The edible fig is one of the first plants that were cultivated by humans. It has been an important food crop for thousands of years, and was also thought to be highly beneficial in the diet. In mythology it was Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who created the fig tree. Both fresh and dried figs were part of the staple diet of the ancient Greeks. Aristotle recorded that the milky juice of the fig was used as rennet in cheese making. Since ancient times figs have been used for healing sores. The fig is split and applied hot. Its milky juice may also be used to destroy warts. Many trees are found growing wild in the countryside.

The fig 'Ficus carica' is a deciduous, spreading tree with broad leaves and tiny flowers which bloom in January. It grows to a height of 7 metres. They grow wild on poor stony soil and in gardens. The fruit is in season from June to September. The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras. Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.




The sweet crimson fruit of the strawberry  tree was served at banquets of the ancient Greeks. Today the fruit is often made into jam. Strawberry tree fruit is mildly alcoholic and eaten in great amounts can be intoxicating. In some villages they make a liqueur from it. According to Theophrastus, parts of looms were made from the wood of the strawberry tree. The wild strawberry tree is full of cheerful, sweet red fruits around Christmas. 'Arbutus unedo'. An evergreen shrub or small tree with oval serrated leaves and whitish bell shaped flowers flowering from August to December. The fruits are crimson with rough skin. Both flowers and fruit often occur together. Grows to a height of 3 - 12 metres on rocky hillsides and edges of woods. Fruits in season from November to late December.




This ancient fruit tree was called 'apple of Kydonia' after the ancient city of Kydonia here in Crete. In mythology, the quince was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and marriage. In ancient times a newly wedded couple ate quince at their wedding feast. It was also a popular medicinal plant and it was used for digestive disorders, sore throats and coughs. Today it is still used for treating coughs and gastritis. The fruit of the quince is very sour and edible only when cooked. There is an excellent preserve made with this fruit called 'Kydonopasto'. 'Cydonia oblonga'. Deciduous shrub or small tree with oblong leaves and whitish pink flowers in April. Grows to a height of 6 metres fruit in season November.





This pretty tree is grown in many gardens and in autumn, when it has almost lost all its leaves, it produces attractive orange fruit. In Greece, this fruit is said to be the Lotos mentioned by Homer. Odysseus and his men on returning from the Trojan war visited the land of the Lotos eaters. Some of his men ate the honey sweet fruit and it had such an effect on them that all they desired was to stay there and feast on it forever. They were happy to forget all thoughts of their homeland and had to be forced back to the ship in tears by Odysseus.

'Diospyros kaki'.
This is a small deciduous tree with roundish leaves and yellowish white flowers which bloom in April to May the fruit is deep orange in colour. The tree grows to a height of 4 metres. and fruits in October to November. 




In ancient Greece, the pomegranate was sacred to Hera, the goddess of marriage. It was also connected with the worship of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. It symbolised life and fertility and was associated with Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who returned every spring to regenerate the earth. In the Orthodox Church it is traditional on the days when saints are commemorated to give 'Sperna' a rich mixture of boiled wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugared almonds, raisins, nuts and spices flavoured with mint and parsley. to the congregation. 'Sperna' symbolises the Resurrection and the Everlasting Life and follows a ancient custom.

'Punica granatum'. Another deciduous shrub or small tree with oblong glossy leaves, large red flowers in May to June and the fruit is rosy red fruit. It grows up to 5 metres and  fruits in October to November.




The wild pear was the first fruit known to have been eaten by humans in Greece. In ancient times it formed part of the poor man's diet. Pear trees were also well known for their use as a defensive hedge. Wild pears are still picked in the villages on Crete today. They are often put into boxes and covered with straw to ripen and become sweet. 'Pyrus pyraster'. A deciduous tree with thin oval leaves and white flowers which bloom in March to April. It grows to a height of 5 metres. on dry stony land and hillsides. The fruits are in season from October through November.




The peach seems to have been known in Greece by the 3rd century B.C. At that time it was called the 'Persian apple'. A tea made from peach pits is cleansing and healing for wounds. 'Prunus persica'. Deciduous tree with oblong leaves and deep pink flowers in February to March. Grows to a height of 6 metres in orchards and gardens. Fruits in June and July.




