Myrtle, Myrtus communis. The plant grows abundantly in the North Western to Eastern Mediterranean; its multiple occurrences in the Old Testament testifies its significance to West Asian peoples. Myrtle has closely related names in most European and even some non-European languages; all these names relate to Old Greek myrtos and were typically transmitted via Latin myrtus. Myrtle is another example of a spice finding no wide application because of its bitterness, despite the pleasant odour. Its culinary importance is limited to the region of origin: The fragrant macchia (maquis) forests on the mountain slopes around the Mediterranean Sea. Mostly the fresh or dried leaves are used; the dried berry fruits are also aromatic and have been tried as a substitute for black pepper. The leaves emanate an aromatic and refreshing smell somewhat reminiscent to myrrh or eucalypt; the taste is very intensive, quite unpleasant and strongly bitter.
Myrtle is a perfect firewood, transmitting a spicy, aromatic taste to any meat grilled thereover. Furthermore, meat or poultry may be wrapped with myrtle branches or the body cavities may be stuffed therewith; after broiling or roasting, the myrtle is to be removed. Foods flavoured with the smoke of myrtle are common in rural areas of Italy or Sardinia.