Myrica Cerifera. Bayberry, Wax Myrtle.

Botanical name: 

Wax-Berry, Candle-Berry.

Description: Natural Order, Myricaceae. Genus MYRICA: Shrubs, with dioecious flowers, without calyx or corolla; sterile flowers in oblong and cylindrical catkins, female in ovoid catkins, and both kinds closely imbricated, and with a pair of scale-like bractlets; stamens two to eight, with the filaments often united at their bases. Fruit a small globular nut covered with wax. M. CERIFERA: Branching and bushy shrubs three to eight feet high. Leaves oblong-lanceolate, narrowed at the base, two to three inches long, petiolate, remotely dentate toward the apex, dark green, smooth, shining, with resinous dots on both sides, slightly fragrant. Female flowers (on separate plants) of an ovate ovary and two styles, and with narrow scales. Fruit round, half the size of a pea, in small and sessile bunches, green when young, greenish-white when old, sometimes remaining on the branches for two or three years. The surface is covered with quite an incrustation of greenish-white wax. The flowers appear in May. Both kinds of flowers appear on the sides of last year's branches, and thus below the leaves of the present year.

This pretty and pleasant-smelling shrub is very abundant in some sections of the United States, preferring sandy soils and a position near flowing water. The wax has been sparingly used in medicine for some time. It may be obtained by boiling the berries in water, and skimming the wax off the surface as it cools. The color is grayish-green, it is somewhat more brittle and greasy than beeswax, and has a slight and pleasant odor. The bark of the root is the most valued medicinal portion. The best qualities are gathered in the fall, are grayish-brown without and red within, of a pleasantly-penetrating odor, and of a stimulating and astringing taste. Water extracts most of its virtues; and alcohol or diluted alcohol takes up a larger portion of its stimulating than astringing qualities.

Properties and Uses: Though this bark is virtually unknown to the Materia Medica of Allopathy, it is a peculiar and a singularly valuable remedy, and one of great power. To Dr. Samuel Thomson is due the honor of introducing it to medical use. It combines stimulating and astringing powers in about equal proportions, is very decided and persistent in its action, and brings the whole frame under its influence. The entire circulation is slowly but steadily elevated by it, and a good outward flow of blood secured; and it leaves upon all the tissues of the body an astringing tonic impression of peculiar value in a large number of cases. While its astringency is sufficiently felt by all the mucous membranes, and contra-indicates the use of the article in any case where there is a tendency to deficient mucous secretion, it is not so distinctly drying as astringents of less power that do not combine stimulant properties. Indeed, it promotes an increase of mucous secretion in cases where these tissues are lax, and also increases the salivary flow somewhat.

In warm infusion; bayberry favors perspiration, followed by an increase of arterial and capillary firmness and a general tension of the tissues. Combined with relaxing diaphoretics, it may be used to advantage in recent colds and other cases of depression and laxity. A strong infusion, especially in large quantities, is nauseating, and is even quite disgusting to some stomachs, though not creating the same kind of impression as lobelia or other relaxant. Large doses of the infusion are likely to cause prompt contraction and stimulation of the stomach, with vomiting; and though not used alone for this purpose, it forms a most suitable article to use in the drinks usually given in ordinary lobelia emetics. So prompt may be its effects–the absorbent vessels of the stomach being at the same time closed by its astringent action–that it is highly probable this article may be found serviceable as an emetic in cases of poisoning by a narcotic that is still in the stomach. I used it thus in one case, giving it rapidly, and with good results. similar infusion may be used in cramping diarrhea, (but not dysentery;) and is of the first value, either alone or in combination with suitable stimulants, in uterine hemorrhage, and hemorrhage from the bowels and lungs. In flooding and excessive lochia, it has no superior, unless it is capsicum; and when combined with a limited portion of the latter agent, its power in arresting such hemorrhages is so great as to be deserving of the word unfailing. And this article unquestionably exerts a direct stimulating influence on the uterus, leading to its firm contraction in cases of labor where the circulation is sluggish and the parts flaccid; whence it is a valuable parturient under such circumstances, and at the same time anticipates flooding.

