The first gift in the new year was a Mirto liqueur I got from Luca Z., from a new scientist in my hubby’s department of Microbiology. When he saw my tomfool face he got the picture that he should give some explanation about this stuff. So he told me that the Mirto liqueur is a very popular drink in Sardinia, Capraia Island and in Corsica. As he is originated from Sardinia where people usually consume this liqueur during the festive season and also later in January since the myrtle berries are ripe at the beginning of the winter. The liqueur is obtained from the myrtle plant through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or a compound of berries and leaves. There are two types of Myrtle liqueur: the Mirto rosso (red) which is made with the berries and it is sweet and the another drink is called Mirto bianco and it’s made from the flowers and leaves.
-It should make a wonderful after-dinner drink on those cold winter nights!-he added with a large smile on his face. And he was right.
The history of myrtle and the liqueur
In Greek mythology and ritual the myrtle was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter. At their rituals a myrtle garland signified the same as an olive garland, except that it was especially auspicious for farmers. The ancient historian Pausanias explains that “the rose and the myrtle are sacred to Aphrodite and connected with the story of Adonis.” Myrtle was also the garland of Iacchus, according to Aristophanes, and of the victors at the Theban Iolaea, held in honour of the Theban hero Iolaus.
In Rome, Virgil says that “the poplar is most dear to Alcides, the vine to Bacchus, the myrtle to lovely Venus, and his own laurel to Phoebus.” At the Veneralia, women bathed wearing crowns woven of myrtle branches, and myrtle was used in wedding rituals.
In the Mediterranean, myrtle became symbolic of love and immortality. In their culture the plant was used extensively and was considered an essential plant.
In Jewish liturgy, myrtle is one of the four sacred plants of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community – the myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. Three branches are held by the worshippers along with a citron, a palm leaf, and two willow branches. In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding. Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden Kabbalists link myrtle to the sefirah of Tiferet and use sprigs in their Shabbat (especially Havdalah) rites to draw down its harmonizing power as the week is initiated
In neo-pagan and wicca rituals, myrtle, though not indigenous beyond the Mediterranean Basin, (it is native across the northern Mediterranean region and it is also found Mountains for instance in southern Algeria, and the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad) is now commonly associated with and sacred to the Irish festival Beltane (May Day).
Later myrtle became the most popular wedding bouquet in the European customs. A sprig of myrtle from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet was planted as a slip, and sprigs from it have continually been included in royal wedding bouquets. Crowns of myrtle are used in the Ukrainian wedding ceremony.
Myrtle liqueur recipe
Usually myrtle is ripe at the beginning of winter – December/ January. The berries must be black and not too hard. You can taste them to make sure the taste isn’t too sharp.
200-250 g fresh berries, 1l pure alcohol, 500 g sugar
Place the berries in a jar and cover with the alcohol then close the jar without sealing.
Allow to infuse for 20 days, occasionally shaking the jar. Dissolve the sugar in a liter of water and bring to the boil, then let it cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile press the berries with the alcohol in a vegetable mill (hand held kind). Press the residue repeatedly until no liquid comes out.
Strain through a fine mesh colander if possible use a piece of muslin, then add the cooled syrup, mix well and bottle. Serve well chilled. You can keep it in the freezer.