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Bayberry

Myrica cerifera

American Bayberry
Arbe a Suif
Bayberry
Bayberry Bush
Bayberry Wax Tree
Candle Berry
Katphala
Myrica
Myricae Cortex
Tallow Shrub
Vegetable Tallow
Vegetable Wax
Wachsgagl
Wax Myrtle
Yang-mei

Parts used
Uses
Habitat and cultivation
Constituents
How much to take
Collection and harvesting
Combinations

Herbs gallery - bayberry


Myrica pensylvanica Loisel which is commonly known as the bayberry plant, is a deciduous shrub widely found throughout the eastern and southern parts of the USA. Bayberry belongs to the Myricaceae family and is closely related to the wax myrtle Myrica cerifera Loisel, a larger evergreen shrub or tree also known as southern bayberry. Both species have therapeutic properties and have been in popular use for long. Both plants also produce small bluish white berries. The wax extracted from these berries is used to make the sweet smelling bayberry candles, particularly popular at Christmas time.

Herbalists stake their reputations on bayberry’s usefulness, some even claiming that it is the most useful medication in botanic practice; and folk medicine has over the ages found many uses for it. A warm concoction made from the root bark of both the species is used as a tonic and has stimulant and astringent properties. It is said to be especially good in the treatment of diarrhea. Because of its irritating action on the stomach, bayberry bark acts as an emetic when used in large doses. During head colds, the medication is used to increase secretion of nasal mucus and when applied in the form of poultices, it is reputed to be useful in the treatment of chronic indolent ulcers.

However, it seems very little study has gone into the herbal properties of bayberry. Not much herbal information is available and whatever information there is is archaic. Some constituents of bayberry were identified way back in 1863 using then existing analytical procedures. Those procedures are now considered as extremely primitive. Still books published as recently as 1980 list only those constituents determined using the outdated methods. These compounds include a principle called myricinic acid, which has never been characterized chemically. Also listed are an acrid and an astringent resin, tannic acid and gallic acid.

Recent chemical investigations have brought to light several interesting chemical compounds in bayberry root bark. It has been found that three triterpenes – myricadiol, taraxerol and taraxerone are present in the medication. Myricitrin, which is a flavonoid glycoside, was also found in the bark. Of these compounds, myricadiol is reported to have mineral corticoid activity. Studies have shown that it influences sodium and potassium metabolism in the same way the steroid principles of the adrenal cortex does. Myricitrin acts as a choleretic and stimulates flow of bile. But it is also an agent toxic to bacteria, paramecia and sperm.

None of the studies have confirmed the medication’s usefulness for any particular condition. That is a hypothesis that remains to be proven. But even if it were useful; its safety, at least in large doses, is doubtful because of the potential carcinogenic nature of tannin present in it. In experiments conducted on rats over a relatively long term, a significant number of them developed malignant tumors when injected with bayberry root bark extracts. These results raise questions about the safety of bayberry for human consumption. Since none of the available data proves the medicinal value of the root bark, it seems the prudent thing to do is to restrict the use of bayberry to its berries. They at least provide us with sweet smelling candles.

PARTS USED

Bark of root.

USES

Bayberry is used extensively in folk medicine for a variety of ailments. Its most common uses are to increase blood circulation, to keep bacterial infections at bay and to stimulate perspiration. It has always been believed that the herb helps to strengthen local resistance to infection. It is also a favorite in the treatment of the common cold, flu, and coughs, and is thought to tighten and dry mucous membranes. A gargle with the herb is used in treating sore throats and an infusion is believed helpful for strengthening spongy gums. Bayberry's astringency is thought to help intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and mucous colitis. A paste made from the powdered root bark is applied onto ulcers and sores. An infusion is even alleged to help treat excess vaginal discharge.

HABITAT AND CULTIVATION

The coastal regions of eastern and southern US is the main habitat of the bayberry. But it can sometimes be found as far west as Texas.
Autumn or Spring is the best time to collect bayberry's root bark.

CONSTITUENTS

Bayberry contains triterpenes (including taraxerol, taraxerone, and myricadiol), flavonoids, tannins, phenols, resins, and gums. Myricadiol has a mild effect on potassium and sodium levels. Myricitrin is antibacterial.

HOW MUCH TO TAKE

Decoction: pour 1 teaspoonful of the bark into a cup of cold water and boil it. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes. This is to be drunk three times a day.
Tincture: take 1 - 3ml of the tincture three times a day.

COLLECTION AND HARVESTING

The root of the bayberry is to be unearthed in spring or autumn and its bark is pared off. It is then dried.

COMBINATIONS

A digestive astringent is made out of bayberry in combination with comfrey root and agrimony.


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