What Is It?
Myrtle (Myrtus communis), a plant native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, has traditionally been used to treat coughs and various types of respiratory infections, such as bronchitis. It also has a reputation for promoting good digestion, treating urinary tract disorders, and preventing infections in wounds.
Some of these folk uses make sense given modern discoveries in laboratory studies. For example, extracts of the herb contain anti-inflammatory and astringent compounds that likely explain myrtle’s enduring use for wounds and cough.
In addition to its anti-infective and tonic qualities, myrtle has long been viewed as a useful herb for diabetes by traditional healers in the Middle East. Laboratory studies in the 1980s indicated that an extract of the herb did, indeed, lower blood sugar in mice. However, there is still no clear indication that myrtle is safe and effective for people who have diabetes.
Myrtle extract is made from the plant’s leaves and seeds. The typical dose (1 to 2 ml of the essential oil daily by mouth) should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor. Topical formulations are not commonly used in North America.
Take care not to confuse this plant (Myrtus communis) with another “myrtle”— Madagascar myrtle (Eugenia jambolana), an unrelated plant with entirely different effects on the body.
Avoid taking myrtle along with insulin or oral sulfonylureas; the herb might dangerously increase the blood glucose (sugar)-lowering effect of the medications.
Given myrtle’s apparent effect on blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should not take the herb orally as an antidiabetic agent or for any other purpose until more research has been done.
Myrtle may affect liver function. For this reason, don’t take the herb if you have a liver ailment.
Avoid taking more myrtle than commonly recommended; large amounts taken orally can cause breathing and circulation problems, low blood pressure, and other complications.