To celebrate the NAIDOC week which begins today, we’re taking a look at Lemon Myrtle, a plant that has been used by Indigenous Australians both medicinally and in food for thousands of years. This Australian native has continued to be used throughout history, and now features in products all over the world!
Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Australia, the lemon myrtle now grows across the country due to its rising popularity as a crop and a stunning ornamental addition to gardens.
Faiths and Cultures:
Lemon myrtles have been used by Indigenous Australians for 40,000 years, by wrapping the leaves in paperbark to flavour fish dishes, and to treat headaches by crushing and inhaling the leaves.
In 1888, lemon myrtle was analysed for its commercial use by early British settlers. Analysing the chemical properties of the lemon myrtle, it was the first time that citral was identified in plants, a compound that causes a citrus flavour and aroma and has antimicrobial properties.
During WWII, lemon shortages in Australia resulted in the use of lemon myrtle as a lemon substitute in lemonade made by Tarax. However, the use of lemon myrtle in general declined because of overharvesting, and it was replaced by other citrus-rich plants such as lemongrass.
The 1990’s saw the ‘rediscovery’ of the lemon myrtle as a new commercial crop, with commercial orchards becoming more and more common and more than 1.5 million trees growing in Northern Queensland alone!
Lemon myrtle has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and has antiseptic, calmative, sedative, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Its germicidal qualities have also been found to be stronger than that found in eucalyptus and tea tree oils, making it a potential treatment for common colds, bronchitis, and several gastrointestinal disorders. In vitro research has also suggested the usage of lemon myrtle as a sanitiser, a thrush treatment, and antiseptic cream when used synergistically with native pepper.
Essential oils distilled from lemon myrtle leaves also has several uses in cosmetics and aromatherapy, due primarily to the strength of its lemon scent. Its uses range from soaps and shower gels to lip balms and shampoos, that are sold all over the world. However, the use of essential oils can cause dermatitis in people with citral allergies so always check before adding it to your daily routine.
You can find out more about citral allergies and the medicinal use of lemon myrtle in consultation with your doctor.
From cheesecake to cocktails, the strong flavour of lemon myrtle leaves makes it a versatile addition to your herb collection. As a source of calcium, potassium, vitamins A and E, magnesium and zinc, lemon myrtle leaves also have been found to contain more lutein than avocados, which can assist with macular degeneration and than is found in leafy green vegetable including kale and spinach.
Lemon myrtle leaves are especially popular in teas and younger leaves are the best to use since older leaves tend to be more woody. They can also be dried to use in damper, ground and used as a spice in dressings or roasts, or used fresh in fish dishes, and can even replace lemongrass in curry and Thai dishes.
While the use of lemon myrtle in lemonade by Tarax stopped after WWII due to overharvesting, companies such as Bickford & Sons and Charlies are currently producing their own lemonades featuring lemon myrtle.
The essential oils from lemon myrtle can also be used as a flavouring, however leaves tend to be more popular so the oils are primarily used in cosmetics.
Interested in exploring uses for lemon myrtle in your cooking? Have a look through these links:
As an evergreen rainforest tree, lemon myrtles can grow anywhere from 3 to 20 metres tall! This, and its thick, dark green foliage, means the lemon myrtle is great for creating hedges and screens. Lemon myrtles can also be used as an ornamental tree, with their lemon-scented leaves and sprays of small flowers that first appear as white or cream in summer and turn green as they age.
Able to grow just as well in pots or the ground, lemon myrtles need to be in a sunny position and sheltered from winds and frosts, especially when they are younger. Pruning is also very important to maintain the shape and restrict the height of lemon myrtles, since without pruning they can continue to grow to their full height and lose their shrub-like shape.
To find out more about NAIDOC week, take a look at some of our other content:
Lemon Myrtle – Backhousia citriodora Image Credit By John Moss (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons