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Botanical Description & Habitat

Myrica cerifera


Common Names

TallowTallow bush
Tallow shrubWax myrtle

Eastern North America, from Canada to Florida, and western coastal ridges of California; woods and fields.

Bayberry is an evergreen shrub or small tree, with a smooth, gray bark; its branches bear shiny, dark green leaves. The leaves are widest at the bottom, tapering to a point near the apex, and are dotted on both sides. Its flowers grow in unisexual catkin clusters; the female is globular, the male elongated in shape. Small, wax-coated berries grow in groups along the branches.

Medicinal Parts
Bark of the root - dried, collected in autumn

Historical Properties & Uses

Next to lobelia, bayberry root bark was perhaps the most popular herbal medicine of the nineteenth century. Prodigious quantities of the herb, were prescribed to treat hepatitis, stomatitis, and pharyngitis usually in conjunction with cayenne.

Bayberry root bark possesses antipyretic, antibiotic, and paramecicidal properties; it was listed in the National Formulary as an astringent and tonic until 1936. Bayberry's astringent qualities make it a soothing gargle for sore throat and tonsillitis, remedy for diarrhea and hemorrhoids, and poultice for wounds, cuts, and bruises.

It is now best-known as the source of fragrance for Christmas candles.

Method of Action

The astringent properties of bayberry root bark conform to the known actions of other plants containing tannic acid.

The chief essential oil of bayberry, myricitrin exhibits a variety of properties, including: antimicrobial (bactericidal, paramecicidal), spermatocidal (no threat to human sperm under normal usage), and choleretic. Pure myricitrin has some mineral corticoid activity, although this property would not be expected from whole plant material.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The topical application of the astringent bayberry in conjunction with the acne product tretinoin (retinoic acid, vitamin A acid), may adversely affect the skin.

The tannin in bayberry may potentiate the antibiotic activity of echinacea. The tannin in tea made from this herb may be inactivated by the addition of milk or cream.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

This drug has no status with the FDA.

Large doses are emetic.

Routine laboratory screenings have revealed certain tannins and phenols contained in bayberry are carcinogenic when administered subcutaneously in rats. These results have little pertinence to normal oral ingestion of the powdered bark or a tea made from same.

Because of its high tannin content, the Lawrence Review recommends against its use internally.


The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Aug, 1991.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Powdered bark
0.6-2 grams by tea

Fluid extract
1:1 in 45% alcohol, 0.6-2 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks, England, 1983

Kapadia, G.J., et. al. J Of The Ntnl Cancer Institute, 57. 207. 1976

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).

The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Aug, 1991.

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Paul, B.D., et. al., J Of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 63, 958-962, 1974.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983

Vincent, D. & G. Segonzac. 1953. Comptes Rendus des Seances de la Societe de Biologie et de ses Filiales, 147. pp. 1776-1779.


Myrica cerifera

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine