Lemon myrtle is a relatively new tea herb from the coastal rainforests of eastern Australia. Given its botanical name in 1853 as a tribute to James Backhouse, an English botanist, by Baron von Mueller, lemon myrtle is also know lemon-scented myrtle, lemon ironwood and sweet verbena tree reflecting the refreshing sweet lemon smell of its crushed leaves. Although used to flavor lemonade during WWII and its oil extracted from the leaf 100 years ago, it wasn’t until recently, during the 1990’s, that it has been rediscovered as a potential new crop and commercial orchards have been planted. It is gaining recognition in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.
This tropical rainforest shrub which can grow into a tree is a member of the Myrtaccae family and a relative of eucalyptus, also a native Australian tree. The lance-shaped leaves are evergreen and a dull to glossy dark green, even though the new growth is pink and hairy. The five-petal, star-shaped white flowers are small, but they form in clusters on the ends of the branches which make them look like dainty posies. Both the leaves and flowers are intensely aromatic with a hint of lemon verbena and kaffir lime as well as the sweet lemon. Fully grown, lemon myrtle can reach 9 feet in the garden or can be pruned to grow in containers. It must be protected from frost when it is young as they are sensitive to extreme conditions plus prefer a moist climate. They like a position in full sun to part shade and a deep rich acidic soil. Seeds have a low germination rate so propagation is best by cuttings taken in the spring. It takes several years for lemon myrtle to mature and produce enough foliage for harvesting for production of the dried herb, steam distillation of the oil or its use by florists in arrangements.
The main flavor constituent of lemon myrtle is citral, which is responsible for most of the lemon scents in nature. Often described as “more lemon than lemon,” it tastes tart like lemons, but crisp and rich, not acidic. Lemon myrtle is superb as a caffeine free herbal infusion on its own or may be blended with other herbs or many different teas to add a lemony zip. The leaves can also be used fresh or dried for a great lemon flavor for cooking fish and chicken, rice dishes as well as sauces, cheesecakes and lemon tarts – any milk-based foods which would normally curdle with lemon’s citric acid. The citral is also heralded for its many health benefits including its strong anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties which make the tea protect against colds and flu plus indigestion.
TEA TIME TRIVIA
Lemon myrtle tart was the dessert served
at the formal reception hosted by the Australian Government
during former President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1996
LEMON HERB COOKIES
1 3/4c sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2c flour
2tsp baking powder
1Tbs lemon myrtle
Cream the butter with the sugar, then add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and herb, then add to the creamed ingredients and mix well. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet, flatten slightly and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until just browned. Cool slightly and remove to a rack.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”