Myrtus communis is a small, evergreen tree, native to the Mediterranean region.
The star-shaped flower has five sepals, five petals and numerous stamens. The flowers are usually white and are pollinated by insects. The leaf contains a fragrant essential oil that was traditionally used in colognes and skin tonics It was also used in many herbal remedies and medicines as an astringent, an antiseptic, a decongestant and to heal wounds. The fresh aroma of the oil is excellent at clearing the airways and relieving respiratory conditions.
The fruit is a round berry containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in colour. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries. In Corsica and Sardinia the berries are macerated in alcohol to produce an aromatic liqueur called Mirto.
The Myrtle occupies a prominent place in mythology and was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and Venus and therefore has a long association with love and immortality.
The plant was the emblem of honour and authority in ancient Greece, where it was used as the wreaths of the Olympian victors. In the Jewish religion, the Myrtle was used in nuptial ceremonies, and Islamic tradition has it that the plant was amongst the pure things carried out from the Garden of Eden by Adam.
Myrtle in a wedding bouquet is a general European custom, and crowns of myrtle are used in the Ukrainian wedding ceremony.
A sprig of myrtle from Queen Victoria's wedding bouquet was planted in the gardens of Osborne House on the Isle of White, and sprigs from this tree have continually been included in royal wedding bouquets.