Myrtle is an herb with a well-documented past. The Bible lists the fragrantly spicy myrtle as one of the few plants that Adam was allowed to carry with him when he was expelled from the Garden of Eden. Greek myrtle, the variety we use at Babbo, is more aligned with Gods and Goddesses of love, such as Aphrodite. According to both Greek and Roman mythology, ancient women would celebrate Aphrodite/Venus by bathing in myrtle-scented water. The nymph Daphne transformed herself into a myrtle bush to escape from the lustful Apollo. In Jewish lore, eating myrtle enabled a person to detect witches, and a leaf of dried myrtle crumbled in the hand ensured a lovers fidelity.
The myrtle plant is a member of the evergreen family, as evidenced by the deep green and smooth gloss of its leaves. The plants need full sunshine and well-drained soil, which is found in the mountainous Mediterranean regions of Sardinia, Sicily, and Greece. Sardinians and Greeks smoke myrtle wood and leaves to infuse their foods with a flavor reminiscent of both bay leaf and rosemary. When left to bloom, a myrtle bush fills with tiny white berries that can be used as a substitute for juniper berries. In some cultures, these berries were ground and used as for flavoring the way we use black pepper.
At Babbo, we continue in the Mediterranean tradition of using myrtle to add a bit of intrigue where a bay leaf would have been familiar. This month, you’ll find a touch of myrtle in our recipe for Pork Loin alla Porchetta, as well as in the Porchetta (whole stuffed pig) we serve on Sundays.