Myrtus communis (MUR-tus kom-EW- nis)
Common Names: Sweet myrtle, myrtle, true myrtle
Habit: Hardy evergreen, shrubby herb. Compact, attractive, small 1 inch white flowers in early summer. Sometimes followed by blue-black berries. Small aromatic, dark green glossy foliage. Bushy and slow growing. Beautiful when in bloom. Sweet scented leaves and flowers. Height 5-8’ usually but can grow up to 15 feet. Spread 6 to 8 feet but it rarely gets this big. The dwarf form ‘Compacta’ only grows 2-3’ in height.
Culture: Needs full sun to part shade. Start from cuttings spring to fall. Very easy to propagate. Set out container grown transplants year round. Final spacing: 12 inches. Harvest/storage: pick flowers while in full bloom and store in glass with tight fitting lid in dark place. Will last in those conditions for three years. In northern climates, bring plants indoors to overwinter. Myrtle made its way from the Mediterranean in the 16th century when it was introduced to England. Hardiness zone 8-11 Problems: Few if any.
Culinary uses: Flower buds and berries can be used in sweet dishes, the leaves in meat dishes. Purple-black berries can be used whole or coarsely ground. Myrtle berries are sweet, with juniper and rosemary-like flavors. The leaves have spicy, astringent, and bitter taste with a refreshing, fragrant, and orange-like aroma and can be used whole or chopped.
Myrtle leaves can be dried and used like bay leaves. They have a flavor similar to allspice with a touch of menthol. The flowers are used as a garnish and berries are dried, ground and used like a spice as with juniper berries. Myrtle leaves and berries are used to season lamb and pork dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine but are far less popular in the west. In Italy and on the island of Sardinia, where myrtle grows wild, myrtle is a staple spice used in the kitchen and in wood smoking for a distinctive flavor to barbecued food. Mirto is a liqueur produced from both myrtle berries, known as sweet, (Mirto rosso) and myrtle leaves, Mirto bianco. Medicinal uses: Leaves are antiseptic, astringent and used on bruises, acne and hemorrhoids. It is used as a poultice, tea or tincture.
Landscape uses: Attractive in containers. Can be pruned into topiaries and works well for bonsai. Good edging plant in landscape and used in knot gardens. Excellent for cut flower arrangements because the foliage lasts for a long time.
Other uses: Flowers are used to make toilet water. Dried leaves for herb pillows and potpourri. Cuttings are used in weddings as a symbol of chastity and beauty. Good little plant that should be used more.
Notes: True myrtle or common myrtle is historically one of the most significant plants. It is mentioned in the bible and throughout the ancient mythology of Greece and Rome. Myrtus communis variegata, known as variegated common myrtle is an evergreen that can grow to a height of 3 ft.