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myrtle

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms

Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References
Evidence Based Rating Scale
 

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.

Volatile oils, tannins, and other compounds are extracted from the leaves, bark, and dried berries of myrtle to use for medicinal purposes. The berries are also used as a substitute for black pepper to flavor foods, and myrtle leaves are sometimes wrapped around meat to add flavor during cooking. However, they are not eaten: despite having a pleasant, refreshing odor, myrtle has a bitter taste.

Health Benefits

Some of the folk uses for myrtle make sense given modern discoveries in laboratory studies. For example, extracts of the Herb contain antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and astringent compounds that probably explain myrtle's enduring use for wounds and coughs. 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.

Specifically, myrtle may help to:

Combat upper respiratory infections. Myrtle has a long history of use for treating coughs and respiratory conditions like bronchitis, sinusitis, and whooping cough. Laboratory studies have shown that tannin found in the leaves of myrtle, called myrtucommulone, has anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce swelling in the chest and lungs. (1) Most available scientific evidence comes from German studies that use a volatile oil combination called myrtol (Gelomyrtol®), which includes Oils of myrtle, lime, pine, and eucalyptus. It is one of the most commonly prescribed herbal medications in Germany. (13) In a 1998 study of more than 500 German children ages 4 to 12 with acute and chronic bronchitis and sinusitis, 120 to 300 milligrams of standardized myrtol was used to treat symptoms. After two weeks of treatment, standardized myrtol had relieved symptoms such as sinus pressure, headache, and mucus buildup in 90% of the children. Taking myrtol also helped to improve stuffy nose and the ability to clear mucus in more than 60% of participants. (2) In a double-blind, randomized study of 246 adult patients with chronic bronchitis during the winter, long-term treatment with standardized myrtol significantly reduced the frequency and intensity of flare-ups and the need for antibiotics to treat them compared to placebo. Treatment also improved overall well-being, reducing cough and phlegm buildup. (3) In a large, multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 676 adults with acute bronchitis, treatment with standardized myrtol (300 milligrams four times daily for two weeks) was more effective than placebo and comparable to the conventional medications cefuroxime and ambroxol, in relieving symptoms and reducing the number of sick days. (4) More research is needed to confirm or refute these preliminary findings.

Heal wounds. Laboratory studies of myrtle have shown evidence of fungicidal, disinfectant, antibacterial, and astringent properties that account for the herb's long history of use to heal wounds. (5-9) In fact, the antibacterial action of myrtle has been shown to be as effective as some antibiotics, including penicillin. (7) In a 2002 study of a bacterium (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) cultured from burns in 92 adult cases, standardized myrtle extract was as effective as the antibiotic tetracycline in preventing the growth and spread of bacteria. (8) Preliminary laboratory studies also indicate that the anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the antibacterial and antiproliferative activities, of the myrtucommulone compounds of myrtle make it an effective treatment against acne. (9) More research is needed. 

Treat diabetes. Laboratory studies in the 1980s indicated that an Extract of myrtle lowered blood sugar in mice. (10) Further studies have also shown this hypoglycemic effect in other animals. (11, 12) However, there is still no clear evidence that myrtle is safe and effective for people who have diabetes. Human studies are needed.

Forms

  • Capsule

  • Extract

  • Herb

  • Tea

Dosage Information

Myrtle extract is made from the plant's leaves and seeds. The typical dose is 200 mg daily (or 1 to 2 milliliters of the essential oil daily by mouth). It should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor. (5) Topical formulations are not commonly used in North America.

For respiratory conditions: 120 to 300 mg of standardized myrtol (Gelomyrtol forte) has been used in children under 12; 300 mg three to four times daily has been used in adults.

For wound healing: Topical application guidelines have not been established.

For diabetes: No dosage has been established for humans.

Guidelines for Use

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; or with Vinca minor).

General Interaction

Avoid taking myrtle along with insulin or oral sulfonylurea medications; the herb might dangerously increase the blood glucose (sugar)-lowering effect of the medications resulting in hypoglycemia.

