Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)

Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)

Excerpt from PFAF.Org

Herb: Bayberry, Wax Myrtle
(Myrica cerifera) 

-Excerpt from: Plants For A Future - PFAF.ORG

Medicinal use of Bayberry: Wax myrtle is a popular herbal remedy in North America where it is employed to increase the circulation, stimulate perspiration and keep bacterial infections in check. The plant should not be used during pregnancy. The root bark is antibacterial, 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 diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, jaundice, fevers, colds, influenza, catarrh, excessive menstruation, vaginal discharge etc. Externally, it is applied to indolent ulcers, sore throats, spongy gums, 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.

Habitat of the herb: Thickets on sandy soil near swamps and marshes, also on dry arid hills in which situation it is often only a few centimeters tall.

Edible parts of Bayberry: Leaves and berries are used as a food flavoring. They make an aromatic, attractive and agreeable substitute for bay leaves, and can be used in flavoring soups, stews etc. The dried leaves are brewed into a robust tea.

Other uses of the herb:
A wax covering on the fruit contains palmitic acid and 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 odor, 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 them 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 then plant out in late spring or early summer. Fair to good percentage. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb: Thickets on sandy soil near swamps and marshes, also on dry arid hills in which situation it is often only a few centimeters tall.

Known hazards of Myrica cerifera: There is a report that some of the constituents of the wax are carcinogenic.


-Excerpt from: Green Dean at EatTheWeeds.Com

Myrica cerifera: A Tree That Makes Scents

Wax Myrtle was the Indians’ minimart of the forest. Need some spice? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. How about a little something for the peace pipe? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. Are the mosquitoes bothering you? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. Want to see a Tachycineta bicolor? Drop by the Wax Myrtle. Tree Swallows in winter love it, eating the berries in a whirlwind. If you’re a birder other winged-ones that like the high-energy berries include the Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Warblers, Vireos, Kinglets and the tiny Carolina Wren, which is more tail than bird.Native Indians used the leaves for seasoning as we would a bay leaf. The berries were used for seasoning as well but sparingly as they are waxy. Grind them and use like pepper. Though used as a seasoning, that was not the wax myrtle’s main value: The berries when boiled yield a wax that is excellent for making candles. Indeed, that is reflected in the tree’s name Myrica cerifera, MEER-ih-kuh ser-IF-er-uh.

Cerifera means “wax bearing going back to the Greek word Keri for the small bees wax candles used in church services. Myrica is Greek myrike (μυρίκη) which was  the  Greek name for the  “tamarisk” a tree that is aromatic like the wax myrtle. The aroma of the wax myrtle’s leaves can keep mosquitos away. Rub the leaves on you. The natives smoked the leaves for the same reason.

Also called the bayberry, as in Bayberry candle, the tree was used extensively by the Indians for a variety of ways including as a pain killer, a pick-me-up, a diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, tonsil gargle, for headaches, stomach aches, to kill worms  and for dysentery.

And least you think your life has not been touched by the wax myrtle, its leaves are used to improve the foaming of beer. Think of that the next time you enjoy a stein of suds. Although the berries are strong, they can be eaten fresh off the tree. They can be preserved or even made into a wine. If you don’t have a M. Cerifera you don’t despair. There are others in North America and around the world of various uses. In fact some in Asia and Africa had edible leaves. M. gale fruit and leaves have been used to flavor soups, stews, roasted meats, and seafood. They have also been used for tea. When used to help beer foam the brew is often called Gale Beer. M. californica, M. heterophylla, M. pensylvanica, M. pusilla, and M. rubra have also been used like the M. cefera.

IDENTIFICATION: Large shrub to small tree, depending on climate, to 10 or 15 feet, six to nine feet across. Olive to gray-green alternate leaves, simple, half an inch to 1.5 inches long. to half inch wide, bayberry scent when crushed. Leaves are smooth on top, hairy below with orange scent glands on both sides. Berries in attached clusters to stems and branches, fall through winter, BB size,  light green to bluish-white strong bayberry scent.

TIME OF YEAR:  Leaves year round, berries in the fall and winter

ENVIRONMENT: New Jersey to Florida, west to Arkansas and Texas and down in to Central America. It will grow under almost any conditions. It makes a nice bush for xeriscaping as it needs no attention.  It can be planted as far north as Rhode Island. Tolerant of salt spray and wind.  First cultivated in 1699

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves as is for seasoning, berries ground like pepper. Berries boil to collect wax. Most herbal applications use the bark of the root. The leaves have been used to smoke mullet.


Consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.
All photos by Wild Island Trading Company.
Purchase dried leaves here.
Purchase fresh cuttings here.


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