Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

14 Interesting Facts About Lemon Myrtle

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Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) is an aromatic Australian rainforest tree that produces a powerful lemon-scented essential oil. The leaves of the lemon myrtle tree have been used as a food flavoring and in medicines by Australian aboriginal peoples for thousands of years.

More recently, lemon myrtle essential oil and dried leaf products have become popular worldwide as a refreshing, uplifting aroma and flavoring. The lemon myrtle plant also has antimicrobial properties that make it useful for health and beauty products.

Keep reading to learn 14 fascinating facts about this distinctive Australian native plant.

Facts About Lemon Myrtle

DSC03743 - Backhousia citriodora - Lemon Myrtle
DSC03743 – Backhousia citriodora – Lemon Myrtle by RaeAllen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .
  1. Lemon myrtle has an intense, sweet lemon fragrance.
    • The leaves of lemon myrtle contain citral, the main component in lemon peel oil, giving them an intense sweet lemon aroma and flavor.
    • Lemon myrtle essential oil is one of the most concentrated sources of citral, containing over 90%. This gives it stronger lemon notes than lemon verbena or lemon balm.
  2. It is native to the subtropical rainforests of eastern Australia.
    • Lemon myrtle occurs naturally in subtropical rainforests along Australia’s eastern coast, from the state of Victoria up into central Queensland.
    • It thrives in warm, humid environments in shady and semi-shady positions.
  3. Lemon myrtle has been used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years.
    • Australian aboriginal peoples have long used lemon myrtle medicinally as an antiseptic, in healing salves and teas.
    • The leaves were also used to flavor foods and beverages. Early British settlers learned to use lemon myrtle from the native peoples.
  4. The leaves are dried or distilled into essential oil.
    • To capture its bright citrus notes, lemon myrtle leaves are either dried whole or distilled into a golden-colored essential oil.
    • Dried leaves and essential oil are used in teas, baking, desserts, marinades, skincare, aromatherapy, and more.
  5. Lemon myrtle has antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds.
    • Research shows that derivatives of citral in lemon myrtle called flavonoids have natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
    • These compounds may help inhibit the growth of bacteria and other microbes, suggesting benefits for health and skincare.
  6. It contains beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants.
    • In addition to citral, lemon myrtle leaves contain other beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants and vitamins that may promote health.
    • Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells against damage from compounds called free radicals.
  7. The essential oil is one of the most expensive in the world.
    • The complex steam distillation process to produce lemon myrtle essential oil makes it one of the most expensive essential oils in the world.
    • But only tiny amounts are needed to provide intense lemon fragrance and flavor.
  8. Lemon myrtle is now considered a gourmet flavor worldwide.
    • The unique lemon/lime taste and aroma of lemon myrtle has made it popular in upscale cuisines from Australia to Europe to North America.
    • Chefs use it to flavor desserts, seafood, salad dressings, cocktails, and more.
  9. It is added to high-end beauty and aromatherapy products.
    • The refreshing scent of lemon myrtle essential oil makes it a luxurious addition to soaps, perfumes, skin care, massage oils, incense, and more.
    • Products containing lemon myrtle extract can cost considerably more than mainstream brands.
  10. Lemon myrtle tea is a popular beverage in Australia.
    • A herbal tea made from the dried leaves of lemon myrtle is enjoyed in Australia for its uplifting citrus flavor and aroma.
    • The tea may have potential benefits as an anti-inflammatory, but more studies are needed on its effects in humans.
  11. It can be used as an ornamental plant in home gardens.
    • With shiny evergreen leaves and attractive white summer flowers, lemon myrtle makes a handsome ornamental plant for home gardens.
    • For maximum lemon scent, periodically prune leaves for kitchen use or oil distillation.
  12. Lemon myrtle is now grown commercially, mostly in plantations.
    • Due to overharvesting of wild plants, lemon myrtle is now mainly grown on farms and plantations to produce leaves for commercial markets.
    • It is cultivated in other tropical locations like Hawaii and southern Europe in addition to Australia.
  13. Climate change threatens wild lemon myrtle populations.
    • Rising temperatures and declining rainfall are putting the native habitat of lemon myrtle at risk, with wild populations now diminishing.
    • Cultivation on farms and in home gardens is increasingly vital to meet demand and prevent extinction.
  14. Research is revealing more about its health benefits.
    • While traditional uses are well-established, scientists continue to uncover new health benefits of lemon myrtle for digestion, immune function, and inflammation.
    • However, larger and more definitive studies in humans are still needed to confirm many of lemon myrtle’s purported medicinal effects.

FAQ for Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Myrtle)

Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Ironwood) - cultivated
Backhousia citriodora (Lemon Ironwood) – cultivated by Arthur Chapman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .

What is Backhousia citriodora?

Backhousia citriodora, commonly known as Lemon Myrtle, is a flowering plant in the Myrtaceae family. It is endemic to subtropical rainforests in Queensland, Australia. Typically reaching up to 6 meters in height, it is known for its glossy green, lanceolate leaves and creamy-white flowers.

What are the uses of Lemon Myrtle?

Indigenous Australians have used Lemon Myrtle in cuisine and as a healing plant. The leaf is often used in cooking and as a flavor essence, while the essential oil is known for its antimicrobial properties and is used in health care and cleaning products. Lemon Myrtle is also recognized for its high citral purity, offering a “cleaner and sweeter” aroma.

How is Lemon Myrtle cultivated?

Lemon Myrtle thrives in tropical to warm temperate climates and tolerates all but the poorest drained soils. It can be grown from cuttings or seeds, with cuttings bypassing the shrubby juvenile stage. In plantations, it’s typically maintained as a shrub for easier harvesting of leaves for spice or essential oil production.

What are the ecological concerns associated with Lemon Myrtle?

A significant concern is the fungal pathogen Myrtle rust (Uredo rangelii), which severely damages new growth and threatens production. Sustainable cultivation and careful monitoring are essential to mitigate the impact of this pathogen.

Can Lemon Myrtle be used in food preparation?

Yes, Lemon Myrtle is a popular bushfood flavor known as the “Queen of the lemon herbs.” Its leaves are used in various forms like dried flakes or encapsulated flavor essence. It’s ideal for flavoring baked goods, pastas, and teas, and can replace lemon flavor in dairy-based foods without causing curdling.


With its intensely lemon-scented leaves and oil, lemon myrtle is an intriguing Australian native plant. It has a long history of use by Indigenous peoples and is now gaining global popularity as an ingredient, aroma, and natural remedy. However, wild lemon myrtle is at risk from habitat loss, making cultivation essential to meet demand. As research continues, lemon myrtle’s many touted but understudied health benefits may also come to light. This unique plant from down under is likely to continue intriguing culinarians, natural health enthusiasts, and gardeners worldwide for years to come.

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