The myrtle tree ... a symbol of love and immortality
The myrtle tree is an indigenous species common in many parts of southern Europe and North Africa.
Like most other native trees, it had nearly disappeared from the Maltese countryside but there is evidence that in a number of localities such as Wied Għajn Riħana it used to be common.
It is in fact a pity that the tree, known in Maltese as riħan, is not planted more often here.
The myrtle does not grow high and at most reaches five metres but its special attributes are aromatic leaves and beautiful white flowers that are in bloom from late spring to late summer.
Later in the year the myrtle tree produces large numbers of blue-black berries. The berries contain several seeds and it is very easy to propagate the tree from them.
The berries attract many birds that feast on them and help the plant by carrying away the seeds in their gut. When they defecate, they deposit them away from the parent plant, helping to disperse the species far and wide.
The myrtle is also cultivated and can be found in gardens even outside its natural range. It is ideal for hedges and one can be found in the front garden of the Domus Romana museum in Rabat.
In Sardegna and Corsica a liqueur known as Mirto is made from the berries. Myrtle has been used medicinally for at least 3,000 years and scientific studies show that the ancient medical uses of myrtle were based on real properties.
Myrtle oil is used, among other things, to treat respiratory problems by clearing the airways.
The ancient Greeks dedicated the myrtle to the gods Aphrodite and Demeter and in many parts of the Mediterranean the myrtle still symbolises love and immortality.
In fact, myrtle forms part of the wedding bouquet in some European countries and it is also used to make a crown for the bride.