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Natural Herbs Of Bulgaria

Walk down any country path and you will be astounded at the number of wild plants and herbs that grow wild here.

The land naturally produces many plants which are used for both medicine and in food preparation. Some are also used for decoration and many are used as a source of income. Bulgaria is the largest exporter of medicinal herbs and ranks among the largest herb exporting countries in the world. Even though the modern economy is encroaching on the traditional Bulgarian lifestyle, the use of herbs in particular is so rooted in the local mindset that both young and old still trust the power of these natural products over shop bought alternatives.


The Herb Industry

Under the Communist regime, people were only allowed to collect small quantities of herbs for sale in the local markets and for personal use. Herbs were not collected on a large scale as they are today. With the onslaught of privatisation, herb companies opened up across the country. The high unemployment rate at the time meant that there was a glut of unskilled labour which could be used to pick the herbs. Herb gatherers were paid according to the weight they brought in and this lead to many people pulling up whole clumps of herbs and thus depleting the overall stock.

Since Bulgaria's entry into the E.U there are stricter regulations for Herb producers throughout Bulgaria.Certified Organic certificates stating how the herbs are collected and processed has to be proved and stated.The E.U and Bulgarian government helps provide funds to promote the organic farming of most Bulgarian food products. Smaller farms depend on investment from the government and foreign investers.90 % of Organic food including herbs and spices produced in Bulgaria is exported to richer countries.

Stinging Nettles (Utrica Dioica)

Stinging Nettles are Bulgaria's most common herb and consequently the most frequently used. Its uses are many and some Bulgarians even grow them in their garden. Primarily they use the nettle in food preparation by cooking the leaves to make a nettle soup; in the Rhodope Mountains they are combined in klim recipes. The stinging nettle also has medicinal properties particularly for the relief of hay fever. Bulgarians add the leaves to boiling water, leave it to stew for five minutes and drink it as a tea. Nettles are rich in iron and vitamin C and are good for preventing anaemia.

Wild Majoram (Origanum Vulgare)

Wild marjoram has a stronger flavour and a more penetrating value than its shop bought equivalent. It is used as seasoning in cooking and for the treatment of colds and the flu, inflammation to the mouth, headaches and muscle pains.


Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)

When used as an herbal supplement, chamomile is great for treating headaches, stress and anxiety. It is also used to relieve muscle pains, stomachache, insomnia, rheumatism and toothaches. The head of the plant is dried and mixed with boiling water then left to stew to make a tea.

Dill (Anethum Graveolens)

Dill is used as a seasoning in many traditional recipes including snezhanka, a cucumber and yogurt salad and kiselo krastavitsi, which are pickled gherkins. Dill also aids digestion and thus is great to use if you have indigestion.

St John's Wort (Hypericum Perforatum)

St. John's Wort is used almost exclusively as an herbal medicine to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It is also great for treating gastric ulcers and viral infections and its oil is an effective cure for sunburn. It is taken as a tea with the head of the plant being dried in the sun first.

Wild Geranium (Geranium Macorrhizum)

Not only is a pretty herb with lovely summer blossoms, wild geranium called zdravets in Bulgarian, which literally means health. Some Bulgarians give bunches of wild geraniums tied with a red ribbon (another symbol of health) when they visit friends or relatives and in some schools they are thrown onto the steps on the first day back as a sign of health and luck for the new school year.

Cannabis (Ruderal Cannabis)

Whilst cannabis is an illegal narcotic here just as it is in most western countries, it grows wild and as long as you are not seen to be actively cultivating it you will not be in breach of the law if you pick a few leaves. The strain of cannabis growing in the wild here is actually very mild and is a good cure for those with severe pain if taken in small amounts. It does not have to be smoked as a cigarette and can be used to season food so long as the leaves have been thoroughly dried.

Cowslip (Primula Veris)

Cowslip is used predominantly as a medicinal herb in the treatment of headaches, whooping cough and fevers. It can have adverse effects on people with allergic conditions. It's culinary uses are many; it's leaves can be mixed into salads and it's flowers can be used to flavour vinegar.

Milfoil (Achillea Millefolium)

Sometimes called yarrow, milfoil helps to reduce fevers, lower blood pressure and when used as an antiseptic, it can help speed up the healing of wounds and curb bleeding. It is quite bitter and is sometimes substituted for hops in beer production. As a food, it's leaves can be eaten like spinach or added to soups.

Thyme (Thymus sp. Diversa)

Wild thyme grows abundantly here and is used as seasoning. Bulgarians pick the thyme from the wild in great bunches and tie them together then leave them to dry. Then the plant is shaken into a bag to remove the leaves and the stems are discarded. Thyme is rich in iron and also has medicinal uses as an expectorant and an antifungal agent in the treatment of athlete's foot. When brewed as a tea it helps fight the common cold.

Mint (Mentha)

Bulgarians love mint and it is used dried to season lamb during the spring. The leaves also have many other uses in teas, salads and soups. As a medicinal herb mint is given as a tea to treat chest pains and stomach ache. It is also said to whiten teeth if the fresh leaves are chewed and it acts as a strong diuretic and digestive aid.

Mursalski Chai


Not really a herb as such but more commonly used to make tea, mursalski chai is one of the great mounain teas of Bulgaria. Mursalski Chai (sideritis scardica) is also known as ironwort, mountain tea and shepherd's tea. It makes a wonderful tasty cup of teas to be found anywhere.

Gather Your Own

Now you know what lies beneath your Bulgarian front door, you can go out and gather your own herbs! You will need to familiarise yourself with what they look like by either purchasing a book or looking at pictures on the internet. Remember not to remove the whole plant so that future generations can live off the land too. Happy Herbing!