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  • Jovita Turan

Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) - the Symbol of Love with Numerous Health Benefits

by Jovita Turan, March 15, 2021


Myrtus communis L., commonly known as Myrtle, belongs to the Myrtaceae family and is native to West Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe but now it can be found also in South America, Northwestern Himalaya, and Australia. As a fragrant flower, the plant is cultivated in North-West Indian gardens. Myrtle was described in the writings of Hippocrates, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen, and the Arabian writers. In around 1597, the plant was introduced into Britain and described by Linnaeus in 1753.


Myrtle is an aromatic evergreen perennial shrub or small tree that can grow up to 2-3 m, having an upright stem that is branched. The leaves are small, dark green, glabrous, and glossy, opposite, paired or whorled, they can be ovate or lanceolate with stiff structure, and aromatic. The flowers are star-like, white, or pinkish, about 2 cm diameter with a sweet fragrant smell. The berries are blue-black or white, oval, or elliptical, 0.7-1.2 cm in size. Unripe myrtle berries are bitter and sweet taste when ripen.


Myrtus communis by Otto Wilhelm Thomé, 1885

The plant is drought-tolerant; it requires only very low amounts of water and soil must be allowed to dry before watering. Myrtle can be grown in full sun and/or in shadow. The pollination is done by insects, while seeds are distributed by birds.


CHEMICAL COMPOSITION


Myrtle consists of fibers, sugars, and other active compounds, where anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds being the major phytochemicals in berries.


Berries are reported to contain citric acid, malic acid, resin, tannin, fixed oil, sugar, flavonoids, anthocyanin arabinosides, anthocyanin glucosides, kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin 3-o-glucoside, myricetin, 3-di-o-galactoside, myricetin 3 rutinoside, aesculin, scopoletin, caffeic acid, myricetin 3-o-rhamnoside or myricitrin, esculetin-6-oglucoside or esculin, hesperetin 7-o-rhamnoglucoside or hesperidin, hesperetin-2-o-methylchalcone-4-orhamnoglucoside.


Leaves contain, tannins, flavonoids, coumarins, myrtucommulone A & B, semimyrtucommulone, galloyl-glucosides, ellagitannins, galloyl-quinic acids, caffeic, gallic and ellagic acids. The seeds contain fatty oil (fixed oil) that consists of glycerides of lauric, linoleic, linolenic, myristic, oleic, and palmitic acid. The roots showed the presence of tannins, alkaloids, glycosides, fixed oil, gallic acids, phenolic acids, quercetin and patuletin.


The essential oil can be found and extracted from myrtle leaves, branches, fruits, and flowers, it is yellow or greenish-yellow color, having a refreshing odor. The main constituents of the essential oil are volatile compounds – terpenes and terpene alcohols.


MEDICINAL PROPERTIES


The berries are used as an analgesic, antidiabetic, antidiaphoretic, antidote, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, brain tonic, cardiotonic, carminative, demulcent, desiccant, diuretic, emmenagogue, haemostatic, hair tonic, lithotriptic, nephroprotective, stomachic.


The leaves are recorded to be used as an analgesic, antiseptic, astringent, haemostatic, hair tonic, hypoglycaemic, laxative, and stimulant. While the roots are known to have antibacterial properties.


In traditional medicine, decoctions of myrtle berries and leaves are used as antimicrobic, hypoglycaemic, stomachic, for cough and oral diseases also for appetizing, constipation, and externally for wound healing.


The berries of myrtle are used in aphthae, bronchitis, burns, conjunctivitis, cough, dandruff, deep sinuses, diarrhea, dysentery, dysuria, earache, epistaxis, eye ulcers, fever, fetid ulcers, foot ulcers, fractures, gastric ulcer, hemoptysis, hemorrhages, hemorrhoids, hair fall, halitosis (bad breath), head ulcers, headache, inflammations, internal ulceration, lax vaginal walls, leucorrhoea, melaena, melasma chloasma, menorrhagia, otorrhea, palpitation, piles, polydipsia, prolapse, rectal, rectitis, rheumatism, rhinitis, scorpion sting, sprain, toothache, burning micturition, uterine prolapse, and vomiting.


Myrtus communis berries by Javier Martin, 2008

The leaves are useful in abscess, aphthae, burns, chronic bronchitis, chronic catarrh bladder, deep sinuses, diaphoresis, diarrhea, dyspepsia, eczema, epilepsy, hemorrhage, hair fall, herpes, inflammation, internal ulceration, intertrigo, leucorrhoea, liver diseases, menorrhagia, palpitation, piles, pulmonary disorders, rheumatism, sores, sprain, stomach diseases, stomatitis, ulcers, uterine prolapse, and wounds.


Myrtle leaves contain an essential oil that was recorded in France to be a great disinfectant and useful antiseptic, wherein hospitals it is used for special respiratory and bladder diseases and is recommended as a local application in rheumatic disease.


GENERAL USAGE


The plant has been used in cosmetics and perfumery as well as in the food industry for food aromatization or sauce production. In rural areas of Italy or Sardinia, you can commonly find foods that are flavored with smokes of myrtle. Myrtle berries are eaten fresh and dried, used to make desserts, powder, used in fruit salads. The berries can be produced to jam and liqueur, can be consumed as cold tea (recommendation: a few berries in black tea). Myrtle honey has the strongest antibacterial properties in the world; however, it is very rare and expensive.


Dried myrtle fruits by Jovita Turan, 2021

INTERESTING FACTS


Myrtle is considered the plant of love. In different cultures around the world, the plant is used to seal wedding vows. It is the symbol of fertility and feminine beauty.


REFERENCES


  • Aleksic, V., & Knezevic, P. (2014). Antimicrobial and antioxidative activity of extracts and essential oils of Myrtus communis L. Microbiological research, 169(4), 240-254.

  • Alipour, G., Dashti, S., & Hosseinzadeh, H. (2014). Review of pharmacological effects of Myrtus communis L. and its active constituents. Phytotherapy research, 28(8), 1125-1136.

  • Hennia, A., Miguel, M. G., & Nemmiche, S. (2018). Antioxidant activity of Myrtus communis L. and Myrtus nivellei Batt. & Trab. extracts: a brief review. Medicines, 5(3), 89.

  • Sumbul, S., Ahmad, M. A., Asif, M., & Akhtar, M. (2011). Myrtus communis Linn.-A review.

  • Tuberoso, C. I. G., Rosa, A., Bifulco, E., Melis, M. P., Atzeri, A., Pirisi, F. M., & Dessì, M. A. (2010). Chemical composition and antioxidant activities of Myrtus communis L. berries extracts. Food Chemistry, 123(4), 1242-1251.

  • Main picture: By Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6181344

  • Iliustration: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illustration_Myrtus_communis0.jpg Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany.

  • Picture: Javier Martin https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Myrtus_communis_Fruits_Closeup_DehesaBoyalPuertollano.jpg

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