Used in cold preparations, it can be employed in chronic menorrhagia, and leucorrhea with prolapsus. For such purposes, it is combined with relaxing tonics in excess; and it is noticeable that the bayberry then is scarcely liable to cause constipation, its influence seeming to be spent wholly on the vaginal and uterine membranes. This fact is observed in a more marked degree when bayberry is used in the treatment of degenerate scrofula; for it is an article of great value to combine with an excess of alterants in low forms of that malady, where it imparts stimulation and a solidifying influence that are peculiarly desirable, yet rarely induces costiveness to any material extent. In cachectic conditions of all kinds, and especially in the low forms of secondary syphilis, and in mercurial sores, it is an admirable agent. In chronic diarrhea and dysentery, in colliquative discharges under all circumstances, and even in colliquative perspiration, it is valuable; and may be used to fine effect in the exhaustive discharges and hemorrhage from the bowels which occasionally set in during the latter stages of a typhus fever. It is a powerful agent in most compounds for cholera. Dr. J. W. Martin, of Peoria, Illinois, informed me that he had used this article with the happiest results in several cases of goiter, the thyroid enlargement in every instance steadily giving way before its influence, and in two cases disappearing entirely. He gave ten grains of the powder three times a day; and if any costiveness resulted, (which was rare,) he corrected it by a suitable nightly dose of leptandrin.

As an external application, this article may be used as a gargle in aphthous sores, diphtheria, and mercurial ptyalism; in which cases it is usually combined with hydrastis, or capsicum, or both, but of itself exhibits a peculiar power of securing healthy action and arresting a putrefactive tendency. The term "canker" is commonly applied to the degenerate ulcerations of aphthae; and as this condition not uncommonly extends through the entire alvine canal, and may exist in the stomach and bowels quite independently of sores in the mouth, the bayberry becomes valuable in all cases where such a state of the mucous membranes exists. On this account, as well as its astringent tonic action, it is an admirable injection in foul leucorrhea, and chronic or semi- malignant ulceration of the cervix uteri. I have found great benefit in applying it in the powdered form to Hunterian and phagedrenic chancres–combining it with a half portion of lobelia and a modicum of cayenne, if it proved too drying to the sore. As a wash to fungous ulcers, and spongy or bleeding gums, and in scurvy, and an ingredient in poultices or carbuncles, open buboes, and similar low and gangrenous sores, it can be employed reliably. With hydrastis in excess, it forms a good snuff in catarrh; but may have a small portion of bitter root associated with it, if the discharge is viscid or the bayberry prove too drying. Combined with a small portion of sanguinaria, it has proven of service in the soft forms of nasal polypus.

This is somewhat extended praise to bestow on a single remedy, but this article fully deserves all here said of it. Its action can not fairly be judged of by comparing it to other stimulating astringents, as is commonly done; for it exerts a peculiar tonic influence throughout the frame, and has an especial use in the scrofulous and cachectic affections where it is customary to employ alterants alone. Yet there are many cases where bayberry should not be used, as for instance in typhoid fever, pneumonia, and similar acute maladies in their first and second stages, where it would be inadmissible to shut up the emunctories and to dry the respiratory mucous membranes; in acute dysentery, vaginitis, irritable forms of leucorrhea, acute or chronic gastritis, irritable ulcers, dry sores of any grade, and similar conditions. Even in giving emetics, where bayberry is of great value in aiding prompt contractions, and securing the loosening and ejectment of viscid phlegm, it is an improper article to give when the stomach is afflicted with burning sensations.