The ancient Greeks ate mulberries at their feasts. According to Dioscorides, the fruit was used medicinally for several ailments including digestive problems. Galen also mentions that the berries are beneficial to the health. Theophrastus recorded that, like the fig tree, its strong wood could bend easily and was useful for making certain objects. The leaf of the white mulberry was used for feeding the silkworm. In the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian introduced the culture of silkworms to Constantinople and from there it spread to Italy and beyond. In herbal medicine the dark purple liquid of the black mulberry was used widely as a syrup for sore throats, coughs and cols. Both the black and the white berries when fully ripe are regarded as a tonic and are excellent for the blood.


'Morus nigra'. Black mulberry 'Morus alba' White mulberry. Deciduous trees with oval or heart shaped leaves and spikes of creamish-green flowers in April. Grows to a height of 20 metres on roadsides and in gardens. Fruits in May to June.




This attractive small tree with its sweet, bright yellow fruit originally came from China but has been growing in the Mediterranean region for the last few hundred years. It is often the first tree of the year to produce fruit. A spoon sweet is made with this fruit and it is often served with almonds. 'Eriobotrya japonica' is an evergreen tree with large leathery leaves and clusters of white flowers in November. It grows to a height of 10 metres and is found in gardens and in older villages. fruit in season May to June.




It appears that the apricot was introduced to Greece by the 1st century A.D. and was first named 'Armenian apple'. The stones can be sun dried and boiled in a syrup of cherries together with brandy to produce a delicious home made liqueur. 'Prunus armeniaca'. Deciduous small tree with oval leaves and white or pale pink flowers in February. It grows to a height of 6 metres in gardens and orchards and fruits in May and June.




In many parts of Crete these are boiled together with sugar to make a tasty and very popular 'spoon sweet' 'gliko koutaliou', that is often kept in reserve for any visitors. A spoonful of cherries glistening in syrup is served on a dainty little glass dish, accompanied by a traditional Greek coffee and an icy cold glass of water. These spoon sweets are also made from many other fruits, e.g. oranges, lemons, citrons, grapes, figs and quince. According to Theophrastus, it was the hard wood of the cherry that was utilised for making bows, spears and javelins. Pausanias recorded that the Trojan horse would have been constructed with cherry wood.


'Cerasus vulgaris' Small deciduous tree with oval leaves, small yellow flowers in February to March and has scarlet fruit. Grows to a height of 5 metres in gardens and orchards. Fruits in July.




According to legend, there was a garden at the world's end in the far west where a sacred apple tree grew. It was guarded by the Hesperides, 'the daughters of the evening', who were helped by a serpent. They sang songs about the beautiful colours of the sunset and compared it with the colours of a fully laden apple tree. As the setting sun disappeared below the horizon it appeared to them like a crimson apple sinking in to the western ocean. Soon afterwards Hesperus, the evening star sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, rose up in the sky.


In mythology, the apple was sacred to Aphrodite and associated with love. The gift of an apple was a love token. In the 9th century, the Byzantine emperor Theophilus chose his bride by presenting her with a golden apple. 'Malus communis'. A deciduous tree with oval leaves and white flowers in April and May. Grows to a height of 6 metres in gardens and orchards. Fruits in September and November, however there are several species.




Orange and lemon trees with their rich colourful harvest and dense evergreen foliage are a familiar sight all over Greece. However, it seems that they were not part of the landscape of ancient Greece. Citrus fruits are generally thought to be native to the Far East and in ancient times they were cultivated in the Levant. The conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. brought lasting changes to Greeks horticulture. He took trained observers with him on his expeditions though foreign eastern lands who recorded their discoveries. During the centuries that followed various cultivated plants and trees began to be brought from the East to the West. 


Of the citrus fruits, it appears the citron was the first to arrive, followed by the bitter orange and the lemon. The sweet orange reached Greece much later on In Crete citrus trees are famous and greatly appreciated found in nearly every garden and in hundreds of orchards all over the island. The fruit can remain on the tree for months without becoming over ripe, and it commonly occurs that the tree may bloom at the same time. The flowers of all these trees have a beautiful fragrance. 

