The Versatile Myrtle

The Versatile Myrtle
Myrtle is so much more than just a beautiful ornamental that can be trained as a topiary. The plant is very useful in other ways.

All parts of the myrtle are quite aromatic and can be used in potpourri. This includes the leaves, berries, flowers, and bark. For potpourri, pick the leaves when the plant is blooming for the foliage will be highly scented at that time.

When drying the flowers for potpourri, harvest these just as the buds begin to open.

Myrtle leaves, twigs, fruits, and branches are the source of an essential oil. The oil has been used medicinally as well as an ingredient in perfumes and other fragrances. The common name of myrtle comes from a Latin word, myron, which means perfume.

The berries have also been used for medicinal purposes and as an ingredient for cosmetics. For cosmetic use, the flowers and leaves were steeped in oil, which was then used as a skin treatment to maintain one’s youthful appearance and beauty.

A tonic made from myrtle fruits was used in ancient Pompeii. Myrtle has also been used in aromatherapy. The fruits and leaves were recommended for medicinal purposes by Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides. Myrtle leaves were used for making a medicinal tea. The foliage was also used as a cold +-compress to treat bruises.

The ancient Romans made a myrtle wine, which was sometimes used for medicinal purposes. Cato, author of “On Agriculture,” wrote of this use.

Myrtle wood has been used to make a smoke seasoning. This is also used for tool handles, walking sticks, and furniture.

Culinary Uses of Myrtle

Fruits of both the white fruited and the common blue-black myrtle berries are edible. Pliny the Elder wrote about how the Romans used the dried myrtle fruits to make myrtle sausage.

The dried fruits are called mursins. Both the ripe and green fruits are edible.

Apicius, the Roman epicurean, included myrtle in some of his recipes. One was for a poultry sauce that included myrtle wine. He also recommended using the berries instead of pepper, and indicates these were referred to as pepper.

Marina Heilmeyer, author of “Ancient Herbs,” mentions a poultry sauce, which sounds like it might be an updated version of Apicius’s recipe. This was made with crushed myrtle berries, wine, garum (fish sauce), olive oil, honey, vinegar, mint, lovage, celery seed, and pepper.
Fresh and dried myrtle leaves are used for culinary purposes. My
rtle leaves can be preserved in three ways. The simplest method is to dry them. They can also be preserved in vinegar or oil. The leaves are too tough to eat. So, when using these as a flavoring, remove them before the dish is served.

The stems, branches, and leaves of myrtle can be used when grilling or barbequing meat.

The myrtle plant remains a popular seasoning in Crete, Sardinia, and Corsica where the flowers, leaves, and berries are used for culinary purposes. In Crete, they make a myrtle liqueur.

The flowers and flower buds are also edible and can be used in much the same way as the berries.

“Food Composition Tables for Use in the Middle East” by P.L. Pellet lists the nutritional content for myrtle berries.

A one hundred gram edible portion serving of myrtle berries contains .8 grams of protein, .7 grams of fat, 2.6 grams of fiber, 20.6 grams of carbohydrates, 105 calories, 81 mg of calcium, 22 mg of phosphorus, .7 grams of iron, and 11 mg of Vitamin C.

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