The nature of things Myrtles
THIS is a great autumn for berries: crab apples are laden, firethorns are ablaze with embers foaming along their branches and holly is as extravagantly berried as it always looks in Christmas cards. There’s bounty for the birds and those visiting from colder climates should find their risky journey here was worthwhile. Here and there in the south and west, the bonanza will be supplemented with the black fruits of myrtles, Myrtus communis and Myrtus luma (aka Luma apiculata).
The myrtle of Mediterranean lands, Myrtus communis (right), is an interesting shrub or tree with pointed, oval leaves, exuding spicy aromas when crushed. It’s special because (like camellias and holly) those darkest green leaves have a polished upper surface, the sheen of which helps to reflect precious sunlight in the winter.
Myrtle was valued for other reasons in ancient times: sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter, it was linked with betrothal and marriage (a sprig is still often added to wedding bouquets). Its usefulness in relieving fever and pain (which we now know is due to high levels of salicylic acid, with aspirin-like results) was also known by the physicians of Classical times. The Romans used myrtle extensively for topiary and hedging, but, left unpruned, it will be festooned with pristine summer flowers followed by the juicy berries that will be gorged on in winter by blackbirds and their ilk. KBH