Myrtus communis

Myrtus communis

Myrtle (Myrtus communis L., 1753) is a shrubby plant of the Myrtaceae family. It is a typical plant of evergreen Mediterranean scrub that, under certain conditions, can be secular.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view myrtle belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Rosidae Subclass, Myrtales Order, Myrtaceae Family, and then Myrtus Genus and Species M. communis.

Etymology –
According to some researchers, the generic name seems to come from Myrsine; It was a legendary Greek maiden, killed by a young man beaten in the gym games and transformed by Pallade into a shrub of Mirto. The specific name instead indicates the frequency of spreading this species. The name used in Italy by Mortella comes from the mortadella, because in the past it was flavored with its leaves.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Mirto, together with Olivastre, Lentis, Rosemary and Cysts and other species is one of the main components of the low Mediterranean scrub; It is frequent on coasts, fixed dunes, garighe and stains, where it lives in conjunction with other characteristic features of the stain. This plant tends to form dense wind-resistant bushes in mild climate. It adapts very well to any type of soil even if it prefers a sandy substrate and tolerates drought well. It is located between the sea level and the 500 m s.l.m ..

Description –
The Myrtus communis has a shrubbery or small tree branch, high 50 to 300 cm, very dense. In mature and very old plants it can reach 4-5 m. Has a reddish bark in the young branches that over time assumes a grayish color.
The myrtle leaves are opposed, evergreen, oval-acute, coriaceous, glabrous and glossy, of greenish-dark color in the upper, full edge, with many translucent spots at the aromatic glands.
The flowers of this plant are lonely and axillary, scented, long pedunculated, white or rosy. They have radiated symmetry, with persistent gerosophical goblet and dialipetal corolla. The androceo consists of many well-known stamens for long filaments. The ovary is subdued, divided into 2-3 loggas, ending with a simple stylus, confused among the stamens and a small sting.
The flowering of this species manifests abundantly from late spring to early summer (May – July). A fairly frequent event is the second bloom that can occur in the late summer, from August to September and, with hot autumns, in October.
The fruits are globose-ovoid berries of black-blue to red-dark, (in some varieties may be whitish), with numerous reniform seeds. They mature from November to January and persist for a long time on the plant.

