Myrtle

Myrtus communis

Herbs gallery - Myrtle

Common names

  • Corsican Pepper
  • Myrtle

This is a small evergreen tree or shrub that generally grows up to a height of anything between 3 meters and 7 meters (9 feet to 25 feet). The branches of myrtle are stiff, while its twigs are reddish bearing dark, shiny green leaves. It bears extremely beautiful flowers, whose color varies from white to pink. While the flowers are extremely aromatic, the fruits of myrtle are rounded berries having a reddish or blue hue. In fact, the entire myrtle plant is extremely aromatic.

This evergreen shrub grows straight and is generally cultivated for the plant's aromatic foliage as well as its aptitude to endure clipping. It is an ideal plant for a hedge or topiary. Myrtle plants bear solitary flowers during the period between the middle of summer to the early fall. These flowers give way to small black or purplish berries. Some plants of this species may possibly grow up to 10 feet in height, but several dwarf cultivars of myrtle are also available. It grows well in damp and moderately fertile soils having excellent drainage. Myrtle thrives best in places receiving full sunlight.

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Freshly obtained wax myrtle leaves can be used to generate wax myrtle oil through the stem distillation process. The essential oil obtained from myrtle combines excellently with several other oils, including clove oil, hyssop oil, clary sage oil, lavender oil, cinnamon oil, bay leaves oil, lime oil, sandalwood oil, bergamot oil and rosemary oil.

Parts used

Flowers, fruit.

Uses

In many countries, especially in China and Europe, myrtle has been traditionally prescribed for treating sinus infections. According to the conclusions of a systematic review regarding herbal remedies employed to treat rhinosinusitis, the benefits of using herbal remedies to treat rhinosinusitis are restricted and that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to suggest that the results of using Myrtus in clinical trials for curing this condition were significant.

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The leaves of myrtle possess several remedial properties - they are aromatic, tonic, balsamic as well as haemostatic. Studies undertaken in recent times have shown that the plant also possesses antibiotic attributes. The active elements enclosed by myrtle are absorbed rapidly by our body and within just 15 minutes they impart a scent akin to violet to our urine. This herb is used internally to treat infections of the urinary tract, digestive disorders, and congestion of the bronchial tract, vaginal discharge, dry coughs and sinusitis. People in India consider this herb to be effective for treating cerebral problems, particularly epilepsy. This herb is used externally to treat acne (usually the essential oil obtained from the myrtle leaves is used in this case), gum infections, wounds as well as hemorrhoids.

Myrtle leaves are collected whenever they are needed and may be used both fresh as well as dried. The plant yields an essential oil, which possesses antiseptic properties. This oil encloses a substance called myrtol, which is used to treat gingivitis. In addition, the myrtle essential oil is also used externally for treating rheumatism. The fruit of this evergreen shrub possesses carminative attributes and is used to expel gas formed in the stomach and/ or bowels. The fruits are also used for treating diarrhea, dysentery, rheumatism, internal ulceration and hemorrhoids.

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The flowers, leaves and bark of myrtle also yield an essential oil, which is used in soaps, perfumery as well as skincare products. On average, 100 kilos of myrtle leaves yield 10 grams of the essential oil. The aromatic myrtle flowers also yield scented water called 'eau d'ange'. The wood of this evergreen shrub is dried and used to produce a superior quality charcoal. In fact, myrtle wood is very tough, fine grained and elastic and is often used to make walking sticks, furniture, tool handles and other items.

Myrtle also serves as great firewood and its passes on a spicy and fragrant flavour to all meats grilled over it. In addition, the branches of this shrub may be used to wrap poultry or meat or you may also stuff the body cavities with them. Once the poultry or meat has been roasted or boiled, you remove the myrtle branches from them. In the rural areas of Sardinia or Italy it is quite common to flavour foods using the smoke of myrtle wood. Sometimes, they also use rosemary, another shrub, as an alternative for myrtle. It is interesting to note that people in the Caribbean are also familiar with this technique and they use allspice leaves for virtually the identical reasons.

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In almost all Western nations, dried out myrtle leaves are available very easily. You may enhance the flavour of any food that is boiled over charcoal just by sprinkling some dry myrtle leaves over the blazing coal frequently. In addition to myrtle, you may also use the leaves of thyme, rosemary and other potently aromatic herbs, even eucalyptus, to flavour food in this manner.

Culinary uses

The leaves, buds, flowers and fruits of myrtle are all edible.

