Biological Name: Myrica cerifera
Other Names: Bayberry, American bayberry, American vegetable tallow tree, bayberry wax tree, myrtle, wax myrtle, candleberry, candleberry myrtle, tallow shrub, American vegetable wax, vegetable tallow, waxberry
Parts Used: Root bark, leaves, flowers
• Triterpenes, including taraxerol, taraxerone and myricadiol
• Flavonoids such as myricitrin
• Miscellaneous tannins, phenols, resins and gums
The early American colonists found the bayberry tree growing throughout the East, but they used it to make fragrant candles rather than medicines. Initially bayberry was used medicinally only in the South, where the Choctaw Indians boiled the leaves and drank the decoction as a treatment for fever. Later, Louisiana settlers adopted the plant and drank bayberry wax in hot water for the most violent cases of dysentery.
During the early 19th century, bayberry was popularized by Samuel A. Thomson, a New England herbalist. He touted it for producing “heat’ within the body. Thomson recommended bayberry for colds, flu, and other infectious diseases in addition to diarrhea and fever.
Contemporary herbalists recommend using the herb externally for varicose veins and internally for diarrhea, dysentery, colds, flu, bleeding gums, and sore throat.
Jethro Kloss, in his book, ‘ the Back To Eden’ describes the use of bayberry thus:
“Bayberry is excellent as an emetic after narcotic poisoning of any kind. It is good to follow the bayberry with an emetic, such as lobelia. Bayberry is also valuable when taken in the usual manner for all kinds of hemorrhages, whether from the stomach, lungs, or excessive menstruation, and when combined with capsicum it is an unfailing remedy for this. Very good in leukorrhea. Has an excellent general effect on the female organs, also has an excellent influence on the uterus during pregnancy, and makes a good douche. Excellent results will be obtained from its use in goiter. In diarrhea and dysentery, use the tea as an enema.
For gangrenous sores, boils, or carbuncles, use as a wash and poultice, or apply the powdered bayberry to the infection. The tea is an excellent wash for spongy and bleeding gums.
The tea taken internally is useful in jaundice, scrofula, and canker sores in the throat and mouth. The tea taken warm promotes perspiration, improves the whole circulation and tones up the tissues. Taken in combination with yarrow, catnip, sage, or peppermint, it is unexcelled for colds.”
As a circulatory stimulant, Bayberry plays a role in many conditions when they are approached in a holistic way. Due to its specific actions it is a valuable astringent in diarrhea and dysentery. It is indicated in mucous colitis. As a gargle it helps sore throats and as a douche it helps in leucorrhoea. It may be used in the treatment of colds. Diarrhea. Bayberry root bark contains an antibiotic chemical (myricitrin), which may fight a broad range of bacteria and protozoa. Myricitrin’s antibiotic action supports bayberry’s traditional use against diarrhea and dysentery.
Bayberry also contains astringent tannins, which add to its value in treating diarrhea.
Fever. The antibiotic myricitrin also helps reduce fever, thus lending credence to bayberry’s use among the Choctaw Indians.
Intriguing Possibility: Myricitrin promotes the flow of bile and might potentially be of value in liver and gallbladder ailments, but as yet no research demonstrates this.
Bayberry is native to the USA but widely cultivated in Europe and the British Isles. In the Southeast USA, it matures into an evergreen tree that reaches about 35 feet. Further north, the plant becomes smaller. Around the Great Lakes, mature plants rarely grow taller than 3 feet.
Bayberry has grayish bark, waxy branches, and dense, narrow, delicately toothed leaves dotted with resin glands, which produce a fragrant aroma when crushed. Yellow flowers appear in spring and produce nutlike fruits thickly covered with wax.
For a decoction, boil I teaspoon of powdered root bark in a pint of water for 10 to 15 minutes. Add a bit of milk and drink cool, up to 2 cups a day. You’ll find the taste bitter and astringent. A tincture might go down more easily.
In a tincture, take 1/2 teaspoon up to twice a day.
Bayberry should not be given to children under age 2. For older children and people over 65, start with a low-strength preparation and increase strength if necessary.
Combinations : As a digestive astringent it may be used with Comfrey Root and Agrimony. For colds and fevers combine with diaphoretics such as Pleurisy Root.
The high tannin content of bayberry makes the herb of questionable value for anyone with a history of cancer. In various studies, tannins show both pro- and anti-cancer action. Their cancer-promoting action has received more publicity, notably from a study published in the journal of the National Cancer institute, which showed that tannins produce malignant tumors in laboratory animals. But tannins have also been shown to have an anti-cancer effect against some animal tumors.
Those with a history of cancer, particularly stomach or colon cancer, should exercise caution and not use this herb. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Add milk to reduce the risk.
Other Side Effects
In large doses, bayberry root bark may cause stomach distress, nausea, and vomiting. Those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as colitis should use it cautiously. Bayberry changes the way the body uses sodium and potassium. Those who must watch their sodium/potassium balance, such as people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or congestive heart failure should consult their physicians before using it.
For otherwise healthy non-pregnant, non-nursing adults who need not pay special attention to their sodium/potassium balance, do not have gastrointestinal conditions, and have no history of stomach or colon cancer, bayberry root bark may be used cautiously in amounts typically recommended.
Bayberry should be used in medicinal amounts only in consultation with your doctor. If bayberry causes minor discomforts such as nausea or vomiting, stop using it and see your doctor.