Myrtus, with the common name myrtle, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, described by Linnaeus in 1753. Over 600 names have been proposed in the genus, but nearly all have either been moved to other genera or been regarded as synonyms. The Myrtus genus has two species recognized today:
- Myrtus communis — Common myrtle; native to the Mediterranean region in southern Europe.
- Myrtus nivellei — Saharan myrtle; native to North Africa.
This aromatic evergreen shrub originates from Africa, and grows all around the Mediterranean. It was introduced to Britain in 1597, but generally only flourishes in the south, or under glass (it can also be grown as a pot plant). It has small, shiny, dark green leaves which contain vesicles full of essential oil. The flowers are fragrant and white, five-petalled with a spectacular spray of thin stamens. These are followed by purple-black berries. In its natural habitat, myrtle can grow to virtual tree height, up to about 4 m (14 ft).
When trimmed less frequently, it has numerous flowers in late summer. It requires a long hot summer and protection from winter frost to produce its flowers. The star-like flowers have five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The flowers are pollinated by insects. The fruit consists of round berries containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in color. A variety with yellow-amber berries is also present. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries.
The Ancient Egyptians knew of the therapeutic properties of myrtle, macerating the leaves in wine to counter fever and infection. Theophrastus later confirmed its place in therapy, adding that the best and most odiferous tree came from Egypt. Dioscorides also prescribed a wine in which the leaves had been macerated: this fortified the stomach and was effective for pulmonary and bladder infections, and for those who were spitting blood.
In 1876, Dr Delioux de Savignac advocated the use of myrtle for bronchial infections, for problems of the genito-urinary system, and for haemorrhoids. Despite this enthusiasm, it was only last century that the therapeutic properties of myrtle were properly investigated; in his thesis about myrtle, one M. Linarix reconfirmed all the properties listed in the old texts, and judged myrtle the best tolerated of all the balsamic plants.
Venus was ashamed of her nudity on the island of Cythere, so hid behind a myrtle bush. In gratitude, she took the plant under her protection, and it became her favourite. In Biblical times, Jewish women wore garlands of myrtle on their heads on their wedding day as a symbol of conjugal love, and to bring them luck. It is still often carried with orange blossom as a traditional bridal flower. Women in the south of France used to drink an infusion of the leaves every day to keep their youth and beauty.
What is Myrtle Essential Oil?
Myrtle essential oil can be extracted from the leaves, branches, and berries. The oil that is most commonly used medicinally is extracted from the leaves. This oil will be liquid at room temperature. The color will range from clear to greenish-yellow to yellow-very-light-orange. Its aroma is reminiscent of frankincense or bay. Some examples of myrtle essential oil have a slight hint of camphor or eucalyptus. The oil from the myrtle berries is used as a flavoring for drinks and alcoholic beverages throughout the Mediterranean Area. Due to the high alcohol content of Myrtle essential oil, it is considered a gentle essential oil which is suitable for use with children and the elderly, especially in the treatment of coughs and chest complaints.
Chemistry of Myrtle Essential Oil
The main constituents of Myrtle Essential Oil are Cineol, Myrtenol, Pinene, Myrtenyl Acetate, Geraniol, Linalool, Camphene and Borneol.
Uses and Benefits of Myrtle Essential Oil
The health benefits of Myrtle Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as an antiseptic, astringent, deodorant, expectorant and sedative substance. More uses and benefits will be introduced as you read along.
An adaptogen will increase the functioning of a gland when its functioning is low, or will lower an overactive gland. The same oil will bring the functioning of the gland to a more normal state whether it is underfunctioning or overfunctioning. This is quite different than pharmaceutical drugs, which are more similar to a bulldozer or sledge hammer that forces the body to move in one direction or the other. Most pharmaceutical drugs do not possess the ability to help our bodies naturally achieve better balance. Dr. David Stewart describes the amazing way that the human body and this essential oil work together to promote thyroid health. Myrtus communis is an adaptogen that can stimulate an increase or a decrease in thyroid activity depending on a person’s condition. Drugs are incapable of such intelligent discriminations and act only in preprogrammed directions, like robots, whether beneficial or not. Myrtle essential oil has been researched by Daniel Penoel, M.D. of France for normalizing hormonal imbalances of the thyroid and ovaries. It also has benefits for decongesting the respiratory system and the sinuses.
