Myrtle is a shrub typical of the Mediterranean basin. It grows spontaneously on the coasts, in central and southern Italy and on the islands, especially in dry or stony soils. It is known and appreciated since ancient times for its beauty and for its many culinary and medicinal uses. It is an ideal plant to be introduced in sunny gardens: it needs little maintenance, it can be used as an isolated shrub or for the creation of hedges of different sizes. The most contained varieties grow very well even in medium-sized pots, on terraces or in tiled areas.
First name: Myrtus communis L.
Collection: The leaves are harvested throughout the year, while the fruits are harvested between September and November.
property: Aromatic, astringent, refreshing and balsamic (the leaves); disinfectant and stimulant (the fruits).
Common names: Murtella, murta, buss, murtidda.
Habitat: Along the rivers, in areas with a Mediterranean climate, up to 1000 meters.
Used parts: Leaves and fruits.
storage: All parts are consumed fresh.
Use: Internal use: decoction and leaf tincture; external use: infusions and decoctions of the leaves.
Note: The use of myrtle is widespread especially in Sardinia, where it is used in the preparation of "porceddu", wild boar and other game. It also produces a liqueur and a very aromatic wine.
Characteristics of the Myrtle
The genus Myrtus (Myrtaceae) includes 4 species of shrubs or small trees. In the spontaneous state and in cultivation the most widespread is the communis: this plant is probably native to Persia and Afghanistan, but arrived in Europe and North Africa in ancient times to the point that at the time of the Greeks and Romans it was already naturalized.
It is a shrub capable of growing up to 5 meters high, but usually it has a bushy, rounded and enlarged habit. The small persistent leaves are interesting for their shiny lamina, the leathery consistency and the intense resinous scent they give off: the essential oil is concentrated above all in the central vein.
The axillary flowers make their appearance between spring and summer: they are solitary, white and extremely fragrant. They will then evolve into small oval fruits, usually bluish (more rarely white) which find numerous uses for their particular taste.
THE MIRTO IN BRIEF
Family, genus, species Myrtaceae, myrtus communis
Type of plant Shrub
dimensions H up to 5 meters / L up to 2 m
Minimum temperature -10 ° C, but better not to go below 0 ° C
irrigations Not necessary; enjoy in the summer
Ground Siliceous, light
Soil moisture From dry to slightly damp
pH Acid, but tolerates calcium
Use Isolated specimen, hedges, vase
Propagation Cutting, sowing
Cultivation of myrtle
The cultivation of myrtle is very simple: it resists drought well and is rarely attacked by parasites. It is advisable, however, to place it in the open ground only in areas with a mild climate.
Climate and exposure
This shrub is ideal to cultivate on the coasts and in the Center-South of our peninsula: it is considered as medium rustic. It can withstand temperatures even around -10 ° C, but only for a short time and with very dry soil. In any case the tips will probably be burned and a light pruning will be necessary. The ideal is to grow it where temperatures never drop below freezing, in a sunny and warm position.
Land and facility
Myrtle likes a light and well drained soil, possibly with an acid reaction. To get good results we choose a mixture for citrus fruits (if we place it in a jar). Alternatively, if our result is too compact, we can add at least 1/3 of silica sand and some pebbles. Always make sure there is excellent drainage. We prefer to plant in autumn (in the center-south) and in the spring in the north. We leave about 80 cm between one plant and another if we decide to create a hedge.
Myrtle bears drought very well, but during the summer it likes a slightly cool soil. This will stimulate growth and allow us to obtain well-trained specimens in a few years. But let's make sure there are never any water stagnations.
The myrtle naturally assumes a rounded appearance and requires no intervention. Its growth is quite slow and, especially if the right cultivar is chosen, it is rarely necessary to reduce its crown. However, pruning can be useful if you want to obtain formal hedges or in case of burns due to the cold. We operate as soon as winter is over by eliminating severely damaged or disharmoniously growing branches and slightly shortening the apices.
Medicinal and food uses
The whole plant is precious: leaves, wood and, of course, fruits can be used.
The infusions obtained from the leaves have a decongestant effect (antibiotic and antiseptic virtues have been shown): they can be useful in the case of colds, coughs and airway diseases. It is sufficient to leave one tablespoon of fresh leaves in boiling water for about ten minutes and then filter.
The leaves, fresh or dried, are also widely used in the kitchen: their resinous aroma goes well with meat (especially with roast pork) and with fish.
Myrtle, Mortella - Myrtus communis: Myrtle liqueur
The most famous preparation based on myrtle is undoubtedly the liqueur. It is obtained from the ripe berries that are harvested at the end of winter. They must be very firm and, when tasted, free of any bitter aftertaste.
Let's start by cleaning, washing and drying the berries. Then put them in the alcohol making sure that little air remains inside. Cover with a foil and leave to macerate for at least 15 days.
Finally we press to extract all the aromas (with a good domestic centrifuge) and bring to a boil. We still filter and add the syrup of water and sugar. Once warmed we put in small bottles. These should be kept in a cool, dark room for as long as possible before proceeding with consumption.