Myrtle, also called Myrtus communis, of the family of Myrtaceae, is a fairly widespread aromatic plant used in Italy, it is in fact one of the common shrubs of the Mediterranean scrub. In much of our peninsula it is also possible to find it in the wild, but in a sector of the Botanical Garden of Pisa, called "Orto del Mirto“, There is even one of the most ancient specimens of Myrtus communis, together with about 140 species of medicinal plants.
In ancient times this shrub was one plant sacred to Venus, the de had in fact found refuge in a myrtle grove, just born from the sea foam.
The whole plant, from top to bottom, including fruits and flowers, is very aromatic, but is also used as an ornamental plant having a very pleasant appearance and abundant flowering. The Myrtle it is a fairly large shrub, reaching even 3 meters in height, and its appearance is like a bush, quite dense and with thin branches.
The bark is reddish in color, in full contrast with the dark green, small and lanceolate leaves. In summer, numerous i small white flowers, fragrant, and a sort of aromatic tricolor is created. After the flowers, come the fruits, at the base of the so famous liqueur. They are small black or bluish berries, obviously edible, as well as in Sardinia also in Corsica they are used to produce the typical and homonymous alcoholic digestive.
There are both yellowish berries, which can be understood as White myrtle, both the so-called liqueur, but which has no ties to the "albino berries"Of which I mentioned. Some horticultural varieties, born for ornamental purposes and kept in nurseries, produce yellow fruits. For the same use there are also those with particularly large flowers, or dwarf varieties: plants of 65-75 cm also excellent for pots.
In truth if we want to talk about Myrtle there is only one species, the myrtus communis, with varieties linked to the geographical area: an example is that of Algeria: the only reminiscence of the ancient vegetation that covered the Sahara desert. Turning to white myrtle intended as a liqueur, it is a less common product than the original red, and is obtained by hydroalcoholic infusion of young shoots.
Since the Middle Ages, myrtle was used in herbal medicine: at the time the distilled water of myrtle flowers was called Water of the angels. This plant has balsamic, anti-inflammatory, astringent and slightly antiseptic properties thanks to its essential oil content (mirtolo, containing mirtenol and geraniol and other minor active ingredients), tannins and resins.
The myrtle it is often used for the treatment of diseases of the digestive system and the respiratory system, from the distillation of the leaves and flowers a tonic lotion for eudermic use. It is not phytotherapeutic in the strict sense, but it is certainly a joy of life, which is good for the heart, the liqueur. It is obtained from the berries, by alcoholic infusion through them maceration or steam current.
Myrtle of Sardinia
In the common imagination, and it is also true, myrtle means Sardinia, in fact in this region the plant and the liqueur are intertwined with traditions and everyday life. In autumn in the civic markets you can easily find the myrtle berries ready to be put in maceration for the home preparation of the liqueur.
Those who want to be comfortable can directly find a good glass of the same liqueur as a digestive, excellent digestive offered in restaurants at the end of the meal. Waiting to go to Sardinia, for those who are not already there, here a good 70 cl bottle of Mirto Sardo for 11 euros. It is about Red Myrtle Zedda Piras.
Another good one Myrtle, always red, this time also Bio, at 23 euros, we find it bottled with a touch of Sardinian folk tradition and the warning: "it has beneficial effects for the body".
For those who think of trying their hand at growing this plant on their balcony, checking that they can enjoy a climate suitable for the Mediterranean scrub, here is a start of potted plant (18 cm diameter). And of Common Myrtle, is a bush that can reach a height of one meter and a half giving us, if we are good, white flowers with berries black-violet color. Those to prepare the liqueur.
The recipe means that of the liqueur even if we will see that i sprigs of myrtle they are also present as condiments and flavorings. But first the liqueur: once the berries have been picked, they must be washed carefully and left to dry for a few days without worrying about the possible presence of leaves which alone give them more flavor. Then you put everything in dark glass containers, filled with 95 ° ethyl alcohol until the berries are completely submerged but not too far. We leave these containers in the light for a few days, then put them in a closed place for about 40 days, the recommended period for maceration.
Drain the berries and obtain the extract, it should be filtered with absorbent paper filters while one is also being prepared syrup by dissolving the sugar in an adequate quantity of water. Usually, average quantities by weight are indicated consisting of 300 g of berries, 300 g of alcohol and a syrup obtained by dissolving 250 g of sugar in 250 g of water. Then it is always better to try, taste, and then proceed with the production in large quantities after finding the right formulato. What we like!
The liquor is poured then in the bottles, always in dark glass, leaving it to rest for 1 or 2 months to obtain the maturation, sometimes intervening for a racking in order to eliminate the sediments. As mentioned, liquor aside, we find sprigs of this plant in seasoning recipes for flavor some meats (roast suckling pig, roast or boiled poultry and above all sa taccula or grivia) or in the preparation of cold myrtle tea and ice cream. There is also the myrtle honey but the monoflora is rather rare, more often this plant contributes to the production of wildflower honey or other monoflora honeys.
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