If used in mouthwash, myrtle essential oil makes the gums contract and strengthen their hold on the teeth. If ingested, it also makes the intestinal tracts and muscles contract. Furthermore, it contracts and tightens the skin and helps to diminish wrinkles. It can also help stop hemorrhaging by inducing the blood vessels to contract. Myrtle essential oil is also very effective in bad cases of acne, especially when there are painful boils with white heads. Mix 10 ml (2 tsp) grape seed oil, 1 drop wheat germ and 7 drops myrtle essential oil, and apply a few times per day until better. Cleanse the skin before and after applying the myrtle essential oil with a lotion made from 50 ml (2 fl oz) rosewater and 5 drops myrtle. This has a particularly astringent action on the greasy skin which is so often associated with bad acne. Another use is for hemorrhoids. Because of its astringent action, due to the high tannin content, myrtle is very effective against hemorrhoids. Add 6 drops myrtle to 30 g (1oz) cold cream, and mix well. Apply a few times per day, when the pain and swelling are at their worst.
In this study, researchers evaluated the antifungal activity of the essential oil of myrtle against Candida albicans and different species of Aspergillus. They also evaluated the synergistic effect between the essential oil and the antifungal compound amphotericin. They found that myrtle essential oil exhibited good antifungal activity even when it was used by itself.
This property makes myrtle essential oil a suitable substance to apply on wounds. It does not let microbes infect the wounds and thereby protects against sepsis and tetanus, in case of an iron object being the cause of the damage.
Myrtle essential oil has been traditionally used in Iran for the treatment of Malaria. Malaria is a parasitic disease of the blood which is passed to human beings by mosquitoes. It is a common disease in the Middle East and Africa, where it causes serious illness and death. Scientists administered myrtle essential oil to mice that had been infected with Malaria and found that the treatment resulted in an 84% suppression of parasitic activity after four days of treatment. The treatment was not toxic to the mice, and researchers believed that this treatment offered promise for human cases of Malaria.
Myrtle leaves as well as the essential oil obtained from the leaves are used to lower the blood glucose level in type-2 diabetic patients in Turkish folk medicine. A study worked with groups of diabetic and non-diabetic rabbits. They measured the effects of single and multiple doses of myrtle essential oil on blood sugar levels for both groups. The non-diabetic rabbits did not experience a change in blood sugar levels after being given oral doses of the essential oil. However, the diabetic rabbits had a 51% reduction in blood sugar levels which appeared after 4 hours. The repeated administration of myrtle essential oil once per day to the diabetic rabbits maintained the lower blood sugar levels during the week long study. Researchers used 50 mg and 100 mg of myrtle essential oil per 1 kg of body weight. There was also a 14% reduction in serum triglyceride.
Perhaps this is why myrtle essential oil was associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. It works very well to alleviate problems like impotency, frigidity, erectile dysfunctions, and loss of libido.
This property of myrtle essential oil counters the accumulation of phlegm and catarrh in the respiratory tracts. This property also curbs the formation of mucus and provides relief from coughs and breathing trouble.
Myrtus communis, the Common Myrtle, is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called Mirto bymacerating it in alcohol. Mirto is one of the most typical drinks of Sardinia and comes in two varieties: mirto rosso (red) produced by macerating the berries and mirto bianco (white) produced from the less common yellow berries and sometimes the leaves. The berries, whole or ground, have been used as a pepper substitute. They contribute to the distinctive flavor of Mortadella sausage and the related American Bologna sausage. Meat and the small birds which are a delicacy in Mediterranean countries can be wrapped in or stuffed with myrtle leaves: these impart their flavour after the meat or bird is cooked. Myrtle branches and twigs can be burned on a fire or barbecue beneath meat. The berries are edible. It can be used much like juniper, although they are milder.
