Myrtle: Medicinal and Culinary Properties


| 12/19/2016 10:23:00 AM


Tags: myrtle, medicinal plants, foraging, essential oils, herbalism, Anna Twitto, Israel,

myrtle

Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region and is extensively grown in Israel, mostly for decorative purposes and also for its uses in the Jewish tradition. Its pleasant smell and year-round fresh greenery make it a great choice for decorative hedges, but myrtle also has some wonderful health properties and, as we have recently discovered to our surprise and pleasure, culinary uses.

Myrtle has some highly effective antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and astringent qualities, which makes it valuable in the treatment of many respiratory ailments and skin issues. The plant contains high levels of salicylic acid (a compound related to aspirin) and is an expectorant (helps to get rid of mucus), which makes myrtle tea an excellent choice for colds and flu. Myrtle essential oil is especially prized, often applied together with other essential oils.

It is actually possible to distill essential oils at home by steaming the leaves and directing the steam through a pipe which is cooled with the help of cold water or ice, thus turning the steam into liquid form. However, a much easier way for home remedies would be to make oil infusion by boiling the leaves in neutral base oil such as olive or grapeseed. It is also possible to make cold (no cooking) infusion by placing a jar filled with myrtle leaves and base oil in a sunshiny spot. This takes more time, but the valuable compounds of the plant are better preserved this way.

Clear, straightforward instructions for making and using myrtle oil infusion at home can be found here.

In the kitchen, myrtle leaves can be used for flavoring soups and stews in much the same way one would use bay leaves. The berries are also highly edible, with a fruity, slightly astringent flavor which goes particularly well with enhancing chicken, fish and meat dishes. They can also be made into jam (usually combined with other fruit) or, in the Sardinian tradition, steeped in alcohol and sweetened with honey to make a unique-flavored beverage.




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