Back To Plant Files

Common Name: Bayberry | Scientific Name: Myrica Cerifera


Bayberry was famously used to make candles by the early colonists. I gave this a try and what a nightmare it was. I picked a bushel of the black pepper sized berries, boiled them, and ended up with enough oil to make half a candle! Fortunately, the wax producing bush had been used by the Native Americans since the beginning of time and, these uses got passed onto the colonials. As a source of candles, the bush does not measure up!


Chapter from my PhD Thesis
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

Chapter from My PhD Thesis

Part Used: Bark

Chemical Constituents: Significant phytochemicals include betulin, gallic acid, myricitrin, myristic acid, and tannin. (7)

This plant is found in dry woods and open fields from Canada to Florida. It was used medicinally by the coastal tribes and became a domestic medicine amongst the early colonials. Bayberry candles, made from the fruit, were quite popular in early American history as a result of the clean light and scent they produced. Raffinesque, writing in 1830, indicates the drug was used to treat uterine haemorrhages, hysterical complaints, palsies, colic, scrofula, scrofulous swellings and sores, diarrhoea, and cholera morbus. In 1860, Gunn reports that the drug was one of the most valuable found in the new world and that it was useful in scrofula, ulcers, old sores, scarlet fever, putrid or ulcerated sore throat, diarrhoea and dysentery. (8) The drug was a primary ingredient in Thomasonian Composition Powder, used to treat colds and chills. When the Eclectic movement began, the drug was well known and widely used. Records indicate it was available in most of the apothecaries around the country by the middle 1800’s.

Eclectic Uses (1–6)
Astringent, stimulant, tonic, diaphoretic, emetic, sialagogue, errhine, antiseptic, discutient, diuretic, alterative, antispasmodic, stimulates appetite, digestion, and blood making, stimulant to the vegetative system of the nerves, corrects depraved blood, assists in the rapid removal of mercury from the system, improves excretion, secretion, and the functional activity of the glandular system.

“Profuse mucous flows; catarrhal states of the gastro-intestinal tract; atonic diarrhoea, typhoid dysentery, atony of the cutaneous circulation; full oppressed pulse. Locally and internally—sore mouth; spongy, flabby, bleeding gums; sore throat of scarlet fever when enfeebled and swollen.” (3)

Scarlatina, scarlatina in the latter stages when the tissues are swollen and enfeebled, debilitated conditions of the mucous membranes, increased secretion from the mucous membranes, catarrhal conditions of long standing with tenacious discharge, tuberculosis, jaundice, scurvy, spasmodic affections, epidemic typhoid, prostrating disease with diarrhoea, ptyalism, severe forms of measles, chronic malaria with jaundice and headaches worse in the morning, weakness and muscular soreness and aching in the limbs, subnormal temperature, conditions where the vital powers are low, coughs and colds.

Imperfect circulation to the extremities, feeble capillary circulation to the mucous membrane, feeble venous action with pulse full and arrested.

Diarrhoea, atonic diarrhoea, persistent diarrhoea accompanying prostrating disease, dysentery, epidemic dysentery, attended with general languor, debility, or atony of the bowels, catarrhal states of the digestive tract, aphthae, chronic gastritis, chronic catarrhal diarrhoea, mucoenteritis, dysentery of a typhoid nature, sore mouth and throat, sore throat of scarlet fever when the tissues are swollen and spongy, bleeding gums, spongy bleeding gums, fistula, epidemic dysentery, chronic stomatitis, foul breath, foul stomach, and faecal discharges offensive, catarrhal conditions of the bile ducts resulting in jaundice.

Arrested lochial discharges, amenorrhoea, and leucorrhea.

Paralytic or rheumatic affections of the mouth or parts adjacent.


Pathological states of the nasal membranes, nasal polyps, recent severe colds, abnormal growths of post nasal cavity, chronic nasal catarrh.

Topically in indolent ulcers, scrofulous tumours or ulcers.

The drug from Selye’s perspective

State of Resistance
The drug was used to raise resistance to epidemic typhoid, epidemic dysentery, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, scurvy, severe forms of measles, coughs, colds, and malaria.

