The next day my colleague was up early and at the local market. She greeted me at my hotel with armfuls of the very plants we had seen and tasted the day before. You see local people foraging and selling these robust plants which have been a part of traditional cuisine in the Mediterranean lifestyle for centuries.

They go into the fields, hills and, mountains where they live and forage these plants. Some land on their plates. Others make their way to the markets. The remainder may be formulated into local teas and herbals products, completing the cycle of life.

While it is not a secret to the locals in many regions across the Mediterranean, these native wild plants are the “secret” to the health of this vast region. From Southern Italy, across the Greek Islands to Croatia and Western Turkey, wild plants are a means to make an income and a way to grace the plate.

These wild plants which include thyme, fennel, and chives among many other Mediterranean foods, contain large concentrations of bioactives. The health benefits of these bioactives are that they can activate genes whose protein products that soothe inflammation in the body, or act as powerful antioxidants.

Most disease finds its roots in inflammation. Across the Mediterranean, native plants incorporated into simple meals naturally help soothe the fires of inflammation. If you prevent inflammation, you can prevent heart disease and diabetes among other chronic diseases. No heart disease, no diabetes = a long life.

And the Mediterranean is known for its healthy long-living people. Think about that.

The Pyrenees Mountains

In 2003 I was hiking high in the Pyrenees Mountains bordering France and Spain. It was early November and the villages were largely shuttered because people were taking a break between the demands of the summer tourist season and the onslaught of the Winter ski season. Taking a break and respecting your mind and body is an essential part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. It provides time to downshift and recuperate.

While in the mountains, I came across a lone shepherd working with his dog to bring sheep down to lower pastures before the snow began. The sheep provide milk for both the famous cheeses and Greek yogurt of this part of the world. The cheese is used with whole milk and then aged to produce a robust flavor. It contains large amounts of saturated fat but is only eaten in small amounts.

Sheep, similar to goats and cows, provide the milk for some of the world’s best, yet less familiar cheeses. Both of these items can be found at their farmers’ markets, bakeries, or local grocery store.

And on the subject of cheese, each Mediterranean country has its specialties. The Mediterranean people are not afraid of cheese and its calories. Cheese varies by animal and the grass of the season. They are celebrated by region and frequently paired with wine and fruit from the same locality.

This content was originally published here.