History of Greek Food

Eating lupines




“For our best and daintiest cheer,

Through the bright half of the year,

Is but acorns, onions, peas,

Ochros lupines, radishes,

Yetches, wild pears nine or ten,

With a locust now and then.’’

Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Deipnosophists, (Alexis, book II, g 44, p. 90) p. 1126, transl. J. A. St. John. www. digicoll.library.wisc.edu.

 Lupines, the beautiful wildflowers, are of the genus Lupinus and belong to the pea family or Fabacae. The name lupine or lupin is derived from the Latin word lupus which means  wolf. They have got the name because both lupines and wolves are sheep killers. Though the lupine plants fertilize the soil and the beans  provide nutritious food, they also contain an alkaloid which, depending on the circumstances, provides medicines or cause poisoning. The results of lupine poisoning are dizziness, depressed nervous system and heart, labored breathing, convulsions, coma, and death.  Due to slight poisoning effects, the lupines became the special food that was offered to the pilgrims of Nekromanteion (oracle of the deceased) at Acheron river, in order to prepare them to communicate with the dead.

Since the species chosen for cultivation have low levels of alkaloids, which can be removed by boiling, lupine is a valuable food, rich in proteins and oils. The white lupine, L. albus, has been cultivated in Meditettanean area for several thousand years. In Classical and Byzantine years, boiled or roasted lupine beans were selled by street vendors as a snack. They had a special role in Cynic’s diet and were appreciated by few unconventional Saints, such as Symeon salos (the fool). Since Cynical ideal for a self – sufficient life calls ascetic diet and inexpensive sources of food, it is not surprising that legumes in general, and the lupine especially, hold an important place. As for Symeon, the eating of huge quantities of lupines (θέρμοι, thermoi)  and other foods, was part of his bizzare behavior  in order to avoid be honoured by men on account of his powers.  Though the role of lupines was essential in starvation years and both beans and  flour saved many people from death,  their value was always greatly underestimated. Therefore they were regarded as food for the less fortunate, for farmers and cattles.  

  • Untill 1970, the farmers of Peloponnesus and Crete used to boil the raw lupines in mess kettles, by the sea, or by the rivers. Then they soaked them in seawater, or in riverwater for 8 –10 days, till the water wash away their bitterness, and they laid them out to dry.
  • Raw lupines are tasty and for a long time were enjoyed as typical Lenten appetizer. In nowadays they tend to disappear from the diet, however they can be  found in jars  in some markets during the fasting period before Easter.
  • In Europe since 1997 lupines and lupine flour are officialy considered as traditional food.


Lupines are eaten as a snack, sprinkled with salt and black pepper. In Crete they are served as meze for tsikoudia (raki), together with  barley rusk soaked in a little water, and olives.

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5 thoughts on “Eating lupines

  1. Rota

    I had never known these stories about lupines. I am sure though that they arent very appreciated by modern Greek cuisine. however, this is eye-opening and it should be read by more people.

  2. admin Post author

    Maniates called them ” the raisins of Mani”. You can find them all over the markets of S.Peloponnesos and in delicatessen shops in Athens.

  3. Ivy

    I have never eaten these Marianna but my husband has talked about them many times and as he told me they would soak them in the river which was near their village and although at times when there was poverty they did eat them but later on they mostly fed the pigs. I have read in their local newspaper Ta Nea tis Megaloupoleos that now they are processed and being sold in packages like stragalia or passatempo.

  4. admin Post author

    Ι slightly remember Galatianes women soaking lupines in water. When I was a child I hated them, but a couple years ago I tasted lupines from Mani and I enjoyed their crunchy texture and fresh taste.

  5. maria

    the sea-water method is exactly the one described to me by one of my uncles who used to sell these in his shop

    wonderful post about this crazy bean that isn’t very popular nowadays – i must admit, i prefer the flower to the bean!

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