Thursday, 20 August 2015


“Dark-green and gemm’d with flowers of snow, With close uncrowded branches spread Not proudly high, nor meanly low, A graceful myrtle rear’d its head.” – James Montgomery: “The Myrtle”

The myrtle, Myrtus communis, is the birthday flower for this day.  The generic name is derived from the Greek name for the plant.  The plant was sacred to Aphrodite, but according to one legend, it was named after Myrsine, a favourite of the goddess Athena.  Aphrodite hid behind a myrtle bush to conceal her nakedness from satyrs that disturbed her bathing on Cythera.  Together with the rose, the myrtle symbolised love to the ancient Greeks who planted these flowers around the temples of Aphrodite.

Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, a passion which was not reciprocated.  While he was riding on his horse, Phaedra watched him under the shade of a myrtle tree, puncturing holes in a myrtle leaf with her hairpin.  A myrtle leaf thus punctured symbolises forbidden love.

Country brides in England had a bouquet of myrtle, rosemary and orange blossom.  On St John’s Eve in the north of England young women would put a sprig of myrtle in their prayer book saying “wilt thou take me to be thy wedded wife?”. They would then place the book under their pillow and if the next morning the myrtle had disappeared, they would marry their present sweetheart.  Somerset people believe the myrtle to be a lucky window box plant (but only if planted by a good woman).  In Wales it was customary for a myrtle bush to be planted on either side of the door, thus keeping love and peace in the house.

The Moslems have a legend in which Adam took three plants with him from Paradise when he and Eve were expelled: Wheat representing all food plants, the date palm representing all fruits, and myrtle, representing all fragrant flowers.  The plant symbolises love, pleasure, victory, virginity and amiability.

In Jewish liturgy, the myrtle is one of the four sacred plants (Four Species) of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community. The myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. The three branches are lashed or braided together by the worshipers a palm leaf, a willow bough, and a myrtle branch. The etrog or citron is the fruit held in the other hand as part of the lulav wave ritual. In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding. Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden

Myrtus communis, the common myrtle or true myrtle, is native across the northern Mediterranean region (especially in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where it is locally known by the name of “murta”). The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 metres tall. The leaf is entire, 3–5 cm long, with a fragrant essential oil. The star-like flower has five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The flower is pollinated by insects. The fruit is a round berry containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in colour. A variety with yellow-amber berries is also present. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries. The shrub is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks. It is often used as a hedge plant, with its small leaves shearing cleanly.

The Common Myrtle is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called “Mirto” by macerating 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 flavour of Mortadella sausage and the related American Bologna sausage.

1 comment:

  1. I did not know this legend. Thank you. I always love to learn something new.