Long revered by indigenous Australians for its medicinal properties, lemon myrtle is arguably Australia’s most potent native healing plant. At more than 90% citral, it contains the highest concentration of this compound of any plant in the world. (Lemons contain less than 10% citral.) With antiseptic, antifungal and antiviral properties, lemon myrtle really is the perfect Winter cure-all in the fight against colds, flu and bronchitis.
You can enjoy lemon myrtle’s gorgeous ‘lemonier than lemon’ scent by using its leaves around your home as a natural air deodoriser. Its oil is appreciated in a range of cosmetic products as well. But as a Winter health elixir, how can we best incorporate lemon myrtle into our diet?
3 easy ways to cook with lemon myrtle
- SWAP: Use lemon myrtle anywhere you’d usually use lemon grass or bay leaves, for example in curries or other sweet or savoury dishes.
- STEEP: Make a simple and delicious lemon myrtle tea using the leaves (whole or ground) and adding boiling water and a dash of honey if you like. The longer you steep the tea, the more tingly you’ll feel around the lips and mouth – this is the antimicrobial components at work!
- SPRINKLE: Pop some ground lemon myrtle into soups or stews to add a lemony flavour and an immune boost.
You can certainly throw whole lemon myrtle leaves into whatever you’re cooking. However, if you don’t have a ready supply, then a great tip is to mill the leaves using a spice grinder or Thermomix. Store in a ziplock bag in the freezer so you have them on hand all the time.
Also note that boiling or baking can release the volatile essential oils, so the lemon myrtle is best added to the recipe at the end of the cooking process where possible.
How to source it
Has all this talk of lemon myrtle got you wondering how to get your hands on some? It’s not the type of ingredient you’ll find at your local green grocer and scouring the rainforests of South East Queensland is probably out of the question. So, if you don’t know someone with a lemon myrtle tree that can keep up with your demand, how about growing some yourself?
Ask at your local nursery or for as little as $3.90 (+ postage) you can pick yourself up a lemon myrtle seedling from the good people at Daley’s Online Fruit Tree Nursery. Pay a bit more for a larger plant that you can begin to harvest leaves from immediately. Yes, the trees will grow in pots and yes, they will grow in most warm temperature areas along the East, South and South West coast of Australia!
They make lovely potted plants and also attract an incredible amount of beneficial insects to the garden when they are flowering, including the native green carpenter bees – one of our best native pollinators.
Other claims to fame
If you’re looking for even more reasons to engage with this gorgeous lemony plant, then here you go! Lemon myrtle:
- Can treat various skin conditions, including cold sores, acne, psoriasis, rashes, dermatitis, itching, tinea and candidiasis. Lemon myrtle oil has also been used effectively against molluscum contagiosum, a common viral illness in children.
- Has proven to be effective against food borne pathogens , as well as against bacterial strains found in poultry.
- Has the ability to significantly inhibit MRSA bacteria in a laboratory setting, providing hope that it may become a possible weapon against this deadly drug-resistant bacteria in the future.
- Extract was able to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells of the colon, stomach, bladder and liver, under lab conditions.
- Has been used by herbalists as a treatment for indigestion and other abdominal upsets.
Have you ever cooked with lemon myrtle? If so, I’d love to hear what you’ve made in the comments below!