Cultivation –
For the cultivation of this plant it should be considered that myrtle is a rustic plant. It is therefore well suited to poor and droughty soil but benefits both from the summer water intake and from the availability of nitrogen, showing in favorable conditions a strong vegetable growth and abundant production of flowers and fruits. Vegeta preferably in acid or neutral reaction salts, especially granite matrix, while suffering from limestone matrix.
Of this plant there are many cultivated varieties for ornamental purposes such as Myrtus communis var. Varied (high up to 4.50 m), with leaves from elegant colored white-cream streaks and scented flowers. There are also dwarf varieties used for potato cultivation or others with colored and larger flowers. The economic interest of this species in Sardinia began in the nineties to a genetic improvement activity by the Department of Economics and Arboreal Systems at the University of Sassari, which selected over 40 cultivars until 2005. The purpose of this genetic improvement was to produce berries to be used for the production of myrtle liquor. In the latter, further research has been focused on the evaluation of this species for the production of essential oil.
From the point of view of propagation myrtle can be reproduced by cuttings or seed.
Reproduction is useful for cloning ecotypes or varieties of particular value to be used in intensive icing because it allows for vigorous and premature plants, which can already be fruitful in phytosancies after one year. In order to increase the rooting percentage, techniques are often used to increase the risk of rhizome such as basal heating and treating with fodder as well as maintaining good humidity.
Instead, it is advisable to reproduction for seed, for its simplicity and for very low costs, for amateur activities. Plants obtained from seed are less vigorous and hardly come into production before the four years. Sowing is to be done during the berry ripening period in December-January, as the seeds soon lose the germinating power. In semen, the dried berries are crumbled, distributing the seed evenly with a density of 3-4 seeds per square centimeter and covering it with a light layer of soil, after which you have to worry about frequently and moderately irrigating. Seedlings should be kept well-sheltered, outdoors in mild winter regions, in greenhouse areas in rigid winter. The seedlings should be planted in pots or fruit plants of the capacity of half liters when they reach a height of 4-6 cm.
The plant of the millet is carried out with the same criteria applied in fruit growing and viticulture. The soil should be prepared with the burrowing and the surface settled with the complementary works, in which the possibility of a ground fertilization on particularly poor soils can be assessed.
The sixth plant best suited for the mechanization of the crop is 1 x 3-3.5 meters, with an investment of about 3,000 plants per hectare. Plants, homogeneous for ages and cultivars, should be planted in the autumn or at the most by the beginning of spring to facilitate franchising. One year old plant from a nursery can also be used, since it can provide a first production already in the second year.
The breeding system closest to the plant’s bearing is the free form of the bush. With this system in a few years the plants form a continuous hedge that requires few pruning operations even though in the last few years we are using the form of sapling. With this system the plants are made up of a stem high about 50 cm with free hair. In this case, more drastic pruning operations are required to correct the bushy natural growth of the plant and the construction of a support system based on poles and wires. The myrtle grows on the branches of the year, so pruning should be limited to containment of development and rejuvenation, in addition to the removal of new basal jets in the sapling system.
Because of its rusticity and its ability to compete, the myrtle usually requires control of weeds with superficial processing in the interphila, when adopting a bush cultivation system, and on the row in the early years and above all with the breeding at sapling. In the case of dry cultivation, it is carried out according to the criteria of aridoculture with deeper processes in the interphila in order to increase the invasion capacity.
Although myrtle has a positive advantage of nitrogen fertilization as production is potentially related to the spring vegetative development, it is not advisable to use this technique as indiscriminate as it affects the organoleptic quality of susceptibility to parasitic adversity. The interventions must therefore be carried out with great openness and it is advisable, however, to add organic substances or to combine with legumes. This reduces production alternation without forcing the vegetative aspects to diminish the organoleptic qualities of the plant and the ecosystem.
The irrigation technique is indispensable to ensure good yields, but here it is actually used according to the yields obtainable and the organoleptic qualities of the plant. It should be remembered that Mirto resists well to prolonged drought conditions and could be cultivated even in dry conditions, even if, in this case, they have been lowered. The size of berries is also quite small and makes combing or combing prohibitive. Three or four irrigation rescue operations over the summer season can dramatically improve the nutritional status of plants and consequently crop yields. The best results are naturally obtained with more frequent irrigation using micro-irrigation systems with shifts of 10-15 days depending on availability and type of soil. Regular seasonal volumes can probably fluctuate from 1,000 to 3,000 cubic meters per hectare.
Traditionally, harvesting in the stain is carried out by scraping or using the facilitating tools (combs provided with containers for intercepting), the latter being able to slightly increase the working capacity. However, it is absolutely necessary to avoid the system of cutting the branches and let them dry for a few days in order to remove the berries by simply scrolling. This technique involves a serious environmental impact if repeated over the years.
The yields may vary considerably according to the operating conditions. The actual yields in the stain depend on the intrinsic characteristics of the floristic association, with particular reference to the percentage of myrtle coverage, seasonal weather trends, and soil conditions.
In Sardinia several stations have been found to vary from tens of kg to 200 kg per hectare. In intensive plants, yields can be made around 4-6 tons per hectare in irrigation and with investments of 3,000 to 3,500 plants.

