“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.