Facts about the Myrtle Flower
Although it is lovely and fragrant, the myrtle flower is used more in florist arrangements than grown in the common garden. This fact is quite a shame, considering the attractiveness of the shrub and its neat, tidy growing habits. Not to mention the fact that those aromatic flowers will be available in abundance to the grower throughout the blooming season.
Myrtle is both a beautiful flowering shrub and a healthy herb plant. It grows wild throughout the Mediterranean, where it has been valued for its flowers, leaves and berries. In ancient Egypt, the shrub’s leaves were used to treat fevers and infections by crushing them and adding them to beverages such as wine. Throughout the 19th century, the British also relied on the healing powers of the myrtle to treat infections, urinary issues and hemorrhoids. Essential plant oils were extracted from the leaves of the plant; emitting a spicy, camphor like scent, it was combined with other essential oils to develop perfumes. To most people in current day, however, it is the myrtle flower that is adored.
The flowers of the myrtle shrub are summer blooming, blanketing the evergreen shrub for a period of 30 to 60 days. The blooms are often bright white, with both petalled form and a fire burst effect to exhibit a showy display. The dark, glossy leaves of the evergreen bush present the perfect foil to the vividness of the blooms, accented by tiny, white buds appearing as miniature snowballs within the bush.
Probably the most well known feature of the myrtle flower is that of its exquisite fragrance. When on the shrub, double aroma effects are realized as the leaves also provide a scent when touched. Rich and spicy, the scent of both the flower and the leaves provides a heady perfume. With the lovely and delicate appearance of the flowers combined with the aroma, it is understandable why this flower has been long used in wedding ceremonies. In fact, Greek mythology details how the flower was attributed to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Stories depict the goddess as huddling within myrtle trees to hide herself from Venus as he emerged from the sea. The fragrant flower can often be heard referred to as “myrtle, the herb of love”.
In the fall, flowers disappear from the shrub, but it is not left barren. Instead, dark purple berries emerge to blanket the bush at this time. Several types of songbirds will feed upon the berries and, in times when food is scarce in the winter, so will some animals. The berries are also safe for human consumption, and are frequently used in their dried, crushed form in place of pepper, allspice and juniper. Left on the shrub, the dark berries provide a point of interest against the snowy whiteness of winter.
Adding a myrtle shrub to your landscape will enable you to enjoy the aromatic flowers and leaves readily. Areas that experience harsh winters with temperatures that drop below freezing continually may have the best luck with keeping the shrub in a container. This allows the plant to easily be taken indoors through the winter. The shrub is lovely enough to be simply used for ornamental purposes; however, if you desire to make the best use of its herbal properties as well, keeping the plant in a container close at hand may be desired. Leaves can be harvested at any time, and used to flavor soups, stews, or meat dishes. Flowers are only used for their ornamental value, and can be picked for fresh displays or dried in potpourris.
Highly aromatic and of great ornamental value, myrtle is greatly underused as a garden herb. Adding it to your landscape will supply fragrant blooms and lovely interest for years to come.