Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
I wasn’t going to do a profile for bayberry because of some debate as to whether or not its constituents have been linked to certain cancers. However, due to its history in Native medicine, I have decided to include it anyway. Too often the scary headlines come from a lack of sound research, contaminated or improperly collected specimens, chemically contaminated growing conditions, or other human errors. Just keep in mind that there is a potential risk that is still being researched, so I don’t necessarily suggest using this herb internally on any patients.
Other common names: Wax Myrtle. Myrica. Candle Berry. Arbre à suif. Myricae Cortex. Tallow Shrub. Wachsgagle
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Astringent, cholagogue, emetic (large doses, use for this purpose is not advised), bitter, vermifuge, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, styptic, antimicrobial, spermacide (I wouldn’t recommend using it on genitals, myself), aromatic, digestive.
You can harvest the root bark in spring or autumn, berries tend to be late in the year.
Root bark, berries (and the wax that covers them)
Gums, triterpenes (including taraxerol, myricadiol, taraxerone), resins, flavonoids (including myricitrin), phenols, gallic acid and tannins.
Used to treat diarrhea and hemorrhoids, fever, swelling and other inflammation, colds and flues, to staunch bleeding or heal wounds, kill sperm (but I wouldn’t use it like that), kill parasites, improve bile flow, and aid in the adrenal metabolism of potassium and sodium. Draws foreign bodies and toxins out of the skin.
A decoction of root bark has been used to treat the above conditions, invigorating the body and drying up moist conditions such as diarrhea, which it is renowned for. If taken in large doses it becomes an emetic and has been used to induce vomiting (historically, but do not do this with your own patients, there are much safer ways). It can encourage the expelling of nasal mucous in people with head colds.
Use in a poultice to heal up hemorrhoids, an ulcer or abscess that has not been responding to traditional treatments. Bayberry’s strong tannin content has the capacity to significantly staunch bleeding and heal up wounds – as always use caution to wash the wound thoroughly so that it does not heal over too fast on the surface and cause a deeper infection. It makes a very good gargle for loose teeth, and in Native medicine it was quite well known for this and other oral applications.
Do not give to children under 18 or the elderly.
Do not use if pregnant or nursing. Do not use internally or topically on mucous membranes in patients with a history of any cancer. Do not use internally if patient has kidney stones, obstructed bile duct or gallstones. Root bark from bayberry has been a traditional medicine for centuries, however some have found that one particular tannin composition found in the root bark has the potential to cause malignant tumours in rats when isolated in a lab. While tannins as a constituent have been accused of both causing and preventing cancer (usually in an unadulterated herb, the chemicals counter-balance each other to eliminate the risk – but it did become a problem in Asian countries where tea is drank throughout the day, every day, in amounts that are not suitable for potent medicinal herbs), there is an easy solution to mediate the risk. First of all, do not use internally in large doses or for prolonged periods of time. Secondly, when you do use the root bark as a tea internally, add milk. This prevents the potential concern of the tannins causing GIT cancers, although keep in mind that it will also compromise the astringent properties. In the UK where tea high in tannins is drank just as regularly, but more often with milk, the cancer rate has not increased at all. That being said, I would not give bayberry to anyone with a history of cancer, just in case.
I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns.
The berries were often used to make candles – their wax was extracted and used for their pleasant aroma. First Nations people used bayberry to ward off the restless spirits of the night, prevent disease in the household and draw prosperity.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.