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Myrtle is found throughout the Mediterranean, as well as in some tropical and sub-tropical regions. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree with star-like flowers that have an exceedingly large amount of stamens and blue-black berries. The flowers bloom in summer, and the berries ripen in fall and early winter. Myrtle was one of the symbols of the Three Graces, and a Victorian symbol of fidelity in marriage. Nymphs are often associated with the myrtle tree. One story relates that it was nymphs of the myrtle tree that gave humanity the arts of making cheese, bee keeping, and growing olives. Another relates how the nymph Daphne turned herself into a myrtle tree to escape being raped by Apollo. This could explain why the myrtle leaf is considered a symbol of protection.
Myrtle is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called Mirto by macerating the leaves in alcohol. It is one of the national drinks of Sardinia. There are two varieties of this drink: the Mirto Rosso (red) produced by macerating the berries, and the Mirto Bianco (white) produced from the leaves.
Grinding the leaves to release their wonderful scent is a practise known as far ago as in ancient Greece where people cherished the application of myrtle. Greek athletes were said to have worn wreaths of evergreen myrtle leaves during the Olympics. Ancient civilizations believed that myrtle was a symbol of immortality, and they used it in love potions and as treatment for many ailments.
Myrtle has been conventionally used to treat coughs, bronchitis and other respiratory infections. The astringent properties of myrtle have also earned the reputation for promoting good digestion, treating urinary tract disorders, and preventing wound infections. Recent laboratory studies suggest that the herb contains anti-inflammatory substances, making it a viable astringent compound. This finding accounts for the plant's enduring popularity as a wound and cough treatment but it is frequently used to treat bronchitis, bruises, bad breath, wounds, as well as colds, sinusitis, and coughs.