An ephemeral flowering shrub, the bayberry plant is found extensively all over the eastern as well as the southern region of the United States. This botanical species is a member of the Myricaceae family and is very well associated with the wax myrtle (botanical name, Myrica cerifera Loisel) - an even bigger evergreen shrubbery or tree, which is also referred to as the southern bayberry. The two species of Myricaceae possess remedial qualities and have been preferred and used since long. In fact, both these plants yield small blue hued berries. The wax drawn out from these berries is utilized to produce bayberry candles that have a sweet fragrance, especially popular during Christmas.
Since bayberry has a beautiful curved shape, it is very popular and is normally used for landscaping purposes in the form of a small tree or trimmed to make it appear like a shrub. This plant bears simple, slender leaves of the wax myrtle variety and they vary from 1 inch to 5 inches (2.5 cm to 13 cm) in length and are approximately 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) in width. The color of the plant varies from grayish-green to yellowish-green and exudes an aroma when crushed. When you observe the surface of the bayberry leaf under a microscope, you will discover that it is swathed with minute yellow-colored glands. In fact, the wax myrtle produces numerous trunks that may each grow up to a height of 25 feet (7.6 meters) and they eventually form a colony provided the suckers are not gotten rid of. Bayberry produces flowers during the later part of winter. While the male flowers are yellowish-green catkins that grow to a maximum length of 1 inch (2.5 cm), the female flowers are comparatively smaller and not easily seen, as they are similar to small swellings which develop into tiny berries, each measuring one-eighth of an inch (0.3 cm) across and are closely held to the stem.
Many herbalists have highly praised the usefulness of bayberry and some of them have even asserted that this plant is the most valuable medication in herbalism or botanic practice. In fact, the plant's therapeutic uses have been documented in traditional medicine over the ages. A warm concoction prepared with the root bark of bayberry and southern bayberry is used in the form of an energizer and possesses invigorating as well as astringent attributes. This concoction is believed to be very effective in treating diarrhea. As the bark of bayberry triggers an exasperating action on the stomach, when taken in large doses, it works as an emetic. This herbal medication is also used to augment the discharge of nasal mucus in people suffering from head colds. In addition, bayberry formulations are also applied topically in the form of poultices to effectively treat persistent ulcers that do not heal easily.
Nevertheless, it appears that researchers have not studied the herbal attributes of bayberry much and, hence, there is very little information regarding the herbal properties of bayberry and whatsoever little data is available, it is basically outdated. Way back in 1863, herbalists had identified a number of constituents of bayberry making use of the analytical methods prevalent in those days. However, presently, those procedures are considered to be extremely primordial. Yet, books that were published as lately as 1980 record only those elements which were identified long back making use of those archaic procedures. It was found that bayberry encloses compounds like a principle known as myricinic acid that is yet to be scientifically distinguished. Besides myricinic acid, other compounds found in bayberry include tannic acid, an acrid as well as an astringent resin, and gallic acid.
Latest chemical examinations have thrown light on many remarkable chemical compounds enclosed by the root bark of bayberry. Researchers have discovered the presence of three triterpenes - myricadiol, taraxerone and taraxerol, in the bayberry root bark. In addition, a flavonoid glycoside called myricitrin was also found to be present in the root bark of this plant. Among these compounds, myricadiol is said to possess mineral corticoid actions. Findings of a number of studies have revealed that myricadiol has an effect on the metabolism of sodium and potassium in the same manner in which the steroid principles of the adrenal cortex work. On the other hand, the compound myricitrin works like a choleretic (any substance that promotes secretion of bile) and, therefore, encourages the flow of bile. At the same time, myricitrin is also a toxic agent for sperm, bacteria, and paramecia.
However, it needs to be noted that neither of the studies mentioned in this article have corroborated the efficacy of bayberry in any specific health conditions. Hence, all the supposed therapeutic benefits of bayberry are basically a hypothesis that is yet to be proved scientifically. In case the medications prepared with bayberry are really effective, doubts remain regarding the safety of using this herb, especially when it is used in large doses. Such doubts are not unfounded because the bark root of bayberry encloses tannin that is of potential carcinogenic (an agent that has a propensity to produce cancer) type. Trials undertaken on rats for relatively longer period of time have shown that a considerable number of those rats developed malignant tumours when they were administered injections containing the extracts of the bayberry bark roots. These findings have given rise to questions regarding the safety of using bayberry for human consumption. Since no available information authenticates the therapeutic worth of the bayberry bark root, it appears to be wise to limit the use of bayberry only to its berries. If nothing else, the berries offer us wax to make aromatic candles.
Bark of root.
