Wax Myrtle Jewels

by Green Deane

in Grain/Nuts/Seeds, Medicinal, Miscellaneous, Plants, Spice/Seasoning, Trees/Shrubs

Ripe Wax Myrtle Berries

Myrica cerifera: A Tree That Makes Scents

Wax Myrtle was the Indians’ minimart of the forest.

Need some spice? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. How about a little something for the peace pipe? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. Are the mosquitoes bothering you? Drop by the Wax Myrtle tree. Want to see a Tachycineta bicolor? Drop by the Wax Myrtle. Tree Swallows in winter love it, eating the berries in a whirlwind. If you’re a birder other winged-ones that like the high-energy berries include the Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Wablers, Vireos, Kinglets and the tiny Carolina Wren, which is more tail than bird.

Native Indians used the leaves for seasoning as we would a bay leaf. The berries were used for seasoning as well but sparingly as they are waxy. Grind them and use like pepper. Though used as a seasoning, that was not the wax myrtle’s main value: The berries when boiled yield a wax that is excellent for making candles. Indeed, that is reflected in the tree’s name Myrica cerifera, MEER-ih-kuh ser-IF-er-uh.

Cerifera means “wax bearing going back to the Greek word Keri for the small bees wax candles used in church services. Myrica is Greek myrike (μυρίκη) which was the  Greek name for the  “tamarisk” a tree that is aromatic like the wax myrtle. The aroma of the wax myrtle’s leaves can keep mosquitos away. Rub the leaves on you. Tne natives smoked the leaves for the same reason.

Also called the bayberry, as in Bayberry candle, the tree was used extensively by the Indians for a variety of ways including as a pain killer, a pick-me-up, a diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, tonsil gargle, for headaches, stomach aches, to kill worms  and for dysentery.

And least you think your life has not been touched by the wax myrtle, its leaves are used to improve the foaming of beer. Think of that the next time you enjoy a stein of suds.

Although the berries are strong, they can be eaten fresh off the tree. They can be preserved or even made into a wine. If you don’t have a M. cefera near you don’t despair. There are others in North America and around the world of various uses. In fact some in Asia and Africa had edible leaves. M. gale fruit and leaves have been used to flavor soups, stews, roasted meats, and seafood. They have also been used for tea. When used to help beer foam the brew is often called Gale Beer. M. californica, M. heterophylla, M. pensylvanica, M. pusilla, and M. rubra have also been used like the M. cefera.

Southerns likes the Myrica (MEER-ik-uh) so much they changed Myrica to miracle and call it the Miracle Bush.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Large shrub to small tree, depending on climate, to 10 or 15 feet, six to nine feet across. Olive to gray-green alternate leaves, simple, half an inch to 1.5 inches long. to half inch wide, bayberry scent when crushed. Leaves are smooth on top, hairy below with orange scent glands on both sides. Berries in attached clusters to stems and branches, fall through winter, BB size,  light green to bluish-white strong bayberry scent.

TIME OF YEAR:  Leaves year round, berries in the fall and winter

ENVIRONMENT: New Jersey to Florida, west to Arkansas and Texas and down in to Central America. It will grow under almost any conditions. It makes a nice bush for xeroscaping as it needs no attention.  It can be planted as far north as Rhode Island. Tolerant of salt spray and wind.  First cultivated in 1699

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves as is for seasoning, berries ground like pepper. Berries boil to collect wax. Most herbal applications use the bark of the root. The leaves have been used ot smoke mullet.

 

 

 

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheri April 10, 2017 at 18:29

Are the leaves or BERRIES toxic to dogs?

Reply

Green Deane April 12, 2017 at 18:22

I don’t know but have not heard of that… then again, how many leaves and berries are being consumed?

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Marcie Adkins January 22, 2017 at 08:36

I started studying these myself today (Jan 2017). Noticed some gorgeous berries in my neighborhood with red casings on them. Picked a few, removed the red casings and enjoyed nibbling them. Could tell that the essential oils in them are gorgeous!!!! and certainly contain anti-microbial qualities as they mimic many EOs we purchase.

Now — getting to my question. don’t you think that those with the red casings on them are “best”? I have a personal theory that the “best” things in life are very attractive in many dimensions & also don’t cause harm. I think that those with the red casings are the “best” and ripest, being “prettiest”, but also containing maximum EOs and fats, just that we don’t see many of them and have to substitute those with the red casings removed.

What do you think of my theory?

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Green Deane January 22, 2017 at 13:44

Thanks for writing. I don’t recall red casings on Way Myrtle berries. But the Brazilian Pepper is in fruit now. It’s an iffy tree. Some can use the fruit and some cannot. Some species of Wax Myrtle do have red berries but not locally as far as I know.

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Green Deane January 22, 2017 at 13:46

Also… berries often are a color to attract a certain seed scatterer. Also, the outside of a fruit or seed often has the strongest chemicals to dissuade creatures the plant does not want touching/spreading the seeds.

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Marcie Adkins January 22, 2017 at 18:56

Interestingly, I studied more and had to rush back here! Sadly, the red casings were definitely the pepper ones! I walked all around for an hour or so trying to find more red ones, finally finding a bunch. This time it was clear to me. Crazy! I thought it so amusing that I could enjoy the feel and taste so much, believing it was a very ripe “good for me fruit”. Now that I know it’s the noxious Brazilian pepper, nary another fruit will grace my lips even if I found them pleasing at first. Did also gain a much better understanding of the flowering/fruiting process as I found a handful of each stage. Will watch and collect some optimally ripe ones for a candle & to try the wax in lip & body balms, something that’s been on my to do list for many years.

Thanks for your fast response. So appreciate it.

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Green Deane January 24, 2017 at 16:32

Glad it worked out okay.

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Carl Williams October 11, 2016 at 15:53

I just want to add that this shrub has male and female bushes (the ones with the berries). To encourage berry pollination, plant male and female bushes near one another.

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S. Borum August 9, 2016 at 12:51

Would these plants also be growing in parts of Louisiana?

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Green Deane August 9, 2016 at 19:24

Should be…

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Kara J Lincoln July 26, 2016 at 12:24

Hi,

I understand this could be known as bayberry bark powder, but i understood Myrtle only grew on west coast + Israel? If it is the same it is great for tooth powder mixed w/equal parts salt, myrrh, echinacea powder, cinnamon bark.

What ya think? thanks kara

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Cassandra Lee Nicholson March 22, 2013 at 13:12

Hi Green Deane – Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Myrica cerifera. I appreciate your writing style. Lots of important information in an enjoyable presentation. 😀

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Eric September 9, 2012 at 23:08

I would love to know some of the medicinal uses of the tree. i heard that you can use it to treat ecxema and nail fungus by making tea with the leaves. I’d like to know how to use it for headaches and what part would the indians smoke for their peace pipes

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josh yingling May 16, 2012 at 02:51

Hey Deane, got any leads to a reliable source for the medicinal use of the plant?I use the leaves every time I go hunting, not only as a mosquito repellent but also as a cover scent seems to work quite well, just don’t expect Florida skeeters to be turned off by a lil wax myrtle,you gotta use alot of crushed leaves. But I am interested in the medicinal uses of the roots if you have any recipes I’d like to hear about em thanks.

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James wilkerson April 26, 2017 at 15:12

Mix a little gator fat with that ( or even by itself). NOTHING likes it. Somebody is commercial farm or trapping for the area. If you find someone in your area, text wilkersonjames176@ google.com. Used to have a farm up here in S Ga but it’s gone now. Hint: last stand of the Seminole before treaties, Waycross, Ga.

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