Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
Myrtle is an evergreen scrub which is used for its leaves or berries, both fresh and dried.
Myrtle leaves have a sweet, astringent, juniper-like taste, while the berries have notes of juniper, allspice and rosemary. Dried berries have a peppery flavour and are sometimes used as a pepper substitute.
Myrtle leaves and berries are highly aromatic and perfumed with orange-blossom notes.
Myrtle leaves are used to flavour meats such as venison, hare, pork and pigeon and to make liqueurs. In Italy, myrtle leaves are used to wrap, cure and flavour new cheese. Myrtle berries can be used in a similar fashion to juniper berries and when dried and crushed as a replacement for pepper. Myrtle combines well with garlic, thyme, savory and fennel.
Myrtle plants grow best in cool climates. They are slow growing and will grow up to 3m high with flaking reddish-brown bark, long oval leaves and white to rose-pink flowers. The plants are great for hedging and the leaves can be harvested all year round.
Myrtle is native to the Mediterranean and Middle East and has been a popular flavouring in Mediterranean cuisine, particularly in the islands of Crete, Corsica and Sardinia. It is mentioned often in Greek mythology and is known as a symbol of love and immortality. Myrtle is a common addition to wedding bouquets, particularly those of royal families.
Myrtle is used crushed for heal wounds, rashes and skin irritations and in China and Europe it is used in herbal medicine to treat sinus infections.
Facts about Myrtle
Roots and bark of myrtle trees are used for tanning leather.
Other related myrtles include Saharan myrtle and lemon myrtle.