Despite the fact that none of the therapeutic properties of bayberry have been scientifically proved yet, this herb has been extensively used in traditional medicine to cure a number of health conditions. The most widespread uses of this herb are for improving the blood circulation, promoting perspiration as well as to avoid bacterial infections. It has been thought all the times that bayberry facilitates in reinforcing the opposition to infections locally. In addition, this herb is also preferred in treating common cold, coughs and flu and is considered to be helpful in constricting as well drying the mucous membranes. Taking a gargle with the herb is helpful in curing tender throats, while an infusion prepared with the root bark of bayberry is useful in making the spongy gums stronger. The astringent property of bayberry is believed to cure intestinal problems, for instance irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as mucous colitis (irritable bowel syndrome distinguished by the passage of abnormally great amounts of mucus). Then again, a paste made with the powdered bayberry root bark is applied topically on the ulcers and sores. In addition, an infusion prepared with the root bark of bayberry is also believed to facilitate in treating excessive vaginal discharge.
It may be mentioned that bayberry has a long history of therapeutic use. Members of Choctaw (a group of indigenous tribes of the North American Indians) boiled the herb and used it for treating fevers. Eventually, bayberry was accepted as a therapeutic plant, although just in the South. Way back in 1722, it was stated that the early European settlers in Louisiana drank a combination of hot water and wax to cure acute cases of dysentery. Then again, it was reported in 1737 that bayberry was used by people for treating colic, convulsions, seizures and even palsy. Beginning from the early part of the 19th century, Samuel Thompson, a herbalist, advocated the use of this herb for generating ‘heat' inside the body and also as a remedy for diarrhea as well as various infectious diseases. Nevertheless, by the late 19th century, bayberry lost much of its popularity and, unlike before, people seldom used this herb to treat various ailments, counting its external applications to cure bleeding gums.
Use of bayberry for therapeutic purposes had waned since the 19th century, when the popularity of this herb was at its peak. Nevertheless, some herbal practitioners as well as common people continue to use this plant even to this day to treat diarrhea, fever and a number of other health conditions. The herb's rook bark encloses a chemical compound called myricitrin, which is known to possess anti-fever attributes. Additionally, myricitrin together with the tannins present in the herb possesses anti-diarrheal qualities. While myricitrin acts as an antibiotic, tannins enclosed by bayberry work as astringents.
Generally, bayberry is used either in the form of a decoction or tincture. In some cases, people also use infusions and pastes prepared with the herb's root bark for remedial purposes.
The fruits of bayberry have been traditionally used for craft purposes. Since long, they have been a natural supply of the wax for the conventional Christmas decorations known as bayberry candles. The wax from this plant was derived by simmering the berries and hiving off the suspended hydrocarbons. Subsequently, the fats obtained in this manner were boiled once again and filtered. The resultant liquid was used in making candles, either by means of molding or dipping. Nevertheless, it may be noted that bayberry is not the solitary plant whose fruits are used for making bayberry candles. Many of this plant's close relatives are also used for this purpose.
Habitat and cultivation
Bayberry is indigenous of the coastal areas of the southern and eastern United States, where this plant is found growing in abundance. Apart from these areas, bayberry may occasionally be found growing in the far west in Texas. The best period to harvest the root bark of bayberry is during autumn or spring.
The root bark of bayberry is used in herbal medicines. Chemical analysis of the plant has revealed that bayberry encloses many organic chemical compounds, counting triterpenes, for instance taraxerol, myricadiol and taraxerone, in addition to chemicals like various flavonoids, resins, tannins, gums and phenols. Each of these different compounds has different actions or effects. While myricadiol has a somewhat influence on the potassium and sodium levels, another compound known as myricitrin possesses antibiotic attributes.
A decoction is prepared adding a teaspoonful of root bark of bayberry in a cup of cold water and subsequently boiling the mixture. Allow the resultant solution to cool for around 10 minutes to 15 minutes. To obtain the best results, you should drink this decoction thrice every day.
Alternately, you may also prepared a tincture with the bayberry root bark and take it in the dosage of 1 ml to 3 ml thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
Although herbal preparations with bayberry are generally considered to be safe for use, this herb should not be taken by women during pregnancy. Besides, the action of tannin enclosed by the plant vis-à-vis curing cancer is still not scientifically proved. A number of researches undertaken by several scientists have hinted that this plant has pro as well as anti-cancer effects. Similar to any other therapeutic plants, bayberry ought to be used only under the guidance of a qualified physician.
Collection and harvesting
The best time to dig out the roots of bayberry is spring or autumn. Soon after collecting the roots, their barks are removed and dried.