State of Exhaustion
The drug was used when resistance could no longer be maintained and State of Exhaustion set in. The signs of that state treated with the drug included debilitated conditions of the mucous membrane, catarrhal discharge of long standing, imperfect circulation to extremities, jaundice, prostration with diarrhoea, scrofulous tumours and ulcers, feeble circulation to the mucous membrane, subnormal temperature, ulcerative degeneration of digestive mucous membrane, abnormal growths of nasal cavity, and indolent ulcers.

Adaptation Energy
From Selye’s perspective, the drug was used to augment the GAS, which suggests it increases adaptation energy. Evidence to this effect includes the following. It was used to raise resistance to infection. It was used when resistance could no longer be maintained and State of Exhaustion set in. The Eclectics said that when the vital powers were depleted, this drug should be used. It was also used topically to stimulate healing of wounds and cold ulcers.

Brekhman’s Adaptogen Criterion
An adaptogen should be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism.

Eclectic literature reports the drug is innocuous. (1–8)

The action of an adaptogen should be non-specific i.e. it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature.

Clinically, the drug was used to raise resistance to a host of acute and chronic infections. (1–6)

Experimentally, it contains compounds that increase resistance to cancer, tumours, virus (influenza, adenovirus, HIV, herpes, polio), bacteria (gram positive and negative, Staphylococcus), fungus, parasites, and free radical damage. (7)

An adaptogen may possess normalising action irrespective of the direction of the foregoing pathological changes.

Clinically, the drug was used to normalise physiological abnormalities associated with State of Exhaustion. This included abnormal temperature, imperfect circulation, diarrhoea, ulceration of the GIT, and skin ulcers. (1–6)

Experimentally, the drug contains compounds that normalise many of the aberrations associated with State of Exhaustion. This includes adrenal hormone abnormalities, inflammation, prostaglandin production, allergies, anaphylaxis, poor liver function, insulin abnormalities, hypercholesterolemia, and membrane permeability abnormalities. (7)

The drug exhibits properties consistent with Brekhman’s definition of an adaptogen. It is innocuous, it raises resistance to a wide assortment of biological threats, and it normalises function.

When the colonials landed on the East Coast of North America, life was hard. Cold, heat, and starvation physically stressed these individuals. When infections like Malaria and Giardia were added to the mix, many of the colonials could not mount sufficient resistance and died. The colonials learned from the Native Americans that Myrica cerifera could be used to raise resistance to the infections.

When the Eclectic movement began, it was well known that Myrica cerifera could be used to raise resistance to malaria. In keeping with the character of the movement, the Eclectics experimented with the drug. As an example, when the Eclectics were treating patients, malaria was less of a problem than it had been in earlier generations. Many of the swamps had been drained. Streptococcal infections, on the other hand, were more of a problem. They gave Myrica cerifera a trial in this infection and found that it raised resistance to this and other infections.

They also discovered that the drug had a place when resistance to severe acute or chronic infection could not be maintained. When the signs of State of Exhaustion set in, especially when centred on the digestive tract, the drug was employed.

Potential Clinical Applications
There is evidence suggesting the drug may have a role in raising resistance to infection. It was used clinically for this purpose and there is experimental data to this effect. This is especially the case in infections that involve the gastrointestinal tract.

Future Research
*Myrica cerifera and its effects on the GAS. The drug should be tested out in the animal model to determine its specific effects on the GAS.
*Myrica cerifera and resistance to infection.The drug was used to increase resistance to acute and chronic microbial infection. Experimentally, it contains compounds which have been demonstrated this effect. Its role in raising resistance to infection should be examined.
*Myrica cerifera and streptococcal infections. The drug was used to treat streptococcal infections. Experimentally, it contains compounds that inhibit the pathogen at the root of this infection. The drugs’ ability to increase resistance to streptococcal infections should be examined.
*Myrica cerifera and ulcerative colitis.The drug was used when State of Exhaustion manifested in the digestive tract. Symptoms like chronic ulceration, mucous membrane abnormalities, abnormal capillary supply to the mucous membrane, and abnormal secretion from the mucous membrane were all treated with the drug. Its role in raising resistance to ulcerative colitis should be examined.

The drug is available in the wild and is easily grown.

