Monarchs visiting a bayberry shrub

Bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica or
Morella caroliniensis

Family: Myricaceae, the Wax-Myrtle Family

Description: Native deciduous shrub, though leaves often persist into the winter. Blue-gray wax coats achenes, leaves dark and shiny above, pale underneath, with few to no teeth, red, globular buds. Aromatic.

Abundance: Common

Habitat: Wet or dry coastal beaches and headlands

Plant Parts Used: Achenes, leaves, root bark

Food: Leaves used as a replacement for bay leaves in cooking, especially in soups and stews.

Medicine: Wash for wounds, laryngitis, gingivitis, sinusitis, head colds

Other: Candles, sealant

The wax on the fruits is the most commonly used part of this plant. My aunt Wanda gathers the fruits annually and boils them in a pot of water, then skims off the wax that floats at the top. This wax can be used to make a candle, or due to the low yield, to add to another wax to scent a candle. The Houma have also used bayberry in this way. This wax can also be added to tallow to make a strong sealant that John described as “a sealant like Gorilla Glue.”

Sue regularly adds the leaves to soups and stews to add a flavor similar to that of bay leaves (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae). She also uses the leaves as a cleansing, antiseptic wash for wounds. Deb considers bayberry warming, pungent, and stimulating. She especially likes to use it for treating sinusitis. The root bark taken as a tea or tincture has astringent qualities, which are helpful for treating post nasal drip, cold, damp lungs, and walking pneumonia. She said bayberry’s ability to warm the digestive system makes it particularly useful for treating an upset stomach due to mucus that goes into the digestive system as a result of post nasal drip or sinusitis, for example. She also will gargle with a tea or a few drops of the tincture in some water to use as a wash for laryngitis and gingivitis.

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.

References:

  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Moerman, Daniel. “Native American Ethnobotany: A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.” UM-Dearborn College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://herb.umd.umich.edu/&gt;.
  • Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
  • Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.
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