Herb: Northern Bayberry

Latin name: Myrica pensylvanica

Synonyms: Myrica carolinensis, Myrica cerifera latifolia

Family: Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

Medicinal use of Northern Bayberry:

The root bark is astringent and emetic in large doses. 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:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Dry or wet sterile soil near the coast.

Edible parts of Northern Bayberry:

Fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is about 4mm in diameter and contains a single large seed. There is very little edible flesh and this is of poor quality. The leaves and fruit are used as a food flavouring in soups etc. A bay leaf substitute, imparting a delicate aroma and subtle flavour. The herb is removed before the food is served.

Other uses of the herb:

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. 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. A green dye is obtained from the leaves. The plant is very wind hardy and can be grown as an informal hedge.

Propagation of Northern Bayberry:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Barely cover the seed and keep it moist. 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 the 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. Fair to good percentage. Cuttings of mature wood in November/December in a frame. Layering in spring. Division of suckers in the dormant season. Plant them out direct into their permanent positions.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry or wet sterile soil near the coast.

Known hazards of Myrica pensylvanica:

There is a report that some of the constituents of the wax might be carcinogenic.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.