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Medicinal Herbs & Therapeutic Botanicals
Medicinal Herb: Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
Bayberry has grayish bark, waxy branches, and dense, narrow, delicately toothed leaves dotted with resin glands, which produce a fragrant aroma when crushed. Yellow flowers appear in spring and produce nutlike fruits thickly covered with wax. The only species of a useful family that is regarded as official, Myrica cerifera grows in thickets near swamps and marshes in the sand-belt near the Atlantic coast and on the shores of Lake Erie. Its height is from 3 to 8 feet, its leaves lanceolate, shining or resinous, dotted on both sides, its flowers unisexual without calyx or corolla, and its fruit small groups of globular berries, having numerous black grains crusted with greenish-white wax. These are persistent for two or three years. The leaves are very fragrant when rubbed.
Botanical: Bayberry (Myrica cerifera L.; M. carolinensis Mill.)
Biological Name: Myrica cerifera L.; M. carolinensis Mill.
Other Names: Bayberry, American bayberry, American vegetable tallow tree, bayberry wax tree, myrtle, wax myrtle, candleberry, candleberry myrtle, tallow shrub, American vegetable wax, vegetable tallow, waxberry
Parts Used: Root bark, leaves, flowers
The early American colonists found the bayberry tree growing throughout the East, but they used it to make fragrant candles rather than medicines. Initially bayberry was used medicinally only in the South, where the Choctaw Indians boiled the leaves and drank the decoction as a treatment for fever. Later, Louisiana settlers adopted the plant and drank bayberry wax in hot water for the most violent cases of dysentery.
During the early 19th century, bayberry was popularized by Samuel A. Thomson, a New England herbalist. He touted it for producing "heat' within the body. Thomson recommended bayberry for colds, flu, and other infectious diseases in addition to diarrhea and fever.
Contemporary herbalists recommend using the bayberrry externally for varicose veins and internally for diarrhea, dysentery, colds, flu, bleeding gums, and sore throat.
Jethro Kloss, in his book, ' the Back To Eden' describes the use of bayberry thus:
Traditional Applications in Herbal Medicine:
Astringent and stimulant. In large doses emetic. It is useful in diarrhoea, jaundice, scrofula, etc. Externally, the powdered bark is used as a stimulant to indolent ulcers, though in poultices it should be combined with elm. The decoction is good as a gargle and injection in chronic inflammation of the throat, leucorrhoea, uterine haemorrhage, etc. It is an excellent wash for the gums.
As a circulatory stimulant, Bayberry plays a role in many conditions when they are approached in a holistic way. Due to its specific actions it is a valuable astringent in diarrhea and dysentery. It is indicated in mucous colitis. As a gargle it helps sore throats and as a douche it helps in leucorrhoea. It may be used in the treatment of colds.
Bayberry root bark contains an antibiotic chemical (myricitrin), which may fight a broad range of bacteria and protozoa. Myricitrin's antibiotic action supports bayberry's traditional use against diarrhea and dysentery.
The powder is strongly sternutatory and excites coughing. Water in which the wax has been 'tried,' when boiled to an extract, is regarded as a certain cure for dysentery, and the wax itself, being astringent and slightly narcotic, is valuable in severe dysentery and internal ulcerations.
The antibiotic myricitrin also helps reduce fever, thus lending credence to bayberry's use among the Choctaw Indians.
As a single or in combination with other herbs it may be used for: Bitter, astringent, aromatic, subnarcotic, anodyne, vulnerary; stimulates circulation; diaphoretic; antibacterial (flavonoids and tannins); expectorant; emetic in large doses; tonic (said to raise vitality and resistence to diseases).
Has been used in the form of powder, pills, or lozenges made with sugar and mucilage.
Said to promote glandular activity and restore mucous activity to normal activity.
Bark of the root is used in the forms of a tea, douche, and in capsules. Was official in the National Formulary (NF) 1916-36 as astringent and tonic.
The inner bark was once pounded soft and used for scrofulous swellings and sores (a tea of the leaves was also used).
Fruit is pectoral, carminative, stomachic; is consumed with wine to prevent nausea which accompanies intoxication; also used for diarrhea and dyspepsia; a tincture of the berries was once combined with cow parsnip for violent flatulent colics and cramps; leaves and berries have been combined and macerated to produce an oil which is used as a liniment for rheumatism and arthritis.
Leaves aromatic and stimulant.
Seed is used for perspiring feet.
Myricadiol is reported to influence sodium and potassium in the same manner as steroidal priniples of the adrenal cortex. In the lab myricitrin has been shown to stimulate the flow of bile as well as being toxic to bacteria, paramecia, and sperm.
Wax was once used as a plaster on wounds; is mildly astringent, and was once used for diarrhea and dysentary by mixing the powdered wax with syrup; 1 tsp was taken and repeated frequently until relief was obtained.
All parts have been used in the past for cholera, heart ailments, palsy, hysteria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis (was once believed to prevent TB and scrofula), colic, and stomach diseases.
Powder is acrid and styptic; a dose of 1 tsp will cause a sensation of heat in the stomach followed by vomiting and purging and sometimes an increase in urination.
