Background story

Wild orchids are protected both nationally and globally: in Greece, they are incorporated in Presidential Decree 67/1981, which they declare to be protected, and are included in the Annexes to European Directive 92/43 / EEC and the CITES Convention have been ratified by Greek law. Accordingly, any collection, movement, cutting or editing therefor is prohibited.

What is unknown to the general public, however, is the relationship of orchids to traditional salep and ice creams dondurma (Turkey) and kaimaki (Greece): all of them are produced from dried, ground tubers of orchid species.

Although the origin of salep was widely known in the past, nowadays people in Greece are not familiar with it. The majority are not even aware of the existence of the hundreds of different native orchid species, existing all over the country. Greece has a large orchid variability, with areas like NW Greece being among the most species-rich, also hosting numerous endemic taxa. In this area, especially Epirus, and Macedonia, orchid harvesting increased during the Ottoman period (mid 15th to early 20th century), and continues as a legacy of that period. Salep in Greece is widely used for the production of the homonymous beverage sold by street vendors during cold winter days, while it is also used as a thickening material, together with mastic powder, for the production of the Greek traditional ice cream “kaimaki” (an equivalent of the Turkish dondurma). Orchids that are collected for the production of salep are mainly those with ovoid bulbs or palmate tubers. At least 35 different species have been mentioned in literature as “salep”, with the genera Anacamptis, Orchis and Dactylorhiza being the most common.

In recent years, both in neighboring Turkey and elsewhere in Anatolia, significant problems have been reported with regard to the conservation of natural orchid populations due to the oversupply of tubers to meet the particularly high demand for ales and dodges.