Plant notes: Lemon myrtle

Lemon myrtle in flower.

Lemon myrtle

Backhousia citriodora



  • tropical, subtropical climates
  • a tree of the NSW and Queensland rainforest.
  • evergreen tree to to 20m in height in the wild
  • commonly growing to around five metres in cultivation
  • dense canopy
  • slow growing
  • two to three years to flowering of scented, small white blooms.
  • leaves used as lemon flavouring for food
  • leaves and flowers used in savory dishes and to make a food dressing
  • made into a lemon flavoured tea
  • used in Australian native foods industry
  • reputed to repel insects
  • attracts bees.

Food use notes:

  • harder, older leaves used in food preparation
  • add leaves toward end of cooking as cooking reduces flavour
  • leaves can be dried and crushed
  • oil can be distilled to scent perfume
  • use in confectionery and in aromatherapy.

Indigenous uses:

  • culinary flavouring
  • leaves and oil used in healing.

Uses in landscape design:

  • consider size of mature specimen in design; size may be usuitable for smaller home and community gardens
  • a tree for large spaces
  • shade tree
  • food source
  • component of a windbreak
  • insect/bee attractant
  • incorporate in forest garden design
  • to avoid shading of garden and species requiring full sun, in the southern hemisphere plant Backhousia on southern side of garden.
  • leaves with their strong lemon scented oil.
  • from seed and cuttings.
  • does best in subtropical to warm temperate climates
  • prefers full sun
  • will grow in light shade
  • prefers sheltered sites
  • prefers slightly acidic and well-drained soils
  • can be pruned
  • can be grown in a large pot
  • does not tolerate frost
  • susceptible to myrtle rust fungal disease.
  • leaves may be gleaned where it occurs in the wild or in public places
  • practice the gleaners’ ethics of taking only what is needed and not damaging the plant or its ecosystem is followed.

None found.

Leaves and flowers of the lemon myrtle.
Checking out a young lemon myrtle.

Photos: Russ Grayson.

  • using biological resources to fullfill the needs of people and of natural systems is one of permaculture’s design principles; Bill Mollison, one of the originators of the design system, described doing this as working with, not against, nature
  • everything gardens, Bill wrote, his way of saying that living things alter their environments to suit their needs; in permaculture design, we select plant species that supply our needs while meeting the needs of natural systems.

When selecting species for use in design, consider:

  • plant suitability for your climate
  • how plants would benefit people and their environments
  • the multiple roles for plants — food, windbreak, habitat, fuelwood, environmental modification, shade, wildlife habitat, psychological, aesthetic etc
  • where to best locate the plant in a planting plan
  • any cautions such as toxicity, irritation, potential for spread in ecosystems.



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Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.