|Binomial name||Myrtus communis|
Other Common Names:
The other common names for the shrub myrtle are Common myrtle and Roman Myrtle.
Myrtle was first introduced into Britain in 1597, and was used in the nineteenth century for bronchial infections, genitourinary problems, and hemorrhoids.
True Myrtle is an evergreen shrub or small tree with dense foliage. It can grow up to a 5m tree, but the wild ones in Malta are smaller - often shrub-like specimens. White glandular hairs are present on young stems but not on leaves. The 2-inch lanceolate leaves are strongly scented when crushed. The leaves exemanate an aromatic and refreshing smell somewhat reminiscent to myrrh or eucalypt; the taste is very intensive, quite unpleasant and strongly bitter. It produces numerous stalkless leaves arranged oppositely and mostly at an angle of 45 degrees to the stems. They have a hard, leather-like, semi-glossy texture with an oval or spindle-like shape ending with a pointed tip. Leaves are between 2-4cm long, have an entire margin and are dark green in colour with a prominent pale midrib. The flowers are borne solitarily from leaf axils supported by long, slender pedicels.
The labours berry can reach 1 cm in length and has a rounded vase-like shape with a swollen central part and remnants of the persistent calyx teeth at the outer part. Berries are edible with a sweet taste hence their widespread cultivation from ancient times in the Mediterranean region.
Myrtle is widely distributed wild in Mediterranean area, Southern Europe and North Africa.
The plant prefers full sun and adequate moisture with good drainage. It is generally seen in damp places such as in valleys, woodland garden, sunny edge and hedges. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.
Myrtus communis do best in light shade to full sun. We use a soil mix consisting of 1 part peat moss to 2 parts loam to 1 part course sand or perlite. The plant is highly drought tolerant. The soil should be allowed to dry in-between waterings. Tip chlorosis is a problem if the soil does not drain well. Fertilize monthly during the growing season. Trim in early spring to keep a desired form. The seeds are pre-soaked for 24 hours in warm water and then sow it in late winter in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up in the autumn and over winter in a cold frame. Plant out in late spring. Cuttings of mature wood of the current season's growth, 7 - 12cm with a heel in November in a shaded and frost free frame. Plant out in late spring or early autumn followed by layering.
The scented white flowers of the myrtle are in bloom from June to October.
Pests and Diseases
Tip chlorosis is a problem if the soil does not drain well. Aphids often infest the new growth causing an unsightly but harmless sooty mould to grow on the foliage. Heavy aphid infestations cause a heavy black sooty mold which detracts from the tree's appearance. Powdery mildew can severely affect Myrtle. Select resistant cultivars and hybrids to avoid this disease. Leaf spots are only a minor concern and do not require treatment.
The leaves, berries and the bark are commonly used for its medicinal and commercial applications.
• The berries have long been used to ease indigestion and stimulate the digestive system.
• It is used in the treatment of dysentery, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, internal ulceration and rheumatism.
• They are used also for spitting of blood, catarrhal defluxions on the chest, fluor albus and dropped womb or fundament.
• The plant is taken internally in the treatment of urinary infections, digestive problems, vaginal discharge, bronchial congestion, sinusitis and dry coughs.
• The leaves are made into an infusion and used as a vaginal douche for leucorrhoea and prolapsed of the womb.
• It is used as a remedy for gingivitis and rheumatism.
• Myrtle is employed in the treatment of epilepsy.
• The bark and roots are used to tan the finest Turkish and Russian leather to which they impart a delicate scent.
• This scent is used in perfumes, soaps and potpourris and can be enjoyed in your garden too.
• A high quality charcoal is made from the wood which is used for walking sticks, tool handles, furniture etc.
• Myrtle has been used mainly to flavour strong meats, like lamb.
• The liqueur Mirto is a made from both the berries and the leaves of Myrtus communis.
• Myrtle a popular ingredient of traditional Mediterranean cosmetics and extracts were employed both as astringents and antiseptics.
According to one interpretation, when "Adam was expelled from Paradise he was allowed to take with him wheat, chief of foods; the date, chief of fruits; and the myrtle, chief of scented flowers." This ancient tradition goes back to about 50 A.D. when the ancient Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, used a Myrtle wine for a myriad of ailments including bladder infections. According to the myths Aphrodite (Venus) was born on the island of Cyprus then rode on a wave to Cnidos near Dat�a where she emerged from the sea naked and hid behind a myrtle bush.
The greeks held this plant sacred to Aphrodite and in Christian religion, it has been associated with the Virgin.Myrtle is the symbol of divine generosity.
Myrtle not only features in Greek mythology, but is also an important plant in the context of rural life. People in the Mediterranean region of Turkey, on religious holidays and other special occasions, visit the graves of their dead and lay myrtle branches and leaves upon them. In the past many Mediterranean brides carried bouquets that incorporated Myrtle sprigs, a tradition still seen in Israel today.