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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-petals 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).
Only the fresh leaves are used for distillation. Myrtle oil obtained is liquid, and a clear yellow to greenish-yellow. It smells camphory and peppery green, rather like bay.
The principal constituents: Camphene, cineol, geraniol, linalool, a compound called myrtenol and pinene. The oil also contains a lot of tannin.
To protect one’s house from the evil eye in the south of France, a myrtle tree was planted nearby. However, this was apparently only effective if the tree were planted by a woman.
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