AUSTRALIAN NATIVE shrub lemon myrtle was given the botanical name Backhousia citriodora in 1853 after the English botanist, James Backhouse.
Originally called ‘lemon-scented myrtle’ because of its strong lemon smell when the leaves are crushed, the name was shortened to ‘lemon myrtle’ by the native foods industry, which marketed the leaf for culinary use.
Despite there being no written evidence of indigenous use of lemon myrtle, we can be quite sure that indigenous Australians long used the plant, both in food and as a healing tool.
By 1856 white settlers started exploring uses for lemon myrtle; notably documented by renowned Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller around the Moreton Bay area of southeast Queensland.
By 1888 the first lemon myrtle essential oil distillation is thought to have occurred. There were several small distillations of lemon myrtle essential oil from small wild populations of lemon myrtle trees, particularly around the Gympie area through to World War 1.
When raw materials (lemon essences) were in short supply in World War 2, the tree was wild harvested again. Distillation again ceased after World War 2.
Coastal rainforest in its native habitat of south-east Queensland was cleared very early during European settlement, resulting in the tree being rather rare to find in the wild.
This remarkably flavoursome herb was eventually planted out in small plantations in the mid 1990s.
By early 2000, one or two farmers had developed good cultivars of the tree and some simple but effective harvesting and processing equipment was also developed. Lemon myrtle leaves used as tea have become a growing niche market.
Today lemon myrtle is sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of the lemon herbs’ and is gaining recognition in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as an ingredient to flavour everything from tea, meat and ice-cream through to its therapeutic benefits in soaps, shampoos and moisturisers.
The leaf is often used as dried flakes or in the form of an encapsulated flavour essence for enhanced shelf life.
Increase immunity to viruses and bacteria
Viruses and bacteria are quickly becoming resistant to traditional treatments and essential oils such as lemon myrtle can become key components in staying healthy. Lemon myrtle shares the antibacterial properties of lemon and tea tree oil and has been shown to be effective against even new strains of staph and many food-borne diseases.
Lemon myrtle essential is also antiviral and was demonstrated to be effective against listeria.
Research in Japan in 2000 revealed lemon myrtle to be effective against herpes virus. Use as a potent anti-bacterial and germicide to diffuse regularly to reduce coughs, cold and sinus issues.
Lemon myrtle essential oil possesses excellent antimicrobial properties; however the undiluted essential oil is toxic to human cells in vitro. When diluted to approximately one per cent, absorption through the skin and subsequent damage is thought to be minimal. Lemon myrtle oil has a high ‘Rideal–Walker coefficient,’ which is a measure of antimicrobial potency.
Ease fungal infections
Along with powerful antibacterial properties, lemon myrtle oil has also been shown to have antifungal properties as well.
In 2001 and 2002 at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga it was demonstrated and published that Lemon Myrtle essential oil was more anti-fungal than tea tree and as anti-bacterial as tea tree.
Anyone who suffers from repeated fungal infections such as athlete’s foot may find using lemon myrtle oil diluted in carrier oil helpful in reducing incidences of and preventing the infection. It may also be helpful in the treatment of candida overgrowth in the body as well.
Lemon myrtle oil has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help to fight both external and internal inflammation. It has a tonic effect on the digestive system and may be used for irritable digestive disorders and flatulence. Add a few drops to a stomach massage blend to assuage distension and discomfort.
You can make soothing massage oils by mixing five drops of lemon myrtle essential oil with 100mL of quality vegetable carrier oil.
Add cypress, manuka, juniper or frankincense for an effective pain queller. Massage this blend into aching joints or any inflamed areas.
Lemon myrtle, like tea tree, is an extremely powerful cleanser. Due to its extremely high citral content it can be harsh on the skin, however with adequate dilution in a carrier oil, usually one per cent, it can be safely used to treat many skin conditions.
Any individual with extreme skin sensitivities should exercise precautionary principles before using this oil and maybe increase the dilution significantly.
Fresh-smelling lemon myrtle can revitalise dull or tired skin, and balance skin sebum production for those with oily skin.
Its antibacterial action is effective in clearing skin eruptions such as acne - especially if it is caused by the overproduction of oil on the skin - as it cleanses pores, discourages the overgrowth of bacteria and reduces swelling and redness. Add a few drops of lemon myrtle oil to some distilled witchazel or detoxifying clay to treat breakouts.
Lemon myrtle’s anti-inflammatory properties will help relieve the itch of insect bites as well as repelling insects from attempting to feast on the skin in the first place.
Painful eruptions on the skin
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that results in sometimes painful eruptions of the skin that can occur anywhere on the body and usually in children. Traditional treatment included abrasion of the skin to stimulate the body’s immune response.
Use of lemon myrtle oil as a treatment for the skin lesions caused by this virus (MCV) has been researched and considered successful. Treating with lemon myrtle oil may prevent further spread of the infection and help ease some of the skin inflammation.
Blend lemon myrtle with carrier oil and apply topically to the Mollusca daily until they shrink or go away.
The oil does not clear the virus but alleviates the symptoms and allows the body to heal properly. Interestingly, nine of sixteen patients who were treated with an unusually high strength of lemon myrtle oil (at 10 per cent) showed a significant improvement, compared to none in the control group. Professional guidance when using such a high dilution is recommended.
Effects of citral, which is the main constituent in lemon myrtle, on an energy-intense diet model of obesity, were studied in India and published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology.
It revealed that the citral-treated groups showed a dose-dependent reduction in body weight gain.
They significantly had lower fasting glucose levels, improved glucose tolerance, higher metabolic rate and smaller adipocytes after drug administration.
