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BAYBERRY
Common Names
Bayberry, Wax-myrtle, Waxberry, Candleberry
Botanical Name
Myrica cerifera
Family
MYRICACEAE

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What is it?

The bark from the root of the Bayberry, which itself is a hardy, evergreen and long-lived shrub that grows to about 2 meters in height.


PLANT


BERRIES


DRIED ROOT BARK

How has it been used?

Bayberry was an essential part of treatments for many chronic digestive disorders such as dysentery, mucus colitis, diarrhoea and enteric infections. Any kind of looseness or inflammation of the bowels would see Bayberry taking a central role in the treatment plan. Women’s problems were also frequently treated with Bayberry, including such conditions as uterine prolapse and frequent or heavy periods.

Bayberry was relied on for the treatment of fevers and serious wasting conditions where its tonic and restorative properties were understood to come to the fore.

During the 19th century Samuel Thomson, a New England herbalist and father of 'physiomedicalism' described Bayberry as second only to red pepper for producing 'heat' within the body. Thomson recommended it for colds, flu, diarrhoea, fever and infectious disease and most particularly as an agent to increase the 'vital force', related to the body's intrinsic ability to heal itself.

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Science on Bayberry

~ Bayberry contains an antibiotic chemical called myricetin which has been shown to be effective against a broad range of bacteria and protozoa. Myricetin's antibiotic action supports Bayberry's traditional use against diarrhoea and dysentery. (Gafner, S., Wolfender, J. L., Mavi, S., and Hostettmann, K. Antifungal and antibacterial chalcones from Myrica. Planta Med 1996;62(1):67-69)

~ Myricetin has also been shown to reduce fever in experimental models (Njung'e, K., Muriuki, G., Mwangi, J. W., and Kuria, K. A. Analgesic and antipyretic effects of Myrica salicifolia (Myricaceae). Phytother Res 2002;16 Suppl 1:S73-S74)

~ The extract of the bark of Myrica has been shown to possess protective effects on liver injuries and cholestasis and it also promotes the flow of bile which may contribute to Bayberry's overall benefits to the body. (Ohta, S., Sakurai, N., Kamogawa, A., Yaguchi, Y., Inoue, T., and Shinoda, M. [Protective effects of the bark of Myrica rubra Sieb. et Zucc. on liver injuries]. Yakugaku Zasshi 1992;112(4):244-252)

~ Myricetin has been reported as exhibiting analgesic effects in in vivo experimentation. The results indicate that the analgesic effect is unrelated to sedation or the opioid system, and the authors suggest that it is likely due to myricetin's inhibition of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I -COX-1. (Tong, Y., Zhou, X. M., Wang, S. J., Yang, Y., and Cao, Y. L. Analgesic activity of myricetin isolated from Myrica rubra Sieb. et Zucc. leaves. Arch Pharm Res 2009;32(4):527-533)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 100 further studies and articles on Bayberry are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Bayberry

Bayberry also contains high amounts of tannins which make it useful for binding a loose digestive tract but also mean it can cause nausea and an upset digestion if taken in excess. Bayberry is a safe herb to use for young and old and in pregnancy and breastfeeding however it must be taken in moderate doses or else it will upset anyone's stomach.

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Personal experiences

I have found both Bayberry dried herb and its extract to have a marvellous heating quality that is hard to describe because it is not your typical obvious ‘spiciness’, for example as you get from cayenne or ginger, but rather something that goes in at a different and somehow deeper level, a gut level you could say.

Even just a small dose of Bayberry root bark is a true tonic and getting to know it better on a personal level will bring an understanding as to why this herb was so revered as a treatment for disorders of the digestive and reproductive systems in the past.

Especially if you who are reading this are studying about herbs or have a keen interest in learning more about these great health allies for yourself or your family then I warmly encourage you to take a few drops of its tincture or a swallow or two of tea from its dried bark, or even just hold a little of the herb in your mouth for a while, and feel for yourself what then happens.

If you are from one of the hot constitutions then you will certainly still be able to feel its dynamic tastes and get a sense of how stimulating a tonic it is however if you personally are on the cooler side of the constitutional spectrum, and you do this with a quiet mind, then I think you will probably be able feel for yourself how this is a herb that gets into the coolest, dampest and most depleted of places and brings a warming, healing, and rather comforting presence. Experiencing its distinctive 'action' in such a way can give you an appreciation of the herb beyond the limit that an academic understanding can bring you to.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

Bayberry is similar to Cinnamon in that it is excellent in combination with other herbs to increase the effectiveness of the whole but is best tolerated in quite small, rather than high doses.

So, for example, in a tincture formula I typically use just 10 or at the most 20 mls in a 200 ml bottle - enough to feel its influence, not so much to overdo its action. This means in practice I might be using just 1 or 2 mls of the Bayberry over the course of a day for a chronic condition such as a weakened digestion, poor circulation or a gynaecological problem. The bark also works extremely well in tea form and can likewise be given in small amounts (just 1 or 2 grams) with confidence that it will take safe effect.

Bayberry combines perfectly with Cinnamon for 'stuck blood', with Panax Ginseng for cold and tired depletion and with Licorice root for a weakened digestive system.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Bayberry is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Bayberry can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Bayberry bark is astringent and stimulant, and as such is valuable in debilitated conditions of the mucous membranes.

The bark has been successfully employed in scrofula, jaundice, diarrhoea, dysentery, aphthae, and other diseases where astringent stimulants were indicated.

In small doses it has been found advantageous in chronic gastritis, chronic catarrhal diarrhoea, muco-enteritis, and in dysentery having a typhoid character.

Cases calling for myrica show feeble venous action, while the pulse is full and oppressed.

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.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd