A small tree or large shrub native to North and Central America and the Caribbean. Its common names include southern wax myrtle, southern bayberry, candleberry, bayberry tree, and tallow shrub. It sees uses both in the garden and for candlemaking, as well as a medicinal plant. This plant is one of several Myrica species that are sometimes split into the genus Morella, e.g. in the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. This species also has several synonyms aside from the Myrica/Morella split: Cerothamnus pumilus, C. ceriferus, Myrica cerifera var. pumila, and Myrica pusilla. Myrica cerifera is similar to M. pensylvanica and M. caroliniensis. These plants’ scent or fruits can distinguish them.
The generic name Myrica comes from a Greek word myrike, which refers to some fragrant plant (possibly tamarisk). The specific name means “wax-bearing”. Bayberry root bark has a history of use in herbalism. The plant contains several organic compounds, including: triterpenes such as myricadiol, taraxerol, and taraxerone, as well as chemicals such as different flavonoids, tannins,resins, gums, and phenols. Myricadiol has a slight impact on levels of potassium and sodium, while a substance called myricitrin has antibiotic properties.
The Choctaw boiled bayberry and used the result as a treatment for fevers. In 1722, it was reported that colonists in Louisiana drank a mixture of wax and hot water to treat severe dysentery. Bayberry was reported in an account from 1737 as being used to treat convulsions, colic, palsy, and seizures. Starting in the early 19th century, the herbalist Samuel Thomson recommended this plant for producing “heat” within the body and as a treatment for infectious diseases and diarrhea. That use of bayberry waned later in the 19th century, in favor of using it for a variety of ailments, including a topical use for bleeding gums. Use of bayberry in herbalism has declined since its peak in popularity in the 19th century. The plant is still used today in the treatment of fever, diarrhea, and a few other ailments. The chemical myricitrin has anti-fever properties. In addition, that chemical, along with the tannins, has anti-diarrheal properties. Myricitrin works as an antibiotic, while the tannins have astringent properties.
Pregnant women should not use bayberry. In addition, tannin action relating to cancer is unclear, with studies indicating both pro and anti-cancer effects.[medical citation needed] bayberry, just like any other medicinal plant, should only be used under the supervision of a physician.