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Myrtle From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Myrtle From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Interesting facts and figures about the myrtle tree and fruits, originated in Mediterranean countries and widespread on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

By FDL on

Angel's water. The distilled water of myrtle flowers was used as early as the Middle Ages as a refeshing skin toner. Dubbed Angel’s water because of its beneficial properties, this astringent product is still used today by women all over the world to purify their facial skin.

Blue. The colour of the berries when fully ripe: they cannot be eaten when harvested from the tree but are used in cooking or for making the famous liqueur called mirto.

Corsica. The myrtle plant has its origins in Mediterranean countries and is particularly widespread on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The Sardinian and Corsican people are similar in many ways, both of them being very fond of this strong, hardy shrub.

Deity. There are many ancient deities associated with this plant, starting from those of Ancient Greece, whose mythology abounds with amazons and heroines whose names derive from Myrtle. Myrtle was a plant particularly dear to Aphrodite who, it is narrated, appeared to a seafarer called Herostratus in the form of myrtle leaves. And it was myrtle, no less, which saved him from a terrible sea storm.

Etymology. Even the etymology of the word myrtle has its roots in Greek mythology: Myrsìne was in fact a young girl transformed by Athena into a shrub (the myrtle bush) because she dared to beat a male competitor in the games.

Funeral. A plant that not only represents love and the female sex, but death as well: myrtle is so heavily laden with historical and mythological significance that, in Ancient Greece, it was also used during funeral rites to pay homage to the deceased.

Game. Thrushes, blackbirds, quails or, more commonly nowadays, commonplace chickens: in Sardinia, these wild fowl and poultry are used to prepare the “griva”. Eight birds are bound together by their beak and, after being boiled, are enwrapped in a cloth and left to rest for an entire day on a bed of myrtle leaves and berries. Their taste is quite unique, also because wild fowl species normally feed off myrtle berries and the fruit of the strawberry tree.

Honey. If monofloral, myrtle honey is extremely rare and expensive: with its distinctive taste, it is difficult to find because the myrtle flower is devoid of nectar and therefore the myrtle is usually only present in multifloral varieties. However, Australian myrtle honey has earned itself a reputation for scientific reasons: apparently, it has the most powerful antibacterial properties of any honey in the world.

Ink. In ancient times, the extracted juice of myrtle berries was used as ink. In fact, it is extremely difficult to remove a stain from any garment that comes into contact with this fruit! Moreover, in the past, myrtle was actually adopted as a black fabric dye.

Jam. Myrtle berries also make an excellent jam that is thick, dark, fragrant and flavour-packed. The same jam also appears in a number of traditional Sardinian sweets and pastries. More often, myrtle jam contains other types of fruit such as apples.

Kilo. In locations where they are produced, myrtle berries are often sold at a very low price, around 2 Euros per kilo, whilst on international markets the price of this fruit can be as high as 20 Euros. The basic recipe for myrtle liqueur is practically invariable: 1 kilo of berries to 1 litre of alcohol.

Liquor. Because the most important product made from myrtle is mirto, a liqueur mainly made from fresh myrtle berries infused with alcohol, water and sugar or honey. Preparation times and different methods are jealously guarded, having been handed down by word of mouth in Sardinian and Corsican communities for many centuries.

Mortadella. The name of this Italian charcuterie speciality derives from myrtle: according to some theories, "Mortadella" would apparently derive from "Myrtatum", because myrtle was used in the past to flavour it.

November. This is the month in which the cold sets in and the sky darkens but, in Mediterranean zones, it the harvesting time of myrtle berries: only in November, in fact, do they reach full maturity and assume their characteristic dark blue colour. They are either picked by hand or with the aid of special rakes. For some time now, mechanical pickers have been adopted on large farms where they are grown for commercial purposes.

Olympic games. The Ancient Greeks used crowns made from myrtle leaves and fruits to adorn the winners’ heads during the Olympic Games.

Porceddu. The typical Sardinian recipe for roast suckling pig is the dish that pairs up perfectly with myrtle: once cooked, the meat is laid on myrtle branches which give it an enticing aroma. The firewood used to roast the pig is equally important: according to the Sardinian tradition, the porceddu (suckling pig) should be roasted using a mix of juniper, myrtle, bay tree and olive wood and has to be hung up tied to a strawberry tree branch.

Queen Victoria. It was 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert: her bouquet also included myrtle owing to its association with love. Legend has it that, after the wedding, Victoria planted the myrtle sprig from her bouquet in her garden on the Isle of Wight. From then on, every royal bride has done the same.

Refrigerator. Mirto liqueur, an excellent digestive aid popular with men and women alike, must be enjoyed cold: for this reason, in Mediterranean countries, families tend to keep a bottle of mirto, often home- made, in the freezer.

Sun & wind. The two most important ingredients for growing healthy myrtle plants: sun and wind, better still if close to the sea, since this shrub reaches its maximum splendour when it can enjoy briny air.

Tea. One of the summer beverages everyone should taste at least once is cold myrtle tea: black tea is recommended for this, brewed together with a few myrtle berries that have been previously boiled. Let it cool to room temperature and it will offer a refreshing respite on sizzling hot days.

Ulcer. As early as ancient times, Egyptians and Assyrians used to use myrtle berries for their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. For this same reason, ulcers were also treated with this plant (its berries in particular).

Variety. As well as Myrtus Communis which is widespread in Mediterranean areas and used to make the typical mirto digestive liqueur, there are over 100 varieties of this plant: many are genetic hybrids artificially produced for the purpose of obtaining larger berries and a more abundant crop in order to respond to a growing demand for this liqueur worldwide. There is also a special Saharan myrtle whose fruits are particularly appreciated by animals.

White. White mirto is another version of the traditional liqueur, so called because of its colour. Many think that this depends on the fact that it has been produced from depigmented berries, but that is not the case: it is white because the leaves of young shoots are used instead of ripe berries. Consequently, its flavour is not so sweet as the original, and tends to be less popular.

Xxx. Myrtle is the plant of love: married love, sacred love but, above all, passionate love. For this reason, in many different cultures, it is used to seal wedding vows and, in many countries, it symbolizes fertility and feminine beauty.

Yellow. In the wake of black and white mirto, some small-scale Sardinian producers are now offering a yellow-coloured mirto liqueur: made exclusively from the flowers of the plant, it has a milder flavour, slightly reminiscent of camomile. Obviously, it is yellow in colour.

Zero point 1. That of 0.1% is a mandatory rule for producers of mirto, whether for domestic consumption or on an industrial scale: it means that the percentage of any leaves that have accidentally found their way into this digestive brew must not exceed 0.1% of the weight of the berries. Otherwise, it will not be an authentic mirto!

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