Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

Shrub
M. carolinensis. non Mill. M. cerifera latifolia.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Northern Bayberry
Myrica pensylvanica
Myricaceae

A wax covering on the fruit is extracted by scalding the fruit with boiling water and immersing them for a few minutes, the wax floats to the surface and is then skimmed off. The fruit is then boiled in water to extract the wax from the pulp and once more the wax is skimmed off. It is then strained through a muslin cloth and can be used to make aromatic candles[46, 106, 171]. Candles made from this wax are quite brittle but are less greasy in warm weather[213]. They are slightly aromatic, with a pleasant balsamic odour[245], and do not smoke when put out, making them much more pleasant to use that wax or tallow candles[213]. The wax is also used in making soaps[213].

A green dye is obtained from the leaves[106].

The plant is very wind hardy and can be grown as an informal hedge[200].

  • Medicinal Use

    The root bark is astringent and emetic in large doses[222].

    A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers and externally as a wash for itchy skin[222].

  • Edible Use

    Fruit – raw or cooked. The fruit is about 4mm in diameter and contains a single large seed[200]. There is very little edible flesh and this is of poor quality[K].

    The leaves and fruit are used as a food flavouring in soups etc[62, 102, 183]. A bay leaf substitute, imparting a delicate aroma and subtle flavour[183]. The herb is removed before the food is served[183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    There is a report that some of the constituents of the wax might be carcinogenic[222].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Barely cover the seed and keep it moist. Stored seed germinates more freely if given a 3 month cold stratification and then sown in a cold frame. Germination is usually good[78]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in the cold frame for the first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 – 8cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up and overwinter in a cold frame. Fair to good percentage[78]. Cuttings of mature wood in November/December in a frame. Layering in spring[200]. Division of suckers in the dormant season. Plant them out direct into their permanent positions.
Prefers a moist soil. Grows well in an open position in a well-drained soil in sun or light shade[200]. Thrives in any ordinary garden soil[11]. Prefers a lime-free loamy or peaty soil[1]. Does well in dry maritime sites[200]. Hardy to about -40¡c[200]. Closely related to M. cerifera and perhaps no more than a hardier northern form of it[11], it has larger fruits than M. cerifera[182]. The two species hybridize in the wild where their ranges overlap[43]. Tolerant of salt spread on roads[200]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Many species in this genus have a symbiotic relationship with certain soil micro-organisms, these form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200].
Eastern N. America. Possibly naturalized in Britain in the New Forest.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.