Sweet Gale from Skye
Bog Myrtle (AKA Myrica Gale or Sweet Gale) is a plant that thrives in damp boggy conditions. It is native to the damp western fringes of Europe and can be found in a range that describes an arc up the Atlantic coast and right through the Baltic states and into Russia. It also grows across much of northern America and has a sub-species (Myrica gale ssp. Tomentosa) that occupies the same damp niches on the Pacific coasts of Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
It is a deciduous, suckering shrub with highly aromatic foliage. It bears clusters of yellow and brown catkins at the ends of the shoots in spring, followed by small, yellow-brown berries.
Bog Myrtle is an important bog species and supports many varieties of insects. It has no particular conservation status and is abundantly found. The plant material that we use for infusing our oils comes from common grazing land on the beautiful Isle of Skye. The couple of bags full that we harvest every year has little to no impact on the local environment.
Although, as a member of the Myrtaceae family, Bog Myrtle is related to Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis), Bog myrtle is a very distinct species. If you are looking to buy Bog Myrtle essential oil it is important to be clear as some companies will try and sell you Common myrtle in its place. We learnt the hard way!
Bog Myrtle has a strong place in Celtic herblore. It was previously taken as a tonic by both native American Indians and the Vikings as well as Highlanders and Islanders to combat bouts of illness and depression. Its sweet-smelling flowers were traditionally used in brewing ales and mead.
Perhaps the most famous usage of Bog Myrtle oil is as an insect repellent, especially against the notorious Highland midge. This property of Bog Myrtle essential oil has in fact been tested and proven, although we are unable to make such claims for our soap. It does smell nice though 😉
More recently Bog Myrtle attracted a lot of interest and investment and was hailed in the early part of the 21st century as “the second oil boom” and praised as a crop that could potentially rival Tea Tree (it shares many of the same properties) and something that would earn millions for hard pressed highland farmers, crofters and communities. Despite considerable investment from both the Scottish and the EU governments, the interest in Bog Myrtle appears to have fizzled out and disappeared along with the money.
We continue to make our Bog Myrtle soap in the way we always have. We know that’s how you like it. There are also plans afoot to start distilling our own Bog Myrtle essential oil in the near future.
Watch this space.