Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All About Downy Myrtle




According to Indian folklore, Krishna created downy myrtle to feed each of the Pandava brothers, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, Looking at the fruit’s calyx, each of the five lobes allegedly represents a brother. Along with issuing a fruit in their honor, Krishna also created a union of the heavenly bodies for the brothers, gave instructions to them during the war, and offered fighting tips on how to slay various enemies.

Indonesia's representation of the five Pandava brothers


Origin of Downy Myrtle
Downy myrtle originates in South Asia from the regions encompassing India to the Philippines. While the fruit itself is not well recognized, various parts of the shrub features in several medicinal practices from Chinese medicine to Ayurveda.

Initially, plant researchers grouped downy myrtle with other plants in the Myrtus genus. When astute German explorer Justus Karl Hasskarl (1811-1894) noticed the fruits growing in the East Indies, he observed several critical distinctions between downy myrtle and other plants in the genus. In 1842, he changed the plant’s categorization from Myrtus to Rhodomyrtus.

Today, the plant’s growth remains limited to its regions of origin, including Hong Kong, Myanmar, Taiwan, Laos, Indonesia, Malayasia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Sri Lanka. It’s naturalized in Florida, Hawaii, and parts of French Polynesia. In the US, however, downy myrtle is a garden shrub.

Few, if any of these countries sell downy myrtle commercially. In fact, Hawaii and parts of Polynesia consider the plant an invasive species. New Zealand banned downy myrtle from entering its soils, and Australia monitors its growth carefully to ensure it doesn’t crowd out other native plants.

Availability of Downy Myrtle in India
Downy myrtle grows in a number of climates, from wetlands, bogs, forests and coastlines. It thrives in any elevation up to 2,400meters. The shrub fights vigorously for survival, often at the expense of other plants. Indeed, farmers grumble that it’s harder to remove downy myrtle than to grow it.

In India, the plants grow wild in the Himalayan region and function as a fire retardant. Though locals in the north eat hill gooseberries when in season, they’re not a commercial crop. Throughout the world, people grow downy myrtles for their ornamental value and bright flowers rather than their fruit. Birds also have the tendency to eat small, purple fruits long before humans can pluck them.


If looking for the fruit, a few plants grow in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve.



Checking for Ripeness in Downy Myrtle

Downy myrtle’s beautiful, vibrant flowering season is the highlight of owning a plant. The fast-growing shrub houses hundreds of pink and pinkish-white flowers. When fruiting, the shrub grows purple, grayish berries with a velvety texture. On the bush, unripe berries are greenish white and deepen in color over time. Select the fruits that are darkest in color for the sweetest, mellowest taste.




Taste of Downy Myrtle
Unripe fruits taste astringent, but develop a thick, soft texture and sweet taste when ripe. Downy myrtle’s jam-like flesh contains many small, tasteless seeds, none of which require removal. Its texture is richer than most berries and resembles a guava.


Many liken the fruit’s taste to grape, blueberries, pomegranates, and raspberries. Others give it a less favorable review, deeming it mouth puckering and astringent.  One large determinant of the taste is growing conditions: Cultivated downy myrtles taste sweeter than wild fruits.

Nutritional Value of Downy Myrtle
According to the book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods,” downy myrtle contains the following values:

47kcal
82.5g Moisture
.6g Protein
.2g Fat
.4g Minerals
5.6g Fiber
10.7g Carb
40mg Calcium
15mg Phosphorous

.9mg Iron

Health Benefits of Ceylon Hill Gooseberries
According to the book, “Encyclopedic Reference of Traditional Chinese Medicine,” downy myrtle has a number of applications, and healers have used to fruit to tonify the blood, clean the bowels, strengthen kidneys, and preserve semen.

The book, “Holistic Approaches to Liver Diseases” also lauds the root for its ability to treat anicteric viruses, infections, and acute and chronic hepatitis. Old Malaysian texts cite the fruit’s ability to treat dysentery and diarrhea. The leaves are used for similar treatments, in addition to its use as medicine post-child birth. To treat wounds, Indonesians crush the leaves and apply them as a poultice.

Like other fruits with a rich purple skin, downy myrtle contains antioxidant-rich, anticancerous anthocyanins.

--Thai scientists from Prince of Songkla University published a report indicating that the berry’s flesh, when applied topically, reduces acne.
--As per a study published in the Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, scientists in Thailand found that leaf extracts are a potent antibacterial agent.
--A 2011 Phytomedicine article reveals that the leaf extract has strong antimicrobial and anti-infective activities.

--A 2012 Journal of Organic Chemistry study indicates that the leaves inhibit proliferation of a malaria parasite




How to Open/Cut:
Every part of the berry is edible, including the skin and seeds. Remove the calyx or, crown-like leaves near the fruit’s stem, and enjoy out of hand. Eating or preparing the berry is no different than using blueberries or blackberries: chop, or add whole.

Storage:

Keep downy myrtle in the fridge, and do not remove the calyxes or wash until ready for consumption. To prevent bruising, spread the fruits apart and place in a clamshell or shallow container.

Downy Myrtle Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Its pulp, when boiled with sugar, makes a good jam and compote. Use a potato masher to pound the fruit until sufficiently pulpy. Heat the fruits in a shallow pan at a low temperature and add sugar, constantly stirring the concoction until sufficiently reduced. Transfer to a sterile jar and use the compote within a week.
--To make pie filling, mix 4 cups of downy myrtle with 2/3 cups of sugar with 1/3 cup of flour.
--Pulverize the fruits and added to sherbets and ice cream
--Add with other berries as part of a berry smoothie
--Substitute the fruit for any recipe calling for blueberry pulp

--Downy myrtle goes well in sweet bread recipes. A recipe for 12 medium-sized muffins only requires ½ cup of flesh for the taste to be noticeable.

Flavor Complements:
Fruits: Blackberry, pomegranate, Ceylon hill gooseberry, bignay, cherry, grape, jamberry, bignay, cranberry

Herbs, spices, and oil: sugar, hazelnut, almond, cashew, vanilla, lemon juice, eucalyptus, basil, rosemary, lemongrass, cardamom, ginger, rose, raisin, honey, maple syrup, jaggery, red wine

Random Facts:
Several countries plant downy myrtle for their fire-retardant properties. The shrub rebounds well after fires, too.

Jewish folklore holds that one gets 8 myrtle berries and a standing ovation upon one’s death.

Though the fruit resembles a berry, its closer relatives are guava (cattley, feijoa, Brazilian and Costa Rican guava, to name a few), Malay apple, and jaboticaba.

Scientific Name:
Rhodomyrtus tomentosa

Myrtus tomentosa
Other Names:
Gandhamalati (Sanskrit)
Cativam, kulinaval, sadevam, tevam, tevamamaram (Tamil)
Chittu jama (Telegu)
Aas, barg e maurid, burg madar (Urdu)
Baragasha, murad, vilayati mehndi (Hindi)
Murukulu gida (Kannada)
Firangimethi, murt (Marathi)
Hill gooseberry
Blueberry guava
Ceylon hill gooseberry (note: this is very different from “Ceylon gooseberry”)
Indian hill guava

Downy rose myrtle




Related fruits:
Though the fruit resembles a berry, it is actually relatives with guavas (cattley, feijoa, Brazilian and Costa Rican guava, to name a few), the Malay apple, and jaboticaba. 





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