We can conclude from this research on citral, that the use of lemon myrtle could have similar effects on weight reduction. In addition it can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
In the current scenario of increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes, citral-rich lemon myrtle may prove to be a prodigious agent in its management.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has published results of successful tests of lemongrass on anxiety. It is the constituent citral in this oil that is responsible for marked positive shifts in mood for people in depressive states and who suffer from anxiety.
Lemon myrtle that has a higher content of citral than lemongrass and could prove to be a helpful treatment for anxiety and depression.
These conditions have different causes, such as inflammation of the nerves in the brain, which prevents the proper usage of mood balancing hormones.
Not only does lemon myrtle possess anti-inflammatory properties that soothe the inflamed nerves but also it is slightly sedative, so it helps to relax tension that can exacerbate anxiety. Soothing and calming, this oil improves sleep.
Lemon myrtle with its bright, cheerful scent lifts our spirits and counters exhaustion and shock.
When choosing a mood-lifting mix, blend lemon myrtle essential oil with grounding vetivert or sandalwood and calming chamomile to use in a diffuser to help relax tension and lift mood.
Use lemon myrtle in the yoga room to reduce the busyness of the mind and improve concentration; it relaxes but does not heavily sedate.
This oil clears the spirit of heavy feelings of weakness and brings clarity for those who feel lost on their spiritual journey. It encourages us to release trapped emotions and helps us to breathe freely, which is always rejuvenating.
Lemon myrtle is a popular ingredient in health care and cleaning products, especially soaps, lotions and shampoos. It can be used in a diffuser, a spray air freshener, pot-pourri, massage oil, carpet cleaning, or in the vacuum cloth bag, floor-washing water and dishwashing liquid. Use as a surface disinfectant or as an anti-microbial food additive. It is helpful in the preservation of foods that are prone to fungal infections. Wipe wooden boards that are used for processing meat.
Mix a few drops of this oil with vinegar and tea tree to create a spray that will disinfect surfaces anywhere in your house.
Diffusing in the air should kill any airborne bacteria that may cause seasonal allergies and respiratory distress.
Add to a repellent blend to ward off moths and silverfish in clothes or food cupboards.
Lemon myrtle essential oil has many culinary uses and because of the pure oil’s potency, only a drop or two will be needed to flavour the products.
It is best suited to: vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cold custards, sorbets, cheese cakes, ice creams and any product with a milk or oil base where no heat is applied after the oil has been added.
Try as a lemon flavour replacement in milk-based foods, such as cheesecake, lemon flavoured ice cream and sorbet; it doesn’t have the curdling problem associated with lemon fruit acidity.
Lemon myrtle essential oil may be used in cooking oils such as olive, sunflower or macadamia oil, at a ratio of 8 to 12 drops per 1000mL of oil.
Lemon myrtle has interesting applications in alcoholic drinks; add to gins, cocktails and bitter tonics. To flavour drinks add 6 to 9 drops per 1000mL of liquid.
Name: Lemon Myrtle
Botanical name: Backhousia citriodora
Also known as: sweet verbena myrtle
Sometimes confused with: Lemon ironbark (Eucalyptus staigeriana)
The Plant: Lemon myrtle is a flowering plant endemic to Australian subtropical rainforests of central and South Eastern Queensland with a natural distribution from Mackay to Brisbane. It can reach six metres in height, but is often smaller when cultivated and rarely exceeds five metres; usually with a dense canopy. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, lanceolate, and glossy green. The flowers are creamy-white, 5–7mm in diameter, produced in clusters at the ends of the branches from summer through to autumn. After petal fall the calyx is persistent.
Lemon myrtle is grown as a hardy ornamental plant that tolerates all but the poorest drained soils. It can be grown from tropical to warm temperate climates and may handle cooler districts, provided it can be protected from frost when young.
The Oil: The tree doesn’t smell a lot unless you tear the leaf, to open up the oil glands. Lemon myrtle contains the highest natural source of citral. Lemongrass and lemon myrtle essential oils both include noteworthy concentrations of limonene.
Extraction: Lemon myrtle essential oil is extracted via steam distillation of the leaves and green small branches. In Australia the majority of commercial lemon myrtle is grown in Queensland and the north coast of New South Wales.
In plantation cultivation the tree is typically maintained as a shrub by regular harvesting from the top and sides; it is important to retain some lower branches when pruning for plant health. Mechanical harvesting is used in commercial plantations.
The harvested leaves are dried for leaf spice, or distilled for the essential oil. Controls are being developed for a significant fungal pathogen called myrtle rust (Uredo rangelii) that was detected in lemon myrtle plantations in January 2011. Myrtle rust severely damages new growth and threatens lemon myrtle production.
Scent: A strong top note, this essential oil releases a strong uplifting lemon aroma that is also rich and smooth to smell. More complex than lemon, lemon myrtle imparts its characteristically citrus notes immediately, but gives way to a smoky bush flavour.
A universally pleasant scent for most people. It is also considered to have a ‘cleaner and sweeter’ aroma than comparable sources of citral - lemongrass and litsea cubeba - with more clarity than lemongrass. The oil has the highest citral purity so avoid blending with other citrus oils.
Blends well with: woody, spicy, floral oils, consider cedarwood atlantica, geranium bourbon, ylang ylang, cinnamon, pimento or myrrh. Try it with cypress, eucalyptus varieties, niaouli, sandalwood or tea tree. Use sparingly to avoid overpowering.
Indications: Disinfectant, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, soothes hypertension. Inhibits formation of fat cells, increases metabolic rate, reduces weight gain and improves tolerance to a glucose load. Anti-depressive, sedative, improves concentration, deodorising, flea repellent.
Precautions: Contains citral, a strong sensitiser. Avoid use on broken skin. Avoid use during pregnancy; there is evidence that high citral oils can affect foetal development. Maximum dilution for topical 0.7 to 1 per cent.
Contraindications: Diabetic medications