Taking milk with bayberry will help offset the effect of the tannin. Despite anti-tumor compounds in the plant, bayberry tannin is potentially carcinogenic; rats injected with bark extract produced a significant number of cancerous growths during a one-and-a-half year period of experiments. NOT recommended for long term use.
Used for fevers, colds/flu, excess mucous, diarrhea, mucous colitis, and colitis; also once used for jaundice, asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy, scurvy, syphilis, thrush, thyroid, and scrofula.
Presence of tannins make it useful for scrofulous skin conditions and inflammations of the mouth and digestive tract; presence of flavonoids make it useful against various infections.
Bark acts like a sialagogue when chewed, and is used for toothache and tender, spongy or bleeding gums; powder applied directly to gums for phyorrhea.
Bark has been used in poultice form for jaundice.
Wax is astringent and slightly narcotic and was used for severe dysentary and internal ulcerations; also, the water used to boil the wax was saved, then boiled and used for dysentary; the tea has been used as an enema for dysentary and diarrhea.
Used in cases of excessive menstruation and vaginal discharge (both systemically and as a douche); combined with raspberry (Rubus idaeus) for uterine hemorrhage (5 to 10 drops tincture of bayberry, with 10 to 40 drops tincture of raspberry); tea used as a douche for leucorrhea (once a day) and uterine hemorrhage; combined with cayenne for controlling heavy and painful periods. Said to reduce toxic waste accumulations and growths in the female genito-urinary tract.
Considered a strengthening hormone balancer especially for female organs. Once used for prolapsed uterus and childbirthing.
Bark is used in decoction as gargle for sore throats, chronic inflammation of the throat, and bleeding gums (as a wash); also for cankers in throat and mouth.
Used externally as a wash and poultice for cuts, bruises, buboes, insect bites, ulcers, indolent ulcers, scrofulous ulcers, sores, gangrenous sores, cancerous sores, carbuncles, boils, itching, dandruff and hair loss. Should be combined with slippery elm in poultices. Powdered bark was also applied directly to infection. One source states the poultice is best combined with bloodroot when applying to cuts, bruises, and scratches. Another source suggest a strong decoction injected into the opening of an ulcer.
Useful for all kinds of hemorrhages. Also used to treat polyps.
Powder causes violent sneezing and watering of the eyes; was used as a snuff for sinusitis, nasal polyps, and adenoid problems; or else 5 ml of the tincture was combined with 20 ml of an emulsifying ointment and used as a sinus massage.
A tea has been used as a wash for tired, red, or strained eyes. Wash = 1 part goldenseal, 1 part eyebright, 1 part bayberry bark, 1 part red raspberry leave; herbs are mixed, then a tea is made with 1 tsp of the herbs in 1 cup of water; allow to cool, then regrigerate; should be made fresh weekly.
Was once used for goiter (10 gr powder 3 times daily).
2 to 3 drops of eucalyptus oil is added to bayberry ointment and used as an antiseptic and antispasmodic.
Combined with elderberry and peppermint for fevers and feverish conditions.
Combined with assisting herbs such as cayenne, ginger and cloves to stimulate circulation; combined with cayenne alone for internal hemorrhage and excessive menstruation and also to improve arterial and capillary circulation and to tone tissues.
Said to have a beneficial effect on the uterus during pregnancy.
For chills steep 1 tsp in 1 pint boiling water for 30 minutes; add pinch of cayenne; take 1/2 cup warm every hour for chills until they abate.
Combined with ginger to combat cholera. The same formula in large doses was also used as an emetic. Its emetic nature caused it to be once used in cases of poisoning (especially narcotic poisoning and mercurial cachexia).
Infusion or decoction was rubbed into the skin to reduce varicose veins (or as a fomentation at night) and hemorrhoids (was an old time remedy for hemorrhoids).
A key herb in the Thompsonian system of medicine, being the main astringent herb used for stomach or bowel disruptions, and especially after fevers. Samuel Thompson's composition teas were meant to cleanse the body of toxins, all being diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative. Relying on its expectorant properties, nineteenth century physicians would prescribe a hot tea from the powdered bark at the first sign of a cold, cough, or flu. Was combined with yarrow, catnip, sage or mint for colds. Was also considered errhine, narcotic, anodyne, astringent, emetic and was used for dysentary.
The following formula was used to regulate and tone bowels, and for hemorrhoids = 2 parts cascara sagrada, 1 part bayberry bark, 1 part rhubarb root, 1 part goldenseal, 1 part raspberry leaves, 1 part lobelia, 1 part ginger root; combine the powdered herbs and fill gelatin capsules (alternatively: 1 part slippery elm powder was added and made into small pills). Another remedy for hemorrhoids = 2 parts witch hazel leaves, 1 part bayberry bark, 1 part goldenseal; combine herbs and use 1 oz. per pint to water to make a strong tea; add 1 pint of glycerine; insert into rectum with dropper 3 times daily (can also be used to make a bolus).
