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BAYBERRY (Myrica Cerrifera)

 

Common names

Wax myrtle, candleberry tallow shrub

 

Medicinal part

Root bark

 

Description

Native to the United States from New Jersey to the Great Lakes and south to Florida and Texas, the bayberry tree is an evergreen that can reach 30 feet or more. Its dense, narrow toothed leaves are aromatic when crushed, and its yellow flowers, which appear in spring, produce nutlike fruits that are covered with the wax from which colonists made candles. The root bark is harvested when the plant is mature.

The early American colonists found the abundant bayberry tree a source for making fragrant candles, until they learned from the Choctaw Indians that the herb could be made into a decoction for treatment of fever. A 19th-century New England herbalist, Samuel A. Thomson, creator of some of the first patent medicines, said it produced "heat" within the body and recommended bayberry for respiratory ailments, in addition to fever. Then, unfortunately, it was forgotten as a medicinal, until the recent revival of interest in herbal remedies.

The root bark contains an antibiotic called myricitrin that is effective against a wide range of bacteria and protozoa, a finding that supports its traditional use as a specific for diarrhea and dysentery, as well as helping to reduce fever.

According to health writer Earl Mindell, bayberry is one of the oldest remedies for hemorrhoids, due no doubt to its powerful astringent qualities.

In India, the powdered root bark is combined with ginger to combat cholera, and it is considered to be a cleansing agent for the blood.

Dosage

Capsules: Take 1 to 3 daily or as recommended by the manufacturer. Extract: Take 10 to 20 drops mixed with water or juice.

Decoction: Add 1 teaspoon of the powdered root bark to a pint of boiling water and steep 10 to 20 minutes. Cool. Drink up to 2 cups daily. It's bitter and very astringent. Its high tannin accounts for this; adding milk counteracts the tannin, which can irritate the stomach lining. If you have a history of stomach disorders, do not drink bayberry tea.

Mouthwash: Gargle with a liquid mixture according to directions given above to sooth sore or sensitive gums.

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