*Scudder, J. M. The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics. Published by the Author. Cincinnati. 1883. P. 551, 661.
*Watkins, Lyman. An Eclectic Compendium of The Practice of Medicine. John M.Scudder’s Sons. Cincinnati. 1895. P. 442.
*Felter, Harvey Wickes and Lloyd, John Uri. Kings’ American Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati. 1898. P. 1293.
*Fyfe, John William. Pocket Essentials of Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics. The Scudder Brothers Company. 1903. P. 184.
*Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago. 1919. P. 379.
*Lloyd Brothers. Dose Book of Specific Medicine. Lloyd Brothers. Cincinnati. 1907. P. 176.
*Dr. Dukes Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Service. USDA.
*Erichson-Brown, Charlotte. Medicinal and other uses of North American Plants. Dover Press. New York. 1979. P. 192.

Notes from the Eclectic Physicians

1883: Scudder
Bayberry is described as astringent, stimulant, tonic, diaphoretic, emetic, dialoguge, errhine, antiseptic, and discutient.

Bayberry is esteemed valuable in diarrhea and dysentery. In those complaints attended with general languor and debility, or atony of the bowels, its utility is dependant upon its astringent, stimulant, tonic, and diaphoretic action. The warm infusion acts with considerable affect upon the surface.

The same reasons seem to point to its use and utility in dysentery, it is recommended and used with the most gratifying results in scarlatina, both as a general and local agent. While the warm infusion or decoction is being taken freely as a diaphoretic and stimulant, the throat is to be thoroughly and frequently gargled with the same, loaf sugar or honey being added. Many children have been saved , it is said, by this article along, who were thought by their attending physicians to be beyond the reach of medicine……..

When masticated, it acts efficiently as a sialogogue, and may be used in paralytic or rheumatic affections occurring about the mouth or parts adjacent thereto. It is also much valued as an errhine in certain cases of the head, and in morbid states of the nasal mucous membrane.

Emetic: The Myrica cerifera or Bayberry, proves emetic if administered in large doses, and is occasionally resorted to for this purpose. Doe of the powder, one drachm, repeated every ten or fifteen minutes.

1895: Watkins:MYRICA, SP MED:
Profuse secretion of mucous, sore mouth, jaundice, chronic diarrhoea, large mucous discharges, full oppressed pulse, feeble capillary circulation. One to ten grains three times a day.

1898: Felter and Lloyd: MYRICA – BAYBERRY
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage – Bayberry bark is astringent and stimulant, and as such is valuable in debilitated conditions of the mucous membranes; in drachm doses, it is apt to occasion emesis. It was largely employed by the followers of Samuel Thomson, in catarrhal states of the alimentary tract. The bark has been successfully employed in scrofula, jaundice, diarrhoea, dysentery, aphthae, and other diseases where astringent stimulants were indicated. Specific myrica, in small doses (2 to 5 drops) will be found a good stimulant to the vegetative system of nerves, aiding the processes of digestion, blood making, and nutrition. In larger doses (5 to 20 drops) it is a decided gastric stimulant. In small doses it has been found advantageous in chronic gastritis, chronic catarrhal diarrhoea, muco-enteritis, and in dysentery having a typhoid character. It is said to restore arrested lochial discharges. Cases calling for myrica show feeble venous action, while the pulse is full and oppressed. It is not adapted to acute disorders of the alimentary tract, as a rule. A weak infusion used as an injection, is an admirable remedy in amenorrhoea and atonic leucorrhoea. Use the specific medicine or tincture internally also. In scarlatina in the latter stages, when the tissues are swollen and enfeebled, it may be used both for its antiseptic and stimulating effects (Locke).

