THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greek police on the rugged mountainous border with Albania on Monday arrested three Albanian men accused of illegally picking large quantities of medicinal wild herbs — and of violating Greece's COVID-19 quarantine laws.
A police statement said the three men, who are 28, 29 and 33, were caught just inside Greece carrying six large sacks with a total of 94 kilograms (200 pounds) of primula veris or cowslip, used as a traditional herbal infusion.
They faced charges of breaching laws on gathering wild plants, which only allow harvesting of small quantities for personal use, illegally entering Greece and breaking health regulations barring entry into the country because of the pandemic. For the latter charge they were fined 5,000 euros $5,500) each.
The arrests were made in Greece's northern Kastoria region.
Every spring, police along the Albanian border are on the lookout for bands of Albanians who make regular cross-border forays, illegally harvesting herbs and medicinal plants that can be sold at a good profit for use in the pharmaceutical or cosmetics industry.
Apart from depleting the mountain of its herbs, conservationists say the raiders also cause severe environmental damage as they pull up the roots together with the upper parts of the plants, leading to their gradual disappearance from the region.