavandula spica (Figure 11)
Sinapis sp. (Figure 12)
Matricaria chamomila (Figure 13)
Hypericum perforatum (Figure 14)
Urtica sp. (Figure 15)
Aloysia citriodora (Figure 16)
Crithmum maritimum (Figure 17)
Mentha viridis (Figure 18)
Coriandrum sativum (Figure 19)
Mentha sp. (Figure 20)
Salvia sp. (Figure 21)
Lepidium sp. (Figure 22)
Crocus sp. (Figure 23)
Phacelia tanacetifolia (Figure 24)
Phoeniculum vulgare (Figure 25)
Rosmarinus officinalis (Figure 26)
Thymus sp. (Figure 27)
Glycirrhiza glabra (Figure 28)
Cuminum cyminum (Figure 29)
Ocimum basilicum (Figure 30)
Source: Intendancy of Farming Systems and Agricultural University of Athens
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Figure 2. Sideritis sp.
Figure 3. Pimbinella anisum
Figure 4. Origanum sp.
Figure 5. Origanum dictamus
Figure 6. Crocus sp.
Figure 7. Hyssopus officinalis
Figure 8. Salvia sp.
Figure 9. Origanum majorana
Figure 10. Jasminum officinalis
Figure 11. Lavandula spica
Figure 12. Sinapis sp.
Figure 13. Matricaria chamomila
Figure 14. Hypericum perforatum
Figure 15. Urtica sp.
Figure 16. Aloysia citriodora
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Figure 17. Crithmum maritimum
Figure 18. Mentha viridis
Figure 19. Coriandrum sativum
Figure 20. Mentha sp.
Figure 21. Salvia sp.
Figure 22. Lepidium sp.
Figure 23. Crocus sp.
Figure 24. Phacelia tanacetifolia
Figure 25. Phoeniculum vulgare
Figure 26. Rosmarinus officinalis
Figure 27. Thymus sp.
Figure 28. Glycirrhiza glabra
Figure 29. Cuminum cyminum
Figure 30. Ocimum basilicum
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3. Importance of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants and Sustainable Agriculture
in Greece
The geographical position of Greece, its geomorphology, the presence of flora of past geological
eras and the coexistence and interplay of biotic and non biotic factors have defined Greece as a
country of high plant diversity and endemism (Martinos, Skoufogianni, Stathaki, & Solomou,
2015). This vast diversity is also reflected in MAPs as Greece conveys a long ethnopharmacological
tradition (Kantsa, Sotiropoulou, Vaitis, & Petanidou, 2015), partly due to diverse landscape and the
numerous mountainous and insular systems, viz. 109 out of the 255 habitat types encountered
throughout Europe. MAPs are expected to play an important role in the Greek rural economy and
facilitate change in the national agro-food sector as it still a developing sector. In 2013MAPs
occupied a land span of merely 0.04% of the country’s cultivated land (Ministry of Rural
Development, pers. comm.).
Nowadays the needs of both producers and consumers are changing dynamically. Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) played and essential role in crop selection throughout the last decades in
Greece. Developments in CAP during the period of 2007 to 2013 indirectly influenced the culture
and production of aromatic plants in Greece. The two most important development was the release
policy (decoupling) of subsidies from production and their conversion to area subsidies based on
historical production (RE.HERB, 2013). As a result a critical number of farmers shifted to growing
herbs or legumes or even to non‐agricultural activities such as rural tourism, and energy production
via photovoltaic systems. The global economic crisis, started at 2008, affects the cultivation in
different ways. One of the effects it had was the dramatic increase of unemployment rate especially
for people from 15 to 25 years old to the rate of 65% and the consequent shift of many young
people to the agricultural sector but to non-conventional crops. All the factors above somehow seem
to facilitate a change in Greek crop selection in which MAPs should reflect an important part of for
the following reasons:
1) Land allotment in Greece is characterized by small figures, land holdings ranging from 2 to
4.9 ha represented a stunning 75% of agriculturally utilized Greek land in 2010 (Eurostat,
2015). By cultivating MAPs, Greek farmers can be allowed to sustain a livelihood by
utilizing few hectares of land which would not otherwise contribute to their income in the
case of conventional crops such as tobacco or cotton.
2) Greek biodiversity and the Mediterranean climatic conditions are two very favorable factors
in the production of indigenous MAPs which will offer a substantial qualitative advantage
to Greek herbal products.
3) Concerning the climate change, the aromatic and medicinal plants, appears to be of low
demand concerning their irrigation and organic cultivation when compared to highmaintenance crops. In the new programming framework which provided important actions
for resilience and adaptation in climate change, aromatic and medicinal herbs, plants and
trees cultivation should face significant opportunities to grow.
At this point, we should mention two critical points that will be of great importance regarding
the development and utilization of such crops.
1) The technologies used now and in the future, will determine to a large extent the state of
production for MAPs. These factors include implementation of R&D programs, the
adoption of innovative technologies in the production and the automation of the production.
The specific technological improvements could influence the production costs, the product
quality and lead to innovation.
2) Government subsidies and motivation should be focused partly on the MAP sector in terms
of promoting cultivation, innovation, and processing of medicinal and aromatic plants.
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Other than this, an attempt to educate past and future generations of farmers so as to merge
old traditional cultivation techniques with the new European phytosanitary standards via the
use of innovative technological means should be made.
4. Medicinal Plants and Future Applications
The cytotoxic capacity of the essential oils based on a prooxidant activity can make them excellent
antiseptic and antimicrobial agents for personal use, i.e. for purifying air, personal hygiene, or even
internal use via oral consumption, and for insecticidal use for the preservation of crops or food
stocks (Bakkali et al., 2008).
A big advantage of essential oils is the fact that they are usually devoid of long-term genotoxic
risks. Moreover, some of them show a very clear antimutagenic capacity which could well be linked
to an anticarcinogenic activity. Recent studies have demonstrated that the activity of essential oils or
some of their constituents, as also that of some polyphenols, is very efficient in reducing local
tumor volume or tumor cell proliferation by apoptotic and/or necrotic effects (Kachadourian & Day,
2006; Bakkali et al., 2008).
5. Conclusion
Conclusively, medicinal and aromatic plant has a vital role in the utilization of the natural wealth
and conservation of biodiversity in the state. Also, due to the selective and multifaceted biological
activity of essential oils, there exists considerable potential on the use of aromatic plants for novel
applications in sustainable agriculture.
Moreover, this review shows that valuable uses are possible and that medicinal and aromatic plants
diversity represents attainable new environmentally and economically sustainable opportunities for
agricultural areas, which should be the motive to boost further studies on the cultivation of these
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