Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
Lemon myrtle trees are natives to rainforests, mostly in Queensland, Australia. The dried leaves, both ground and whole, are popular spice blends in Australian kitchens and are slowly gaining global appreciation.
Lemon myrtle leaves, like the name suggests, has a strong flavour which is similar to lemon zest. Use sparingly as only a little is required to flavour a dish. Lemon myrtle’s lingering aftertaste is similar to eucalyptus or camphor.
Its aroma is refreshing and intensely lemon-like, similar to lemongrass. The aroma becomes stronger once the leaves are crushed.
Lemon myrtle is a common ingredient in many bush blend spices. It can be used in baking: shortbread, biscuits, pancakes, cakes, cheesecake and damper; cooking: stir fries, pasta, rubbed on meat and seafood and also stirred through dressings, tea and lemonade. Lemon myrtle loves chicken fish, seafood, pork, rice and fruit and marries with aniseed, basil, chillies, fennel, galangal, ginger, parsley, pepper, thyme and yoghurt.
Lemon myrtle trees grow to between 5 and 20 metres however it can be kept at a shrub size by regular harvesting and pruning. It’s best grown in warmer climates as the trees do not like frost or droughts and respond best when grown in a sheltered spot. Mature, dark leaves can be picked all year round.
Indigenous Australians have used lemon myrtle in both cuisine and medicine for years. Despite being native to Australia, the trees have been introduced into southern Europe, the southern US and South Africa and are grown for their essential oil in China and Southeast Asia. In 2010, Jamie Oliver described lemon myrtle as ‘pukka’ causing lemon myrtle to sell out in London.
Lemon myrtle tea is claimed to assist with freeing blood flow and to help with coughs, colds and stress. Lemon myrtle essential oil has antimicrobial properties and is used in soaps, lotions, skin-whitening preparations and shampoos.
Facts about Lemon Myrtle
If lemon myrtle is cooked for too long, it loses its lemony flavour and an unpleasant eucalyptus taste can take over.
There are some un-researched claims that the intense aromatic aroma of lemon myrtle leave stems can cause a laughing effect.
Where can I buy lemon myrtle?
Lemon myrtle as dried whole leaves or ground leaves can be sourced from spice manufacturers, some supermarkets or purchased online. Store in airtight containers, in the dark.
I don’t have lemongrass or lemon zest available? Can I use lemon myrtle as a substitute?
Yes, you can use lemon myrtle as a flavour substitute for lemongrass or lemon zest.