Lemon myrtle is probably one of the most popular and best-known of Australia’s native bushfoods. It has a multitude of uses and the best advice I can give anyone about to try the new herb for the first time is to use just a little as it’s really strong in both flavour and aroma, just a little can really enhance a dish and too much can lead to disaster.
With that said there has been a lot of research done on this wonderful bush herb, it grows naturally in the sub-tropical rainforests of NSW and Qld, but it’s still possible to grow it here in Melbourne, just needs a sunnny spot and plenty of water, but I’ve seen some amazing trees growing in Tasmania, so if you want a great tree in your home garden down south then it’s really worth a try.
LEMON MYRTLE AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE
Lemon myrtle is now cultivated and commercially available worldwide. The leaves of the lemon myrtle are harvested and used as a specialty food ingredient by chefs and home cooks, in the pharmaceutical industry, teas and in many cosmetics, soaps, skin washes and even as an insect repellant. The aroma of the Lemon myrtle leaves shine thru.
For the most part the Lemon myrtle leaves are dried and milled ready to be used. Essential oils can also be extracted from the leaf through steam distilling.
HISTORY OF LEMON MYRTLE
Baron Ferdinand von Müller in 1853 first discovered Lemon myrtle and praised the strong, powerful aroma of it’s leaves.
Joseph H. Maiden saw the potential lemon myrtle for commercial production in 1889 and the German company Schimmel & Co. was the first to identify the primary ingredient, citral, which gives the distinctive lemon fragrance and taste.
Lemon myrtle was used commercially during World War 2 to flavour lemonade. It has been used in baked goods, jams and chutneys by the early settlers and as an insect repellant and a wonderful inhaler for coughs and colds.
The popularity of Lemon Myrtle started to wane after it’s use in World War 2 as more and more of the synthetic ingredients started to be used by manufacturers as they were cheaper and more readily available, people didn’t see the health or environmental benefits of this wonderful herb. It was a new age of food manufacture, many new flavours and the introduction of a lot more ethnic dishes excited the culinary industry and home cooks.
It really wasn’t until about 1990 that it started to show itself again as a culinary herb, it’s versatility now makes it the “go to” herb of choice for many manufacturers and distillers.
LEMON MYRTLE IS HEALTHY FOR YOU
Lemon myrtle is high in antioxidants, vitamin E, calcium, zinc and magnesium. It also has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
LEMON MYRTLE RECIPES
HOW TO GROW LEMON MYRTLE
Lemon myrtle likes a nutrient-rich soil of medium to heavy texture, and neutral instead of acidic soil; it is prone to yellowing in alkaline soils.
The soil should be well-drained and protected from the wind to avoid wind damage. It enjoys a sunny position, especially if grown in the southern areas of Australia.
When the trees are young they are frost and drought tender, so need a lot of protection, also make sure that they don’t dry out, remember they are a sub-tropical plant. Once established they are pretty hardy.
HARVESTING & DRYING LEMON MYRTLE
Lemon myrtle leaves can be cut from the tree year round.
The leaves contain the highest amount of citral (>90%) of any plant known in the world, it is ‘lemonier than lemon’.
Due to the high volatility of the citral component, lemon myrtle leaves must be dried quickly – ideally within one hour of harvest – to prevent them heating up and deteriorating. To prevent any loss of essential oils set the dryer at less than 45C.
STORAGE OF LEMON MYRTLE DRIED LEAVES
Store the dried lemon myrtle leaves in a cool, dry environment. In the right conditions their flavour and aroma can remain pungent for as long as 2 years, I’ve done tests and have found that they can also go beyond that.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF LEMON MYRTLE
The essential oil is used as an ingredient in cosmetics and personal care items such as soaps, creams, toothpaste and shampoo and conditioners. Lemon myrtle has also been used for many years as a therapeutic aromatherapy product for oil burners or as a misting spray.
Lemon myrtle has antimicrobial and antifungal properties that are superior to those of the popular tea tree oil.
As a result, it has potential as a natural food preservative; as an antiseptic, surface disinfectant; and in the biological control of post-harvest diseases in fruits and vegetables.
(per 100g frozen puree) (per 100 grams dry weight)