Plant Profile- Lemon Myrtle

I can’t imagine not having a Lemon Myrtle Tree now. So easy to grow, so lovely to look at, so useful in the kitchen. Every Australian household should grow one of these!

Also known as:

  • Backhousia citrodora
  • Lemon-scented Myrtle
  • Lemon Verbena Tree
  • Lemon Ironwood
  • Sweet Verbena Tree

Growing conditions:

  • Full sun
  • Tolerates most well-drained soils, prefers rich soil with mulch
  • Needs protection from frost and wind when young
  • Suitable for pots, hedges and gardens
  • Up to 20m in the wild, generally smaller in cultivation

Propagation:

  • Cuttings (difficult to strike and usually a smaller tree)
  • Seeds (poor germination rates)

Recipes:

The star shaped flowers send wafts of honey smells around the garden.

This tree a wonderful addition to a kitchen or permaculture garden. It’s leaves, flowers and seeds are edible and have countless uses.

Lemon Myrtle leaves have the highest levels of citral, the active ingredient, of any plant tested. This is what creates the lemon flavour. Citral is also a powerful anti-fungal and anti-microbial element sometimes used to treat warts, cold sores and acne. The leaves also contain calcium, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin E, folate, zinc and magnesium.

After the flowers come these lovely seed cases, abundant nut brown little flowers which I think would make wonderful confetti.

The most common use is as a herbal tea, which is as easy as plucking two or three leaves and pouring over boiling water. After 5 minutes to infuse your tea is ready. Add some honey for a delicious honey and lemon tea in winter or whenever you have a cold. The tea makes a lovely refreshing Summer drink too!

This tree was used extensively by First Nation people both as a food and a medicine. The leaves can be chewed as a cold and flu treatment. I tried this recently, but I couldn’t chew the leaf for long and made a tea instead. I use the leaves as a substitute for bay leaves in savoury dishes. I also stuff chicken with the fresh leaves before roasting and add it to tuna slices. Olive Oil infused with Lemon Myrtle (see recipe link above) is great for frying chicken or fish. I use it when frying home-made chicken nuggets and it adds a lovely subtle lemon note to the panko breadcrumbs. A dried powder from the leaves is a wonderful addition to sweet baking. The menthol component of the flavour tends to become stronger in heat so it’s best in sweet dishes that have a short cooking time.

The flowers and fruits attract lots of birds and beneficial insects, while the thick evergreen foliage offers refuge to smaller bird species all year around.

Commercially this plant is also used to make soaps, lotions and other beauty products. It is now grown around the world.

The other reason to have one of these trees is for their ornamental value. They have lovely thick foliage and in early Summer they are covered in star-shaped, honey scented flowers. After the flowers the nut-brown seed cases are just as pretty, looking like tiny flowers. I think they would make wonderful confetti.

Lemon Myrtle is notoriously difficult to propagate. I tried more than 20 cuttings this year and only one was successful. Cuttings should be taken in autumn from soft or semi-hardwood.

Lemon Myrtle grows vigourously in its home range which is the subtropical climate of South-east Queensland and Northern New South Wales. It can also be cultivated in cooler zones where it won’t grow as big or in the tropics where it grows enthusiastically. Young trees need lots of water in hot weather but it’s worth it for the benefits of this lovely plant.

Wishing you evergreen joy in your garden,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

References:

Sustainable Gardening Australia

Member, M. & Cross, J. (2018), Root to Bloom, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne.

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