ICARIA also spelled IKARIA, is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, 19 southwest of Samos.  It derived its name from ICARIUS, the son of DAEDALUS in Greek mythology, who fell into the sea nearby.  Administratively, the island forms a separate municipality within the Icarian regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region.  The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is AGIOS KIRKOS.
It is one of the middle islands of the northern Aegean, 255 sq.kms  of coastline and has a population of about 10,000 people.  The island is mountainous for the most part.  The topography is a contrast between verdant slopes and barren steep rocks.  It is traversed by the AETHERAS range, whose highest summit is 3,402ft.  Most of its villages are nestled in the plains near the coast, with only some of them in the mountains.  Icaria has a tradition in the production of strong red wine. Many parts of the island, especially the ravines are covered in large bushes, making the landscape lush with green.


Aside from domestic and domesticated species, small goat herds make their presence known with their bells, disturbing the serenity of the island, there are a number of small animals like martens, otters, jumping spiders and toads.  Icaria exhibits a typical Mediterranean climate.
Before the Christian era, the island was home to thick oak forests and productive vineyards.  Its reputation as a “health destination” dates back 25 centuries, when Greeks travelled to the island to soak in the “hot springs” near Therma.  In the 17th century, Joseph Georgirenes, the Bishop of Icaria, described its residents as “proud people who slept on the ground.”  “The most commendable thing on the island,” he wrote, “is their “air” and “water”, both so healthful that people have long lives, it being a ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”

Map of Icaria v1.4a

Doctor Ilias Leriadis, one of Icaria’s few physicians in 2009 said, “People stay up late here.  We wake up late and always take naps.  No one wears a watch here, we simply don’t care.”  Pointing to the neighbouring island of Samos, he said, ” Just 15km over there is a completely different world.  There you have high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros.  In Samos they care about money.  Here, we don’t.  For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine.  If there is money left over, they give it to the poor.  It’s not a ME place, it’s a US place.”


The daily routine of almost all of Icaria’s traditional folk is : Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap.  At sunset, they either visit neighbours or neighbours visit them.  Their diet is also typical :  a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread.  Lunch is almost always beans, lentils, garbanzos, potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinach-like green called HORTA) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produces ; dinner is bread and goat’s milk.  At Christmas and Easter, they usually slaughter the family pig and enjoy small portions of larded pork for the next several months.
Doctor Ioanna Chinon, when asked about Icaria’s secret of the long lives of its citizens said, “Many of the teas they consume are traditional Greek remedies.  WILD MINT fights gingivitis and gastrointestinal disorders, ROSEMAY is used as a remedy for gout, ARTEMISIA is though to improve blood circulation.  Most of the herbs, they consume, contain mild DIURETICS, which doctors often use  to treat Hypertension  —— perhaps by drinking tea every night, the people of Icaria have gently lowered the blood pressure throughout their lives.

Island of Icaria experience of life

They also have local “mountain-tea” made from dried herbs, endemic to the island, and is enjoyed as an “end-of-the-day cocktail”.  Then there is marjoram sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea, and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon.  HONEY, too, is treated as a PANACEA.  They have types of honey here, you won’t see anywhere else in the world.  They use it for everything from treating wounds and curing hangovers  Old people, here, start their day with a spoonful of honey.  They take it like medicine.
The ICARIAN DIET, like that of others around the Mediterranean, is “rich” in olive oil and vegetables and “low” in dairy (except goat’s milk) and meat products, and also includes moderate amounts of alcohol.  There is emphasis on home-grown potatoes, beans, wild greens and locally-produced goat’s milk and honey.  Some “dietary tendencies” have been linked to “increased life spans in Icaria.
(1) Low intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy is associated with lower risk of heart disease.
(2) Olive Oil (especially unheated) reduced bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol.
(3) Goat’s milk contains serotonin-boosting tryptophan and is easily digestible for older people.
(4) Some wild greens have 10 times as many antioxidants as red wine.
(5) Wine (in moderation) has been shown to be good, if consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet because it prompts the body to absorb more flavonoids.
(6) Coffee, once said to stunt growth, is now associated with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and, for some, Parkinson’s.  (7) Local sourdough bread might actually reduce a meal’s glycemic load.
(8) Potatoes contribute  to heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6 and fibre.
(9) Another health factor, at work, might be the unprocessed nature of the food they consume, because they eat greens from their gardens and fields and so they consume less pesticides and more nutrients.
One explanation, why they live so long is they eat a PLANT-BASED DIET.  Then there is the “absence of sugar and white flour”.  They eat very little refined sugar and their breads have been traditionally made with stone-ground wheat.  Most of them consume about 6 times as many beans, a day, as Americans, eat fish twice a week and meat 5 times a month, drink,, on average, 2-3 cups of coffee a day, and take in about a quarter as much refined sugar.  The elderly don’t like soda..  They also consume high levels of olive oil along with 2-4 glasses of wine a day.


Daily socialising is just as crucial.  Although unemployment is high —– perhaps as high as 40% —— most everyone has access to a family garden and livestock.  People who work might have several jobs.  Someone involved in tourism, for example, might also be a painter or an electrician or have a store.   There is no word, in Greek, for PRIVACY.  When everyone knows everyone else’s business, you get a feeling of connection and security.  The “lack of privacy” is actually good, because it puts a check on people who don’t want to be caught or do something to embarrass. If the children misbehave, the neighbour has no problem disciplining them.  There is less crime, not because of good policing, but because of the risk of shaming the family.  Thus, “SOCIAL STRUCTURE might turn out to be the most important factor for the “longevity of the people of Icaria”.

Subject: On 2013-04-05, at 2:55 PM, Devine, Doug wrote: Dreamstime photos from Greek island of Ikaria, for travel story.   fishing in Ikaria, Greece.jpg     canoes on the beach in Ikaria, Greece.jpg     night shot in Ikaria, Greece.jpg    fishing in Ikaria, Greece.jpg  canoes on the beach in Ikaria, Greece.jpg  night shot in Ikaria, Greece.jpg

In Sardinia, there is a cultural attitude that celebrates the elderly and keeps them engaged in the community and in extended-homes until they are in their 100s.  In Okinawa, there’s a notion of IKIGAI (the reason for which you wake up in the morning) suffuses people’s entire adult lives.  It gets centenarians out of bed and out of the easy chair to teach Karate or to guide the village spiritually or to pass down tradition to children.  The people of Costa Rica use the term PLAN DE VIDA, to describe a lifelong sense of purpose.  Doctor Robert Butler, the 1st Director of the National Institute On Aging, says, “BEING ABLE TO DEFINE YOUR LIFE MEANING, ADDS TO YOUR LIFE EXPECTANCY.”


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