Myrtle — The Myrtle (Myrtus) is a genus of one or two species of flowering plants in the family Myrtaceae, native to southern Europe and north Africa. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees, growing to 5 m tall. The leaves are entire, 3-5 cm long, with a pleasantly fragrant essential oil. The star-like flowers have five petals and sepals, and an amazingly large number of stamens. Petals are usually white, with globose blue-black berries containing several seeds. The flowers are pollinated by insects, and the seeds dispersed by birds that feed on the berries.
The Common Myrtle Myrtus communis, is widespread in the Mediterranean region and is also by far the most commonly cultivated. It was sacred to Aphrodite. The other species, Saharan Myrtle M. nivellei, is restricted to the Tassili n’Ajjer mountains in southern Algeria and the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, where it occurs in small areas of sparse relict woodland near the centre of the Sahara Desert; it is listed as an endangered species. However, some botanists are not convinced that M. nivellei is sufficiently distinct to be treated as a separate species.
Myrtle is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called “Mirto”’ by macerating it in alcohol. It is known as one of the national drinks of Sardinia. There are two varieties of this drink: the “Mirto Rosso” (red) produced by macerating the berries, and the “Mirto Bianco” (white) produced from the leaves.