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Lemon myrtles grow as an evergreen bush or tree and may become up to 8 m high and 3 m wide. They are frost-tender and grow in temperate to subtropical climate only. Originally native to Queensland it now grows in other parts of Australia as well. The leaves of lemon myrtle are long and pointed. They contain an essential oil, made mostly out of citral. Out of all plants, lemon myrtle leaves have the highest concentration of citral. It has a strong lemon aroma with hints of eucalypt.
Closely related to lemon myrtle are cinnamon myrtle (bot.: Backhousia myrtifolia) and aniseed myrtle (bot.: Backhousia anisata). The leaves of these trees smell and taste strongly of cinnamon and aniseed.
Culinary use of lemon myrtle
Lemon myrtle is used fresh and dried. In contrast to many other spices the aroma of lemon myrtle gets stronger when the leaves are dried. Too much heat during cooking on the other hand destroys the aroma. It should therefore be added towards the end of the cooking time. Nowadays ground lemon myrtle is available even in mainstream supermarkets. It is a very versatile spice, which may be used in infusions, for baking, in savoury dishes and desserts. Lemon myrtle is very popular combined with chicken and fish or in ice cream and cookies. In general 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon myrtle per 500 g of other ingredients are used.