The fruits of this evergreen shrub can be consumed fresh or after cooking. The flavour of myrtle fruits is aromatic and can be consumed raw when they are ripe or can even be dried out and subsequently used in the form of a scented flavouring for foods, particularly in the Middle East countries. In addition, the fruit can also be used to prepare an acidic beverage.

Myrtle fruit is very small, roughly 8 mm across. The leaves of the plant are used to flavour cooked aromatic cuisines. The dried out flower buds as well as the fruits are used to add essence to syrups, sauces and other such items. The myrtle leaves as well as twigs yield an essential oil that is employed in the form of a seasoning, particularly when it is blended with different spices. People in Italy consume the flower buds. As the myrtle flowers are sweet to taste, they are often used as ingredients in salads.

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In the Mediterranean region, people mostly use the myrtle leaves, both fresh as well as dried. When the berries are dried they become aromatic and have been often tried by people as an alternative for black pepper.

People inhabiting the Sardinia and Corsica islands use myrtle berries to make a fragrant liqueur known as mirto, which is produced by macerating the berries in alcohol. In fact, mirto is a well known distinctive alcoholic beverage of Sardinia and is available in two varieties - mirto bianco (white), made from yellow myrtle berries, which are less common, and also from myrtle leaves and the mirto rosso (red) made by fermenting the reddish berries of the plant.

Habitat and cultivation

Myrtle is native to the region around the Mediterranean as well as the western regions of Asia. In addition, this species is also extremely cultivated in various other regions of the world, particularly in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. While the major part of the global supplies of wax myrtle oil comes from Tunisia, other countries which also produce the oil in small amounts include France, Corsica, Spain and Italy.

Myrtle grows excellently in soil having a pH range of 6.5 to 8.5, provided the soil is damp and has a good drainage. In fact, this shrub needs very little water. While myrtle can endure light frost, it is essential to protect the plants from strong winds. When lying dormant, the shrub has the ability to survive in very low temperature, as low as -10°C.

This evergreen shrub is extensively grown in the form of an ornamental garden plant, especially for the plentiful flowers it produces during the later part of summer. The plant needs a hot summer to bear flowers. In addition, it also needs to be protected from frosts during winter. You may clip this plant to give it the shape of a hedge.

The young plants that grow during the spring may be harmed by frosts late in the season. When young, myrtle is a rather rapidly growing plant, but its growth slows down as it matures. Several named varieties of myrtle exist. One variety called 'Tarentina' bears slender, small leaves and is tougher compared to the common variety. It also has the ability to withstand strong wind. Another myrtle variety called 'Microphylla' is actually a dwarf variety, while the variety called 'Leucocarpa' produces white colored berries.

Myrtle is a rather common plant in the Mediterranean region, where it is cultivated often and is considered to be a representation of love as well as peace. In fact, this plant is valued for its use in making bouquets for wedding. The foliage of the plant is potently fragrant. It is best to prune the plants during spring, when their growth season begins. It may be noted that plants belonging to this particular genus are especially honey fungus resistant.

Commercial propagation of myrtle is done by its seeds, which are soaked in tepid water for about 24 hours before sowing. The seeds are sown in a greenhouse during the later part of winter. When the seedlings have grown large enough to be handled, prick them out individually and plant them in separate containers and continue growing them in a greenhouse for at least the first winter of their existence. Plant the young plants in outdoors in their fixed positions during the later part of spring or early summer, when the last anticipated frost is over.

Alternatively, myrtle can also be propagated from cuttings of semi-mature wood of the shrub. Ideally, the cuttings should be about 7 cm to 10 cm in length accompanying a heel. The cuttings should be made during July/ August and planted in a frame. The young plant can be transplanted into their permanent places outdoors during the later part of spring. The percentage of survival of these cuttings is generally very high. If you are using cuttings of full-grown wood from the present season's growth, they should be about 7 cm to 12 cm in length accompanied by a heel. These mature wood cuttings should be planted in a frost-free frame in a shaded place during November. When new plants have emerged from the cuttings, transplant them outdoors during the later part of spring or the early part of autumn.

Constituents

Myrtle contains: 0,4%-0,8% volatile oil (with 26%-36% cineole, limonene, myrtenole, α-pinene, dipenten, linalool, camphen, geraniol, nerol), gallic acid, about 14% tannins, ellagic acid and 3,6-digal-loylgiucose, rosin, a bitter substance, flavonoids (myricetin, myncitrin), etc.

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