Possible Side Effects

Avoid taking more myrtle than commonly recommended; large amounts taken orally can cause breathing and circulation problems, low blood pressure, and other complications.

Cautions

Given myrtle's apparent effect on blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should not take the herb orally unless under the supervision of a physician.

Myrtle may affect liver function. For this reason, those with a liver ailment should avoid taking the herb. Myrtle may alter the effect of other drugs that are metabolized in the liver. 

Avoid use in pregnancy and lactation; there is no safety data. 

Facial contact with myrtle oil preparations may cause severe respiratory problems in infants or small children 

Avoid taking the undiluted oil internally. Ingestion of more than 10 grams of one of its components (cineole) may cause severe respiratory problems. 

References 

1. Rossi A, Di Paola R, Mazzon E,et al. Myrtucommulone from Myrtus communis exhibits potent anti-inflammatory effectiveness in vivo. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2009 Apr;329(1):76-86.
2. Sengespeik HC, Zimmermann T, Peiske C, de Mey C. Myrtol standardized in the treatment of acute and chronic respiratory infections in children. A multicenter post-marketing surveillance study. Arzneimittelforschung. 1998 Oct;48(10):990-4.
3. Meister R, Wittig T, Beuscher N, de Mey C. Efficacy and tolerability of myrtol standardized in long-term treatment of chronic bronchitis. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Study Group Investigators. Arzneimittelforschung. 1999 Apr;49(4):351-8.
4. Matthys H, de Mey C, Caris C, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of myrtol standardized in acute bronchitis. A multi-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel group clinical trial vs. cefuroxime and ambroxol. Arzneimittelforschung. 2000 Aug;50(8):700-11.
5. Gurenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 1st ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.
6. Alem G, Mekonnen Y, Tiruneh M, Mulu A. Invitro antibacterial activity of crude preparation of myrtle (Myrtus communis) on common human pathogens. Ethiop Med J. 2008 Jan;46(1):63-9.
7. Rotstein A, Lifshitz A, Kashman Y. Isolation and antibacterial activity of acylphloroglucinols from Myrtus communis. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1974 Nov;6(5):539-42.
8. Al-Saimary IE, Bakr SS, Jaffar T, et al. Effects of some plant extracts and antibiotics on Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolated from various burn cases. Saudi Med J. 2002 Jul;23(7):802-5.
9. Fiorini-Puybaret C, Aries MF, Fabre B, et al. Pharmacological properties of Myrtacine® and its potential value in acne treatment. Planta Med. 2011 Sep;77(14):1582-9.
10. Elfellah MS, Akhter MH, Khan MT. Anti-hyperglycaemic effect of an extract of Myrtus communis in streptozotocin-induced diabetes in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 1984 Aug;11(3):275-81.
11. Onai S, Timur S, Okutucu B, Zihnioglu F. Inhibition of alpha-glucosidase by aqueous extracts of some potent antidiabetic medicinal herbs. Prep Biochem Biotechnol. 2005;35(1):29-36.
12. Sepici-Dincel A, Acikgoz S, Cevik C, et al. Effects of in vivo antioxidant enzyme activities of myrtle oil in normoglycaemic and alloxan diabetic rabbits. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Apr 4;110(3):498-503.
13. Schulz V, Hansel R, Blumenthal M, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2004.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.

 

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

Acne

   

Laboratory studies indicate potential efficacy. More research is needed. (9)

Bronchitis  
Preliminary studies have shown efficacy of a combination myrtle product (myrtol) in children and adults. More research is needed. (1-4)
Burns  
Preliminary laboratory studies indicate potential efficacy to speed healing. Human studies are needed. (5-9)
 

Cough  
Preliminary studies have shown efficacy of a combination myrtle product (myrtol) in children and adults. More research is needed. (1-4)
Cuts and scrapes  
Preliminary laboratory studies indicate potential efficacy to speed healing. (5-9)
Diabetes  
Preliminary studies in animals indicate hypoglycemic effects. Human studies are needed. (10-12)
 

 Sinusitis  
Preliminary studies have shown efficacy of a combination myrtle product (myrtol) in children and adults. More research is needed. (1)
 

 


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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