Herb: Bayberry


Latin name: Myrica heterophylla


Family: Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)



Medicinal use of Bayberry:

The following notes are for the closely related M. cerifera. It is assumed that they also apply to this species. The root bark is astringent, emetic (in large doses), sternutatory, stimulant and tonic. It is harvested in the autumn, thoroughly dried then powdered and kept in a dark place in an airtight container. It is used internally in the treatment of diarrhoea, jaundice, fevers, colds, influenza, catarrh, excessive menstruation, vaginal discharge etc. Externally, it is applied to indolent ulcers, sore throats, sores, itching skin conditions, dandruff etc. The wax is astringent and slightly narcotic. It is regarded as a sure cure for dysentery and is also used to treat internal ulcers. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers and externally as a wash for itchy skin.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Evergreen
Shrub

Height:
3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

Flovering:
May

Habitat of the herb:

Bogs and low wet sites of coastal woodlands.

Edible parts of Bayberry:

The following notes are for the closely related M. cerifera. It is assumed that they also apply to this species. Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is about 2 - 4mm in diameter with a single large seed. There is very little edible flesh and this is of poor quality. Leaves and berries are used as a food flavouring. An attractive and agreeable substitute for bay leaves, used in flavouring soups, stews etc. The dried leaves are brewed into a robust tea.

Other uses of the herb:

The following notes are for the closely related M. cerifera. It is assumed that they also apply to this species. A wax covering on the fruit is extracted by scalding the fruit with boiling water and immersing them for a few minutes, the wax floats to the surface and is then skimmed off. The fruit is then boiled in water to extract the wax from the pulp and once more the wax is skimmed off. It is then strained through a muslin cloth and can be used to make aromatic candles, sealing wax etc. Candles made from this wax are quite brittle but are less greasy in warm weather. They are slightly aromatic, with a pleasant balsamic odour, and do not smoke when put out, making them much more pleasant to use that wax or tallow candles. The wax is also used in making soaps. About 1 kilo of wax can be obtained from 4 kilos of berries. A blue dye is obtained from the fruit. The plant can be grown as an informal hedge, succeeding in windy sites. Wood - light, soft, brittle, fine-grained. The wood weighs 35lb per cubic foot. It is of no commercial value.

Propagation of Bayberry:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Stored seed germinates more freely if given a 3 month cold stratification and then sown in a cold frame. Germination is usually good. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a cold frame for the first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up and overwinter in a cold frame then plant out in late spring or early summer. Fair to good percentage. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Bogs and low wet sites of coastal woodlands.

Known hazards of Myrica heterophylla:

Although no reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, there is a report for some members of this genus that some of the constituents of the wax might be carcinogenic.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.