Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
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Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Myrtle, Lemon Scented Myrtle) is a flowering plant in the family Myrtaceae, genus Backhousia, native to subtropical rainforests of eastern Australia. Other common names are Sweet Verbena Tree, Sweet Verbena Myrtle, Lemon scented Verbena, and Lemon scented Backhousia.
It can reach 20 m in height, but is often smaller. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, lanceolate, 5-12 cm long and 1.5-2.5 cm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are creamy-white, 5-7 mm diameter, produced in clusters at the ends of the branches from summer through to autumn, after petal fall the calyx is persistent.
Lemon myrtle was given the botanical name Backhousia citriodora in 1853 after the English botanist, James Backhouse. The common name reflects the strong lemon smell of the crushed leaves.
Lemon myrtle is sometimes confused with “lemon ironbark”, which is Eucalyptus staigeriana.
B.citriodora has two essential oil chemotypes:
Indigenous Australians have long used lemon myrtle, both in cuisine and as a healing plant. The oil is very high in citral content; typically higher than lemongrass. The leaves of the plant are used in cooking, forming one of the more well-known bushfood flavours. It has an extensive range of uses, such as lemon flavouring in pasta, with fish, infused in macadamia or vegetable oils, and made into tea. It can also be used as a lemon replacement in milk-based foods, such as cheescake, lemon flavoured ice-cream and sorbet that would normally curdle due to lemon’s citric acid. The taste/smell is similar to lemon (hence the name), verbena and lemongrass but not at all acidic. During former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Australia in 1996, lemon myrtle tart was the dessert item at the formal reception hosted by the Australian Government. It is often described as “more lemon than lemon”.
Lemon myrtle essential oil has also been shown to possess antimicrobial properties; however the undiluted essential oil is toxic to human cells in vitro. When diluted to approximately 1%, absorption through the skin and subsequent damage is thought to be minimal. Use of lemon myrtle oil as a treatment for skin lesions caused by molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV), a disease affecting children and immuno-compromised patients, has been investigated. Nine of sixteen patients who were treated with lemon myrtle oil showed a significant improvement, compared to none in the control group. The oil is a popular ingredient in health care and cleaning products, especially soaps, lotions and shampoos. It is marketed in the capitalized identity of Lemon Myrtle. The majority of commercial lemon myrtle is grown in Queensland and the north coast of New South Wales, Australia.