Bayberry (Myrica Cerifera) grows in thickets near swamps in sandy areas, especially near the Atlantic coast and near Lake Erie. It is a shrub that can reach up to eight feet tall and wide. The lanceolate leaves are shiny, dotted on both sides and about 1-4 inches long. They are very fragrant when rubbed.
The flowers are small and unisexual, white or green. They appear in the early spring from March to May, usually before leaves are fully expanded.
Globular fruit are drupes (like cherries), very hard dark green and covered with a waxy substance. They may remain on the tree for several years.
Other Names Wax myrtle, Myrica, Candle Berry, Arbre a suif, Myricae Cortex, Tallow Shrub, Wachsgagle, Tallowberry, Candleberry Myrtle, Northern Bayberry, Southern Bayberry, Small Waxberry, Yang-mei, Vegetable Wax
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History and Folklore
Settlers in the Louisiana area first used myrtle wax in the 1600s. The water from boiling the wax off of the berries was also used to treat typhoid dysentery, which was a serious problem at the time.
Soap from myrtle wax was considered to be much gentler than common lye soap. In addition to washing, it was used for shaving and soap plasters.
Bayberry is a hardy deciduous shrub that will grow well to zone 2 in full sun. It is very adaptable to difficult soil conditions and doesn’t mind poor, sandy or heavy clay soils. It does best in slightly acid soil, however.
Bayberry will grow as wide as it is tall and it can get up to 8 feet tall. Pruning will control its growth well.
Bayberry is an attractive ornamental shrub and serves as a shelter for wildlife in a wildlife garden. It is especially useful in gardens with sandy soil and little nutrients.
Many types of birds enjoy the berries, including tree swallows, eastern meadowlarks, red-bellied woodpeckers, and gray catbirds and the shrubs make great nesting sites.
Because the flowers are unisexual, you will need at least two bayberry bushes, one of each sex, to get berries.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest the root in late autumn and pound to separate the bark from the root. Dry thoroughly and powder. Store in a dark place in tightly sealed containers.
Gather the berries early in the morning in the fall or winter and boil to remove the wax. The wax will float on top and can be skimmed off. It is called myrtle wax. It can be used to make soap or candles.
Bayberry candles are burned to bring luck and prosperity to the household. Likewise, bayberries and bayberry leaves can be useful in money-drawing spells. Try adding bayberries to a luck or fortune sachet or mojo bag.
The candles themselves are of high-quality, long-burning, and very useful in candle magic.
Candles can be made from bayberry wax. Bayberry candles are harder than beeswax candles, burn with little smoke and have a pleasant odor.
Bayberry boughs with berries on them are very attractive in floral arrangements and smell wonderful.
The decoction is a good gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers. It is also said to strengthen gums.
The water in which the berries have been boiled to remove the wax can be used to treat dysentery.
Poultices and washes made from powdered root have been used for ulcers and itchy skin.
The fragrant leaf can be used similarly to bay leaf (See Bay Laurel).
Bayberry can cause vomiting in large doses. Side effects from ongoing ingestion include dizziness, dry eyes and mucous membranes, dry throat, cramping, and flatulence.