Bayberry (Myrica spp.) is a very interesting genus of plants, and has become sadly a little forgotten in these days of our ability to get any herb from around the world for just a few dollars. You might be surprised to know that such a potent healing and prosperity-drawing tree could be growing right in your backyard. If you’ve heard of bayberry, you’ve probably heard of bayberry candles, a type of fragrant holiday candle traditionally made from the wax of the tree’s berries. Today’s bayberry candles are usually paraffin candles made with bayberry fragrance instead of actual bayberry wax (Yronwode, 39).
Myrica is the genus of about 35 plants known as bayberry. This is a group of evergreen trees found all over the world, known for their fragrant leaves, roots and waxy berries. The native type I use is known, particularly here in the south, as southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera). Although it is called wax myrtle, it is not related to actual myrtles such as crepe myrtle. Myrica cerifea is the species of bayberry most often used for candles and is also native to the east coast of the USA. M. cerifea is a very fragrant tree, with pungent, pleasant smelling leaves. They smell like a very sweet pine. Bayberry leaves should not be confused with bay laurel leaves which are used in cooking. What we call bay leaves are from the bay laurel plant – bayberry is not related to laurel. Bayberry leaves can be used to replace bay leaves when cooking, however the leaves don’t taste quite the same as bay leaves.
Bayberry/southern Wax Myrtle is a known medicinal plant, though used less today than it was in the 19th century. The root was boiled by Native Americans as a fever treatment, and has been used by European and African immigrants since the 1700s (Yronwode, p40). The root is used as a treatment for diarrhea, fever, bleeding gums, and infection. Bayberry root is commonly used as a tea, tincture or decoction. Most medical experts suggest consuming bayberry root as a tea. Bayberry leaves should not be consumed, as they can cause stomach upset and vomiting due to high tannin content. Research has shown little medical use for bayberry, since its tannin content is so high that it can cause liver damage (Fetrow & Avila, p44-45).
Magickally, bayberry root and berries have been long used in American folk magic for money and prosperity drawing. Less common, but still effective, are the fragrant leaves. Common practices include sprinkling root chips and berries in your wallet or on your cash to attract more money (Yronwode p39). Although difficult to find for sale, leaves can be used similarly, by placing them in your wallet and carrying them with you. Root, berry and leaves can be used to dress candles. Root chips and leaves can also be used in incense, though I prefer the leaves. Bayberry root has a very strong, acrid smell and can be a bit too overpowering for incense. The leaves are very light and pleasant. The leaves burn well, and can be used simply by sticking the stem in sand so that the leaf stands upright, and lighting the tip.
Bayberry root can be purchased from many online shops such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
I have bayberry leaves (Myrica cerifera) available in my shop – one of the few places you will find them for sale (check your backyard first .
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, Catherine Yronwode (pp 39-40)
The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines, Charles W. Fetrow Pharm.D. and Juan R. Avila Pharm.D
Myrica cerifera: Southern Wax Myrtle, Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, University of Florida
A Modern Herbal: Bayberry, Mrs. M. Grieve