Thursday, January 3, 2013

The myrtle – a shrub of the maquis

Myrtle (Myrtus communis)
The myrtle is an evergreen bush or small tree with small white flowers and black berries. It is found throughout the Mediterranean region and is cultivated in various forms in many parts of the world.

In Malta it is found growing wild in a few localities but in the past few years it has been planted in other places including the Forest 2000 on the slopes between the Red Tower and the Għadira Nature Reserve where a typical Mediterranean woodland is being created. The myrtle trees that were planted in the area, are now in flower as are the small but growing strawberry trees another typical species of the Mediterranean which until recently could not be found growing in the Maltese countryside.

In Sardinia and Corsica myrtle is used to produce an aromatic liquor called Mirto. It is produced by macerating the leaves or the berries in alcohol. The Mirto Rosso is produced by using berries whilst for Mirto Bianco the leaves are used. Mirto is one of the national drinks of Sardinia.

Myrtle is not widely used as a spice or herb because of its strong flavour but is used as firewood when grilling meat as it gives it a spicy flavour. It is sometimes stuffed in the body cavity of poultry for the same effect.

The myrtle, known in Maltese as riħan, is a typical plant of the Mediterranean maquis or macchia. This is a habitat consisting of densely growing evergreen shrubs. Other species often found in this habitat are the lentisk (deru) and the Mediterranean heath (erika).  The maquis is most synonymous with the island of Corsica but is found in other parts of the region. The maquis tends to prosper in arid rocky areas where only drought resistant plants can survive although in many places it is not the original habitat having replaced forest and woodland which have been destroyed by fire. Over a long period of time many maquis would revert to woodland if allowed to develop naturally, that is, without human interference. 

This article was published in The Times on 21.01.09.

1 comment:

  1. The myrtle is an evergreen bush or small tree with small white flowers and black berries....evergreen shrubs