The powdered bark, combined with bloodroot, forms an excellent application to indolent ulcers, and has likewise been employed as a snuff for the cure of some forms of nasal polypus. In the form of poultice, with elm or alone, it is a valuable application to scrofulous tumors or ulcers. The decoction is beneficial as a gargle in sore mouth and throat, and is of service in injection, in leucorrhoea and fistula, and also as a wash for ulcers, tinea capitis, etc. It also forms an excellent gum wash for tender, spongy, and bleeding gums. The leaves are reputed astringent, and useful in scurvy and spasmodic affections. Probably the M. pennsylvanica, M. carolinensis, and M. Gale, possess similar properties. Bayberry or myrtle wax, has been used by Dr. Fahnestock in epidemic dysentery with typhoid symptoms, with considerable success; it possesses mild astringent, with some narcotic properties. It is also used in the form of plaster, as an application to scrofulous and other ulcers. Dose of the powdered bark, from 20 to 30 grains; of the wax, 1 drachm; of the decoction of the leaves or bark, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces; specific myrica, 2 to 20 drops. Bayberry bark was a constituent of “Thomson’s Composition Powder or No. 6.”

Specific Indications and Uses – Profuse mucous flows; catarrhal states of the gastro-intestinal tract; atonic diarrhoea, typhoid dysentery, atony of the cutaneous circulation; full oppressed pulse. Locally and internally – sore mouth; spongy, flabby, bleeding gums; sore throat of scarlet fever when enfeebled and swollen.

1911: Fyfe
Increased secretion from the mucous membranes,they being full and relaxed, imperfect circulation in the surfaces and in the extremities, catarrhal afections of long standing, characterized by a tenacious discharge, which is often offensive and irritating. This remedy aids the processes of digestion and blood making. Myrica cerifera is stimulant, astringent, diuretic, alterative, and antispasmodic.

1919: Ellingwood: MYRICA CERIFERA
Synonyms – Bay Berry, Wax myrtle, Candle Berry, Wax berry.

Preparations – The powdered bark, from twenty to thirty grains. Of the wax, one dram. Of the decoction of leaves or bark, from two to four ounces. Tincture, from five to forty drops. Specific myrica, from two to twenty drops.

Specific Symptomatology – The agent is a stimulating astringent. it is indicated when there is excessive mucous discharge, where catarrhal conditions exist in any locality, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Also where atonic diarrhoea, or persistent diarrhoea, accompanies prostrating disease; also where there is feeble capillary circulation of the mucous membranes, accompanied with phlegmenous ulceration. Locally and internally in sore mouth, with spongy, bleeding gums.

Therapy – It is a remedy for those conditions where the vital powers are at low ebb. It aids the nutrition, stimulating the absorption of food, and promotes the restoration of depraved blood. It is considered a valuable alterative. In any condition where the mucous surfaces have lost tone, and are throwing out a profuse discharge, it may be given with advantage. It has been found valuable in epidemic dysentery. In conjunction with capsicum, its stimulating and tonic properties are plainly apparent. Combined with geranium, it is of superior benefit, where the patients have taken mercury and where ptyalism has been induced. It assists in the more rapid elimination of the mercury from the system. Combined with asclepias, it is of much value in breaking up recent severe colds. Unlike most astringents, it materially improves excretion, secretion and the functional action of the glandular system.

In chronic stomatitis, of whatever form, where the breath is bad, and there is slow ulceration, the mucous membranes being dark colored, this remedy in combination with other indicated remedies, will effect a rapid cure. If the stomach is foul and the breath and fecal discharges are offensive, it should be given with an emetic, until the stomach is thoroughly evacuated. In combination with sanguinaria, it wil be found useful in removing abormal growths from the post-nasal cavity. Sufficiently diluted, and combined with hydrastis, it may be applied to the mucous surfaces, in chronic nasal catarrh.

It is valuable in the treatment of very severe forms of measles and scarlet fever. It is especially useful in the persistent sore throat of scarlet fever when the tissues are swollen and spongy. Given in conjunction with anti-spasmodic it will improve the action of that class of remedies, in many forms of convulsions.

Scudder claimed that the agent was stimulant to the essential processes of digestion, blood-making and nutrition. The remedy may be given to advantage to those patients who are afflicted with chronic malarial symptoms and jaundice, with imperfect liver action, who are troubled with headaches, which are worse in the morning. The tongue is coated yellow, there is weakness and the patient complains of muscular soreness and aching in the limbs. The pulse is slow, the temperature is inclined to be subnormal. There is dull pain in the right side. No appetite, unrefreshing sleep, or where there are catarrhal conditions of the bile ducts, resulting in jaundice.

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.