Alternative names: Myrica cerifera, Myrica pensylvanica Loisel, American bayberry, American vegetable tallow tree, Bayberry wax tree, Bayberry bush, Candleberry, Candle berry, Candleberry myrtle, Katphala (Sanskrit), Myrtle, Wax Myrtle, Myrica, Myricae cortex, Wax berry, Arbe a suif, Tallow shrub, Vegetable tallow, Vegetable wax, Wachsgagl, Yang-mei.
Bayberry is a most versatile native North American herb that is highly regarded by practitioners. Some herbalists claim that it is the most useful medication in botanic practice, and folk medicine has over the ages found many uses for it.
The bayberry is best known for its berries, from which a wax is derived to make fragrant bayberry candles. The dried root bark often is used medicinally. The plant is astringent, which may account for its use in diarrhea, as well as its topical use for wound healing. Bayberry also has been prepared as a gargle for treatment of sore throats. Note, however, that there is little evidence of its efficacy in treating any disease.
The early American colonists found the bayberry tree growing throughout the East, but they used it to make fragrant candles rather than medicines.
In folk medicine, bayberry was used internally as a tea for its tonic and stimulant properties, and in the treatment of diarrhea, fever and dysentery.
Nineteenth century physicians prescribed a hot tea of powdered bayberry tree bark at the first sign of a cold, cough, or flu. Powdered root bark was an ingredient in what was known as "composition powder", widely used for laryngitis, colds, flu, sinusitis and asthma.
Though still available, it is however no longer in common use.
Recent studies have highlighted several potentially useful chemical compounds in bayberry root bark. It has been found that three triterpenes – myricadiol, taraxerol and taraxerone – are present in the bark. Myricitrin, which is a flavonoid glycoside, was also found. Studies have shown that myricadiol influences sodium and potassium metabolism. Myricitrin acts as a choleretic and stimulates bile flow. But it is also an agent toxic to bacteria, paramecia and sperm.
Although little research has been performed, bayberry is said to have stimulant, astringent, emetic, antispasmodic, alterative, expectorant, diaphoretic, and tonic properties. The leaves are aromatic, and stimulant.
Bayberry contains volatile oil, starch, lignin, albumen, gum, tannic and gallic acids, acrid and astringent resins, and an acid resembling saponin. It also contains myricitrin, which is an active antibiotic.
Note that no studies at the time of writing have confirmed bayberry's usefulness for any particular condition.
Bayberry has been used extensively in folk medicine for various reasons, most commonly to increase blood circulation, keep bacterial infections at bay, and to stimulate perspiration.
Bayberry root bark contains an antibiotic chemical (myricitrin), which some believe to be effective against 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. A tea of bayberry root bark was used as an astringent and emetic for chronic gastritis and diarrhea.
Water in which the bayberry wax has been extracted is regarded as a certain cure for dysentery, and the wax itself, being astringent and slightly narcotic, is valuable in severe dysentery and internal ulcerations.
The antibiotic myricitrin that is contained in bayberry also helps reduce fever.
Used as a mouthwash for sensitive, 'spongy' or bleeding gums, and sore mouth, gargle with a liquid mixture made of extract or powder as needed. Early American settlers used the powdered bark, sometimes combined with other herbs and spices, as a toothpaste / toothpowder and for curing gingivitis.
For varicose veins or hemorrhoids: rub on a liquid mixture as needed. For treatment of chronic superficial (indolent) ulcers, it is said to be useful when applied in the form of poultices. A paste made from the powdered root bark is applied onto ulcers and sores.
Because of its irritating action on the stomach, bayberry bark acts as an emetic when used in large doses. It is therefore an excellent emetic following any kind of narcotic poisoning (poisoning caused by narcotic or sleep-producing drugs such as opium and its derivatives, chloral combinations, or barbital and its many subvarieties.) It is good to follow the bayberry with lobelia.
During head colds, a warm concoction made from the root bark is used to increase secretion of nasal mucus.
An infusion is said to help treat excess vaginal discharge.
Classical use of bayberry bark and bark extract involved dosage of 0.5gm daily.
For a 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. If the taste is too bitter and astringent then a tincture might be preferable.
For a tincture, take 1⁄2 a 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.
Bayberry affects the sodium-potassium balance in the body, so those patients for whom this is important – such as people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or congestive heart failure, for example – should seek medical advice before using bayberry.
The safety of large doses or long-term use is questionable because of the potential carcinogenic nature of the tannin present in it.
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