Uses and Traditions –
Mirto is attributed to balsamic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, slightly antiseptic properties, therefore it is used in the field of herbal and pharmaceutical medicine for the treatment of diseases affecting the digestive tract and the respiratory system. From the distillation of leaves and flowers, a tonic lotion is created for eudermic use. The yield in myrtle distillate essential oil is quite low.
The main constituents of Myrtus communis are: myrtle, containing myrtenol, geraniol, alpha-pinene, lemonene, chinol, tannins and resins.
The most appreciated oils of this species come from Corsica and Sardinia.
It uses its active substances for internal use in the case of urinary infections, vaginal discharge, bronchial congestion, dry cough and for external use against acne (oil) gingival infections and hemorrhoids.
The most important product however, from a quantitative point of view, is the berries used for the preparation of the well-known myrtle liquor obtained by alcoholic fermentation of berries through maceration or steam stream. A slightly diffused liqueur is Mirto Bianco, obtained by hydro-alcoholic infusion of young sprouts, mistakenly confused with a variation of myrtle liquor properly obtained obtained by infusion of non-pigmented berry varieties.
The active ingredients of Myrtus communis are easily absorbed and give the urine an aroma of violet within 15 minutes of ingestion.
The oil is used in perfumery, in the preparation of soaps and cosmetics.
The essence from the flowers is used in perfumery and cosmetics, known as “Water of Angels” or “Angel Water” and is a great astringent tonic.
The decoction of the leaves added to the bath water, it performs a toning action.
In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavor meat and fish dishes, to flavor sausage and olives.
The fruits are used to produce liqueurs, famous is the Sardinian Mirto, but also to flavor the spirits in some areas, to replace other spices, such as pepper, but are also appetite by numerous ornithic species and various ungulates.
In the Sardinian gastronomic tradition myrtle is an important seasoning to flavor both roast and boiled meats.
For the intense scent of the flowers of Mirto, they are employed in making pot-pourri.
Wood, hard, can be used for making small objects on the lathe or for making handles and sticks. Furthermore, Mirto can be used as a fuel as it provides good firewood and excellent coal. Finally, remember that the leaves, rich in tannins, can be used for tanning the skins.
But among all uses certainly Mirto’s liqueur that until a few years ago occupied a niche market at regional level, has now gained the national market; The demand for raw materials mainly satisfied by seasonal collectors has led to considerable human pressure on spontaneous, no longer sustainable vegetation; For this reason, Sardinia has been promoting cultivation in specialized plants for years.
Historical references and legends around Mirto are lost in the night of the times. In ancient Greece, this plant was sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, while for the sacred Romans in Venus it was a symbol of triumph and victory; Was among the plants considered a symbol of Rome, in the Forum an ancient ara was consecrated to Venus Mirtea; It seems that the goddess, after being born from the waters of the sea of ​​Cyprus, realized that a satyr was spying, hiding behind a bush of Mirto to hide from the sighing eyes of the satire. At that time with its branches were wrapped up garlands with which poets and heroes crowned.
The flowers, perhaps for the candy color, were considered a symbol of virginity and pure love and were used to decorate the heads of young brides and to decorate the tables during bridal banquets.
In Mesopotamia, the branches of the Mirto were burnt to prevent the contagion of infectious diseases. The Persians used the leaves by contacting them directly with their feet, against sweat, just as they do today, with blemishes, while its odorous wood was burnt in ancient religious ceremonies.
The phytososmetic use of the myrtle dates back to the Middle Ages: with the search of the Water of the Angels, she pointed to the distilled water of myrtle flowers.
In our times, the Jews use it during the Sukkoth (holiday of the huts), a synagogue function that involves the presence of 4 species of wood, including the Mirto (hadas).
In the Middle East, the flowers are still used today to make bridal bouquets.
Myrtle is a good mellifera plant and with this one can get a good honey. To date, this honey is produced only in Sardinia and Corsica where this plant is widespread.
Myrtle is boiled by bees to get pollen. Myrtle monoflora honey is quite rare: by definition 90% of pollen of a monoflora honey must be made of myrtle pollen, but it should be pointed out that the myrtle does not produce nectar as the flower is devoid of nectarines. As a species commonly present in phyto-climatic associations, this plant contributes to the production of millefiori honey or other monoflora honey.
The Mirto for its abundant and suggestive flowering in the late spring or early summer or the long presence of berries (bluish or reddish black or purplish red) in the autumn period make this plant suitable to revitalize the garden colors as an isolated shrub , Bred in the bush or in the trees or in its very thick hedges: in favorable environmental conditions it is able to form a dense hedge of medium height in a few years. The relatively small leaves, and the remarkable vegetative creeping ability, make it suitable for geometrically patterned hedges with mowing, but it can also be raised in a free form and, in this case, exploit the evocative spectacle offered first by flowering and then by fruiting.

Methods of Preparation –
Mirto leaves can be used to flavor meat and fish dishes and to flavor sausages, while the fruits are used, as mentioned, to produce liqueurs, but also to replace other spices, such as pepper.
In the Sardinian gastronomic tradition, myrtle is an important seasoning to flavor some of the meat: sprouts are traditionally used to flavor the roast piglet, roast or boiled poultry and especially saccula or grivia, a simple but sophisticated dish based on boiled birdwashing Torsos, bumps, reversals). The use of myrtle as an aroma for meat is however not an exclusive prerogative of Sardinians: in the Web, for example, references to other regional kitchens and for Spanish cuisine are also reported.
Popularity has inspired research in the last few years of new uses in the food field, but they have not been very successful. Particularly mention is the cold tea with myrtle and iced ice cream.
Different parts of the plant are used in the tradition of different Italian regions and other Mediterranean areas. The fruits are used fresh or to prepare good marmalades but in the kitchen you also use the flowers and leaves to aromatize many preparations, from pickled olives to marinades and to seasonings for meat, especially if grilled and especially for pork. These uses are also present in many ancient literary references. Mature and dried berries are used instead in some places as substitutes for pepper and in some locations are eaten the flower buds that are not yet open or the same flowers after they have performed the function of decorating salads. The plant is basically used in the same way in Greece and Spain. However, the best known uses and products are liquorice products. It goes from liqueurs simply flavored to myrtle to the true “Liqueur of Mirto” properly mentioned, obtained by a process of infusion of berries, to c. d. “White Mirto”, for which sprouts are used. Of Mirto’s Liqueur, Sardinia has become almost a symbol of the island, transforming it in recent times as a niche product produced by the national market. From Sardinia, however, they come from a variety of typical preparations, flavored or aromatized with myrtle, as “sa taccula”, a dish consisting of a boiled eggplant.

Guido Bissanti

Sources
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. The Health of the Lord’s Pharmacy, Tips and Experiences with Medicinal Herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (eds.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.

Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and surgical uses are indicated for information purposes only; they do not represent any prescription of a medical type; Therefore, no responsibility for their use for any curative, aesthetic or food use is considered.

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