Orange Citrus sinensis ('Portokali') found in gardens and orchards.  Bitter orange Citrus aurantium ('Neranji') these trees are mainly found in squares and lining the roadsides. Lemon Citrus limon ('Lemoni') Mandarin Cirus deliciosa ('Mandarini'). Citron Citrus medica ('Citron'). Fruits from November right through to June.




Carob is a legume that comes from the carob tree. The official name of this tree derives from the Greek word 'ceraton' meaning horn. It refers to its tough, dark brawn pod. The seeds are uniform in size and were once used as the original carat weight the unit by which diamond weight is measured. The ancient Greeks fed carob pods to their animals and in times of hardship they themselves also ate the pods. During the war they used to make carob flour. Today in some villages people enjoy chewing the sweet nutritious pods. Carob pods are nature's first confectionery bar! Just bite into it, spit the seeds out, and chew! It has a chocolate-like flavour but is naturally sweeter than cacao beans and it is still fed to domestic animals. Male flowers produce a characteristic odour!!!


'Ceratonia siliqua'. An evergreen tree with leathery, deep green leaves. Tiny green or red flowers in October to November and large brownish pods. Grows to a height of 3-10 metres in dry rocky places, woodland and scrubland. Fruit in season from August to September.




The delicate blossoms of the almond tree are the first to appear after the winter. It is this tree that heralds the arrival of spring in Crete. Almonds can often be found for sale in the market and fine almond cakes are still made in the homes today. From texts that have survived from ancient Greece, we learn that it was the almond that was the most popular nut. Almonds were used, often combined with honey, fro pastries, cades and sweets. The oil was used for making ointments and valued in perfumery.  'Amygdalus communis'. This shrub or deciduous tree have narrow oblong leaves and pale pink to white flowers during January and February. It grows to a height of 7 metres on stony land, rocky places outside villages, in orchards and gardens. It fruits in August and September




This very handsome tree has spreading boughs and has been cultivated since ancient times. Walnuts were often served at banquets with the dessert. This tree was associated with Zeus. According to Greek legend the gods lived on walnuts. They are widely planted for their fruit and the their abundant shade. Suring the wars when the diet was poor, people ate the nutritious nuts and used to make tea from the dried leaves to keep healthy. In the villages today many people still drink walnut leaf tea. In herbal medicine the green outer casing of the nut and the leaves are mainly used for stomach disorders and as a digestive tonic.


They are also used for skin problems. The green outer casing of the nut also yields a brown dye. 'Juglans regia'. A deciduous tree with large oval leaves. Grows to a height of about 20 metres. Mostly in villages and gardens. The fruit is in season during September and October.




The sweet chestnut was introduced into Europe from Sardis, in Asia Minor the fruit was then called the 'Sardian Nut'. Alexander the Great and the Romans  planted Chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns. The Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. thanks to their stores of chestnuts. Ancient Greeks like Dioscorides and Romans such as Galen, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal properties and of the flatulence induced by eating too much of it.

The region of southwestern Crete Elos in Kissamos is surrounded by chestnut trees and is the main product of the areas villages  famous for their sweet, delicious chestnuts which are sold all over Crete. The last week of October is the chestnut festival. Cooked in the oven or the pot and roasted over the fire, chestnuts have been influencing local people’s diet ever since they became an integral part of the local rural economy. Contrary to the rest of the island, the region of southwestern Crete uses chestnuts not only as nuts but also as substitutes for potatoes and other starchy food items.


'Castanea sativa' is a deciduous tree which can grow to a height of 20-35 metres with a trunk often 2 metres in diameter. The leaves are oblong and grow to 20 cm long and are serrated with a toothed edged and prominent veins. The flowers creamy yellow catkins. The fruit is a prickly burr enclosing 1-5 nuts. 




More food pages
: Wine : Eating Out : Olive Oil : Honey : Ofto : Prickly Pear
: Local Specialities : Recipes : Local Cheese : Wild Mushrooms :



Copyright © 2009 Only Crete