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Wax myrtle/Bayberry

Wax myrtle shrub

Morella cerifera (Myrica cerifera) (wax myrtle, wax berry, bayberry, tallow shrub, muckle bush, American bayberry)

Family: Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

Medicinal part: Leaves and root bark

Solvent: Boiling water

Bodily influence: Astringent, Stimulant, Tonic, Diuretic

Leaves: Antispasmodic, astringent, relaxant

Description: medium shrub to small tree, oblanceolate leaves, 4-6 x long as wide, evergreen.  The leaves are strongly aromatic. Look for yellow resin dots/glands on the underside of the leaf.  Female and male plants are separate, female plants have minute flowers in tiny spikes in the axils of last year’s leaves. Male flowers are yellow and cylindrical to 1 inch long.  Female flowers mature into fruit that resides below the current leaves, the fruit appears “granulated” because the bony seed is studded with small black particles overlaid with greenish-white wax resulting in a bluish appearance’ fruits may persist on branches for 2-3 years.

Yellow resin dots on underside of leaf

Habitat: Pinelands, Maritime forests, brackish marshes, Coastal sand dunes, now widely planted as an ornamental or landscaping shrub, able to naturalize in suburban woodlands in the Piedmont.

Range: NJ south to FL and west to TX.  Widespread in the Coastal Plain of the Southeastern United States.  Southeastern Mexico, Bahamas and Greater Antilles. 

Uses: Wax myrtle is considered one of the most useful plants in the Medical Herbal practice.  The leaves make a tea that can be used as a diuretic or a for a remedy of “aching back” in the belief that it “cleans out the kidneys”.  The leaf infusion produces a pleasant “tisane” that can relieve flatulence, employed as an stomachic.  Leaves and terminal twigs can be boiled for 3-4 minutes to help support or remedy diarrhea, severe colds and fever.  Traditionally in the South Carolina, wax myrtle was combined with long leaf pine tops (Pinus palustris), life everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium), and lemon to combat a cold.  In the Bahamas, wax myrtle, known as muckle bush, the leaf decoction is given to the mother around the time of childbirth to “keep her supple” and a bath is made with the herb to help keep her relaxed. Also, a decoction of the leaves is used for arthritis to “keep the limbs supple”, the tea can be used for bath as well. 

Other utility: Leaves and fruits used for flavoring soups, used as a substitute for hops.  Leaves were placed over meat to keep flies away and strewn around dooryards, beds, and chicken houses to repel fleas.  The fresh fruits are boiled in water to release the greenish wax, which can be skimmed off to make a fragrant bayberry candle. 

Pharmacological notes: the plants contain various flavonoids, tannins, terpenoids, waxes, gum and resin. 

Personal experience:  The tea from this plant is a strong diuretic.  It has a very pleasant taste and can be drunken daily as a tonic. 

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