Recognized as a most useful medicinal plant, the Bayberry (or Wax Myrtle) is a large evergreen shrub or tree, widely distributed in temperate regions. One or two varieties are hardy in cold climates. They are used in the garden for their attractive aromatic foliage and decorative fruits. Flowers appear in May before leaves are fully opened. The height varies from 2 to 12 feet, depending on variety and location.
Bayberry needs a lime-free soil. Some species grow in poor, sandy soil, but most prefer a moist, peaty soil. Leaf mold added to the soil is also beneficial. It is propagated by seed, layers, and suckers.
Wax of the berries is used to make fragrant candles. To obtain the wax, boil the berries in water. The wax float to the surface and can be removed when hardened.
Family: Myricaceae (Wax Myrtle Family)
Other Names: Candle berry, Wax berry, Wax myrtle, Tallow shrub
Flowers: March – April
Parts Used: Root bark
Habitat: Sandy swamps, marshes, and woodlands from southern New Jersey to Florida and west to Arkansas and Texas.
Constituents: Tannins, Myricadiol, Myricitrin, Resin, Gum
History: 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. Late, Louisiana settlers adopted the plant and drank Bayberry wax in hot water “as a certain cure for the most violent cases of dysentery,” according to a medical account from 1722.
During the early 19th century, Bayberry was popularized by Samuel A. Thomson, a New England herbalist and creator of the first patent medicines. He touted it as second only to red pepper for producing “heat” within the body. Thomson recommended Bayberry for colds, flu, and other infectious diseases in addition to diarrhea and fever.
Properties: Astringent, tonic.
Main Uses: 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.
Fever – The antibiotic myricitrin also helps reduce fever, thus lending credence to Bayberry’s use among the Choctaw Indians.
Caution: In large doses, Bayberry root bark may cause stomach distress, nausea, and vomiting. Those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as colitis, for example, 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, for example, should consult their physicians before using it.
Preparation And Dosages:
Decoction: Boil 1 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.
Tincture: Fresh root bark 1:2, dry root bark 1:5 in 60% alcohol. Take 20 to 60 drops, 2 to 4 times per day. As gargle, mix drops in a little water and gargle several times a day.