Anciently, was used for headaches (remedy was to crush fresh leaves and mix with sour wine and use as compress); the leaves were crushed for boils; the juice used for earaches; mixed with vinegar was used for nosebleed; the oil was believed to give strength to the hair; Old recipe from the Dominion Herbal College for colds, flu, colic, cramps and stomach pains = 4 oz. bayberry, 2 oz ginger, 1 oz white pine, 1 dram cloves, 1 dram cayenne; combine and powder; use 1 tsp in 1 cup hot water; allow to stand till herbs settle, then drink the clear liquid.
Traditional formulas include combinations with ginseng or eyebright or ginger.
Old compound recipe for coldness of the extremities, chills and flu = 1 oz bayberry bark, 1/4 oz wild ginger, 1/2 oz cayenne; combine the powders and use 1 tsp with 1 point of boiling water (sweetened with honey) to steep ten minutes; take by mouthful amounts throughout the day. Old recipe which was used in the early stages of acute diseases to stimulate the immune system = 2 parts ginger root, 1 part bayberry bark, 1 part white pine, 1/8 part cloves, 1/8 part cayenne, 1/4 part licorice; powders were combined, then 1 tsp steeped in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes (covered), then the liquid poured off from the sediment and drunk.
Old recipe to raise body heat, equalize circulation, remove congestions, ease stomach and bowel cramps, as a cold remedy, and at the beginning of fevers, flus, hoarseness, and colic = 4 oz powdered bayberry bark, 2 oz powdered African ginger, 1 oz powdered hemlock spruce, 1 dram powdred cloves, 1 dram powdred cayenne; combine powders and pass through a fine sieve twice; dose is 1 tsp per 1 cup boiling water, sweetened; cover and steep 3 minutes; drink clear liquid only; was used 1 week for circulation problems; for pain in the lumbar region, 1 to 2 oz of powdred white poplar was added.
Another old formula to stimulate the nerves = 4 parts prickly ash bark, 1 part Irish moss, 1 part bayberry bark; herbs were combined, then 3 oz added per each quart of distilled water; was allowed to stand for 2 hours (stirred occasionally), then brought to a boil for 30 minutes; strained while hot, then 1 cup blackstrap molasses and 1 cup vegetable glycerine was added to the liquid; it was then boiled slowly for 5 minutes, sitrred constantly, then allowed to cool before being bottled and capped.
An old recipe for coughs and sore throats = equal parts of powders of slippery elm, bayberry bark, comfrey root, and mullein were combined, then placed in capsules; they were taken every 2 hours with 1 tsp of garlic oil and 5 to 10 drops echinacea tincture. (NOTE: Comfrey is not now considered safe to take internally).
Stem bark is used in Chinese medicine as a wash for arsenic poisoning, skin diseases, wounds, and ulcers.
Combined with lavender for use on the hair.
Early American settlers used the powdered bark like toothpaste and to cure gingivitis. Was also combined with other herbs and spices as a toothpowder.
Tea once used as a stomachic and vermifuge.
Once used (1822) for typhoid dysentary.
Was used by Native Americans for dysentary, diarrhea, fevers, uterine hemorrhage and as a toothache remedy; Choctaws took a decoction of the stems and leaves for fever; Houma indians boiled the leaves as tea to use as a vermifuge; Creeks and Seminoles used bayberry as a charm to exorcise dead spirits and to prevent disease.
For a decoction, boil I teaspoon of powdered root bark in a pint of water for 10 to 15 minutes. Add a bit of milk and drink cool, up to 2 cups a day. You'll find the taste bitter and astringent. A tincture might go down more easily.
In a tincture, take 1/2 teaspoon up to twice a day.
Bayberry should not be given to children under age 2. For older children and people over 65, start with a low-strength preparation and increase strength if necessary.
As a digestive astringent it may be used with Comfrey Root and Agrimony. For colds and fevers combine with diaphoretics such as Pleurisy Root.
The high tannin content of bayberry makes the herb of questionable value for anyone with a history of cancer. In various studies, tannins show both pro- and anti-cancer action. Their cancer-promoting action has received more publicity, notably from a study published in the journal of the National Cancer institute, which showed that tannins produce malignant tumors in laboratory animals. But tannins have also been shown to have an anti-cancer effect against some animal tumors.
Those with a history of cancer, particularly stomach or colon cancer, should exercise caution and not use this herb. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Add milk to reduce the risk.
Other Side Effects
In large doses, bayberry root bark may cause stomach distress, nausea, and vomiting. Those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as colitis should use it cautiously. Bayberry changes the way the body uses sodium and potassium. Those who must watch their sodium/potassium balance, such as people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or congestive heart failure should consult their physicians before using it.
For otherwise healthy non-pregnant, non-nursing adults who need not pay special attention to their sodium/potassium balance, do not have gastrointestinal conditions, and have no history of stomach or colon cancer, bayberry root bark may be used cautiously in amounts typically recommended.
Bayberry should be used in medicinal amounts only in consultation with your doctor. if bayberry causes minor discomforts such as nausea or vomiting, stop using it and see your doctor.
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