Myrtle liqueur is a digestive obtained from the maceration of ripe myrtle berries. It is popular in various areas of Italy, being the myrtle plant (Myrtus communis) typical of the Mediterranean maquis.
In Massa Lubrense, the plant is present along the slopes most exposed to the sun, where it grows from sea level up to an altitude of 500 meters above sea level. It is possible to find it, for example, on the sides of the path that leads to the Bay of Ieranto or along the Sentiero delle Sirenuse.
This digestive liquor is a tradition rooted in Massa Lubrense and is produced both in local homes and in specialized distilleries present in the area. It is loved not only for its unique flavor, but also for its historical connection to the culture and tradition of this region.
Homemade production often involves recipes passed down from generation to generation, while commercial distilleries prepare it on a larger scale, helping to spread its distinctive taste throughout the territory.
The myrtle plant
Scientifically called Myrtus communis, the myrtle plant belongs to the Myrtaceae family and has intense green leaves that give off pleasant smells. It is an evergreen shrub typical of the Mediterranean scrub, which prefers a mild climate. But it can also resist the frosts, if protected and sheltered from the bad weather.
Solitary and elegant, the flowers are simple and white in colour. According to phenology, the plant flourishes between the months of May and June and bears fruit around October and November for the harvest of its berries.
Its origins are very ancient and shrouded in mystery. Traces of myrtle plant already appear in ancient Egyptian and Arab written documents. It is said that the ancient Egyptians decorated their cities with myrtle branches during the holidays, attributing to the plant a divine power capable of warding off evil spirits, catastrophes and diseases.
Furthermore, it was also the sacred plant of Aphrodite. In the myth, the plant protected Aphrodite’s virtues from the malicious gaze of satyrs. Therefore, it is considered a plant that represents love, fertility and eros and was used, in fact, as an aphrodisiac remedy or to adorn wedding banquets.
Harvest period begins in November, when the berries are maturing, and extends until January. According to the artisan myrtle producers, however, the best period for harvesting is the month of December, when the berries are neither too raw nor too cooked. The secret to understanding whether the berries can be harvested is revealed to us by the presence of the bloom. A substance produced by the fruits themselves on their surface which makes the myrtle berry an opaque blue color and which gives the fruit an intense and strong flavou
The myrtle picking takes place almost exclusively by hand. Although this type of harvesting affects speed, it is preferable due to its minimal impact on the plant and the ability to preserve all the characteristics of the berries intact.
Once picked, fresh berries must be immediately processed for the production of the liqueur.
Myrtle liqueur’s preparation is long but simple at the same time.
Ingredients (for 2 litres):
- 1 l of water
- 500 g myrtle berries
- 500 g granulated sugar
- 1 l of pure alcohol (90°)
Take the myrtle berries, wash them under running water and place them in a strainer to eliminate impurities. Leave a few small leaves if you want.
Once washed, leave to dry for 2 or 3 days on some clean cloths. At this point, place the myrtle berries together with the alcohol in a glass container with hermetic closure, essential for maintaining aromas and perfumes intact. Store the container in a dark, cool place for approximately 40-50 days.
After the resting time, drain the berries.Using a clean cloth, squeeze the berries gently to extract the juice.
In the meantime, boil the water on the stove and when it has almost reached boiling temperature, begin to slowly dissolve the sugar. Once the syrup composed of water and sugar has cooled completely, add the alcohol flavored with myrtle berries and mix the resulting liqueur with a wooden spoon. Using a strainer, filter the liqueur and then, using a funnel, transfer it into the glass bottles.
Before tasting the myrtle liqueur, it must rest in a cool place for at least a month. Then all that remains is to sip the excellent digestive with its typically Mediterranean aroma at room temperature.