What is Lemon Myrtle?
Lemon Myrtle! What is it? It’s a crazy herb, filled with fresh undernotes of citrus, but is it fruit? Is it a leaf? And why the heck does it smell and taste so much like lemons! The answer is actually super simple. It’s a beautiful shrub native to Australia’s tropical rainforests, and the reason it is so delicious is due to its incredible essential oil, citral.
In North Eastern Australia, in the depths of the warm rainforests, species such as Lemon Myrtle have lived for thousands of years. They have grown alongside many other species, and have been used by humans for just as long. Aboriginal Australians would use Lemon Myrtle as a traditional medicine, and as modern research has found, it has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Organic Lemon Myrtle Tea - yum!
Some applications included being ground into a paste and then applied topically to wounds, or simply to drink as a tea. A single teaspoon in boiling water with a dollop of honey will work wonders to numb your sore throat – it’s an effective and natural remedy to cold and flu symptoms. However, there’s something going on beneath the surface which makes it such a useful ingredient to have at home.
Before we get into the technical side of things, we first should explore how people are using it today. It’s hard to go into a store and not find something fragranced by Lemon Myrtle. Whether it’s soap, a moisturizer, cleaning products, or even candles, Lemon Myrtle has become the rage. It’s completely understandable, as the essential oils are addictive, with its bright uplifting scent that is reminiscent of a freshly grated lemon zest scraped a top of a lemon citrus poppy cake. It’s something we all remember, and that’s the secret to what’s driving its success. Yet no matter how much you adore, love, or otherwise want to lather yourself in Lemon Myrtle products, it’s actually the taste and intense flavour that truly makes Lemon Myrtle such an incredible little shrub.
Lemon Myrtle and Flowers
I don’t know about you, but the fresh scent of citrus is something that everyone I know likes. Whether it’s an iced tea, or a delicious Lemon cake, I have never seen someone turn around and say to me that they don’t like lemon. It’s become almost a lingua franca of the culinary world, with the addition of citrus being used in confectionaries, desserts, cocktails, and everything in between.
This lust, desire, and apparent evolutionary draw to citrus is what has made Lemon Myrtle renown around the world. When you cook with a lemon you have two products. The zest, and the juice. One of which is extremely acidic and tends to curdle anything dairy based. The other, can be coated in chemicals, cannot be used when you have an old lemon, and is difficult to store.
Lemons as well are also super expensive. Looking at the local super market that day this was written, was around $1. It’s a lot especially if you only use it once, as a lemon cut in half will dry out and pretty much be useless by the time we use it. That’s where Lemon Myrtle comes in, and is the reason for its success. 1. It’s easy to store 2. A long shelf life of 1-2 years. 3. It is so much cheaper than lemons.
Nowadays it’s rare to find people walking into the rainforest and harvesting Lemon Myrtle for consumers. Moreover, it’s become a large industry with plantations across North Eastern Australia, as well as successful plantations growing south of Perth on the other side of the country. There’s a lot of difference between the two. To understand why, we have to go back to 2010. Lemon Myrtle has been a resilient plant however in 2010 an invasive fungus arrived (we’re unsure how) into Australia. It’s name: Myrtle Rust.
You can picture what Myrtle Rust does. It grows on the leaves in such a colour until the leaves die. It’s extremely dangerous to Lemon Myrtle plants, and one contaminated plant could see every plant in the same farm be destroyed if not treated. It spreads easy, with the spores flying into the air, clinging to clothes, and being blown by the wind so complete containment can be difficult. Today, fungicides are an effective remedy against Myrtle Rust in Lemon Myrtle plantations. However, most fungicides have been linked to many health problems in the human population, so this is not ideal.
Luckily, there’s a big desert that separates Western Australia and Eastern Australia. It’s almost impossible for the wind to carry Myrtle Rust across, so Lemon Myrtle plantations there are free from needing to spray fungicides onto their plants, allowing a chemical-free ingredient.
Lemon Myrtle is a great ingredient. It’s an effective remedy for a sore throat, and has been backed by many studies highlighting the impressive antibacterial capacities. It’s a must have in the kitchen too, with a long shelf life, easy application, and the ability to be placed on anything, it beats lemons a hundred-fold. It’s my favourite Australian alternative to imported lemons, so let’s use our nature and help improve our taste buds, connection to land, and health.