Myrtle essential oil eliminates foul odors. It can be used in incense sticks and burners, fumigants and vaporizers as room fresheners. It can also be used as a body deodorant or perfume. It has no side effects like itching, irritation or patches on the skin like certain commercial deodorants.
Myrtle essential oil inhibits infections, since it is a bactericidal, germicidal, fungicidal and antiviral substance. It also helps to cure infections in the stomach and intestines, while helping to stop diarrhea. Warts are a contagious skin disease. Medical treatments of warts are often not successful and may involve multiple relapses during which the affected area may increase in size. Facial warts are particularly difficult to treat. Iranian traditional medicine uses essential oil of myrtle as an economical and low cost topical treatment for warts. In this study, two patients with common warts were treated. They had warts on the body and on the face. They were instructed to apply myrtle essential oil on the skin of their body, but not on the face. The results were the elimination of the warts on the body as well as the face. Scientists hypothesized that Myrtle not only has antiviral effects but also may have systemic effects throughout the body. In the food industry, scientists intentionally have studied and inoculated fresh tomatoes and iceberg lettuce with a nalidixic acid resistant strain of Salmonella; then they used a cleaning solution containing essential oil of myrtle to test if it would kill the bacteria. They found that washing with myrtle leaf oil caused a significant reduction in bacteria. The dilution rate of the myrtle essential oil was 1 to 1000. The results suggest that the use of myrtle oil can be an alternative to the use of chlorine or synthetic disinfectants on fruits and vegetables, which is important for organic products.
This property of myrtle oil reduces the presence and further deposition of phlegm. It also clears congestion of the nasal tracts, bronchi and lungs resulting from colds and provides good relief from coughing.
It maintains the stability of the nerves and keeps you from becoming nervous or unnecessarily stressed over small issues. It is a beneficial agent against nervous and neurotic disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, shaking limbs, fear, vertigo, anxiety, and chronic stress.
In this study, the ability of essential oil of myrtle and marigold to repel mosquitoes was compared to the use of DEET. The test was done in a laboratory with caged mosquitoes. The essential oil was applied to the skin of subject at a 50% dilution rate. The protection times against mosquito bites for marigold and myrtle were respectively 2.15 and 4.36 hours compared to 6.23 hours for DEET 25%. The myrtle oil was shown to be a nontoxic and effective mosquito repellant. If you live in a warm climate where frost is rare, you could plant several myrtle shrubs near your home to keep away the mosquitoes. Myrtle can also be grown in pots and kept indoors during cold weather months. As a house plant, it will keep away the pests and provide the room with a fresh essential oil fragrance, which will be beneficial to the respiratory system.
The essential oil of myrtle relaxes and sedates. This property also provides relief from tension, stress, annoyance, anger, distress and depression, as well as from inflammation, irritation and various allergies.
Myrtle oil helps balance the male and female energies of the body by releasing anger and inner conflict. It will help those who feel suppressed or confused by life as well. Balancing the male and female energies is important to becoming whole in our spiritual evolution. Often times we are taught to be one sided and avoid masculine or feminine traits.
Blending with Myrtle Essential Oil
Myrtle essential oil blends well with a wide range of essential oils such as Atlas, Benzoin, Bergamot, Elemi, Eucalyptus, Black Pepper, Cedar Wood, Frankincense, Myrrh, Neroli, Rose, Ho Wood, Hyssop, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Clary Sage, Coriander, Melissa, Rosewood and Ylang-Ylang oils.
Precautions for Myrtle Essential Oil
Only therapeutic grade essential oils should be used for best results. Because it is approved as a Food Additive (FA) and Flavoring Agent (FL) by the FDA, Myrtle Oil is readily available on the market in many different qualities. Although it may be used as a dietary supplement, it is advised not to use it in this manner for children under 6 years of age. If pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult a healthcare practitioner prior to use.
Myrtle Essential Oil Trivia
Did you know that many brides today still wear Myrtle as a symbol of innocence?
Did you know that Myrtle is considered the sacred plant of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love?