The powdered bark may be given in doses of from five to ten grains, and repeated every six, four, or two hours, according to circumstances. Some writers speak of thirty-grain doses, which would probably be rejected by most persons; though it is less nauseating to a healthy than to an unhealthy stomach. Most commonly it is given as infusion, in combination with other agents to suit the case in hand; and then twenty grains of bayberry would be a sufficient proportion for a pint of water in ordinary cases. In compound sirups or other similar preparation, from four to six ounces of bayberry is usually sufficient for each gallon. As with other astringents, no iron vessel should be used in treating it.

Bayberry wax has been commended as a soothing agent in sub-acute dysentery and diarrhea, in doses of half a drachm three times a day; and though an agent of some service, is seldom employed thus at present. Some accuse it of possessing narcotic powers, but there is no ground for believing that to be the case. Its best use is as an outward application, where it forms a good ointment for ringworm, tetter, tinea capitis, and other dry and excoriated sores.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Tincture. Macerate four ounces of the bark in diluted alcohol for three days; transfer to a porcelain percolator, and treat with diluted alcohol till a quart of tincture is obtained. Alcohol seems to dissolve more of the stimulating than the astringing principle; whence this preparation is of service in gargles for mercurial ptyalism, diphtheria and scarlatina, where the stimulant and antiseptic qualities of the article are desirable. If prepared on forty percent alcohol, so as to make it miscible with water without turbidity, it may be used as an addendum to alterative sirups in cachectic and scrofulous cases. It is seldom employed. Dose, from half a teaspoonful to two teaspoonsful.

II. Fluid Extract. Treat one pound of crushed bark with 60 percent alcohol for two days; transfer to a porcelain percolator, and use the same alcohol till ten fluid ounces pass; exhaust the drug with hot water, evaporate to six fluid ounces, and mix the liquids. This is quite a concentrated and powerful article, mainly stimulating, but distinctly and permanently tonic-astringent. It is oftenest employed, for its convenience, in those cases of tardy labor to which bayberry is applicable, uterine and intestinal hemorrhage, bleeding from the stomach, cholera, and similar urgent cases. Dose, five to ten drops, in sirup or some warm infusion, as often as circumstances demand.

III. Myricin. This was formerly supposed to be a resinoid, and a limited quantity of an inferior article was obtained by reducing a saturated tincture, and precipitating with water, as in podophyllin. Dr. H. H. Hill, of Cincinnati, was the first to point out the falsity of this procedure; inasmuch as the product thus obtained was not a resinoid, but an extractive only moderately soluble in water. The course now followed, is that of making a tincture on absolute alcohol, (90 percent will do,) evaporating this to the consistence of a thin sirup, pouring this (while hot) into four times its own bulk of water, and collecting the separated myricin on a filter. This is then carefully dried and powdered. It is a preparation of the same class as cypripedin; and represents the stimulating qualities of the bark fully, and the astringent only moderately. It is used in doses of from one to three grains in chronic diarrhea, and scrofulous (or scorbutic) diarrhea, cholera, hemorrhage from the stomach or bowels, and similar cases.

IV. Composition Powder. Under this head, Dr. S. Thomson employed the following mixture: Bark of myrica, two pounds; inner bark of hemlock, and roots of ginger, each, one pound; capsicum and cloves, each, two ounces. An infusion of this-was by him used in giving emetics, in recent colds, colic, diarrhea, tardy parturition, flooding, the incipient stage of fevers, fainting, and all similar cases. It is a powerful stimulating and astringing preparation, and one of great value in prostrated cases of the classes named. There is in it, however, a great excess of astringency; which is not suitable to a large number of cases, and which would be a disadvantage in many others. In large doses, it is often quite unpleasant to the stomach; and most patients object to its continued use, on this ground. The quantity of capsicum and cloves makes it more intensely exciting than is desirable in many instances. While the compound is one of unquestioned power in the lower conditions of the frame, it often has to be laid aside on the grounds above named. Physicians have thus been led to adopt a great variety of formulas; and to suggest numerous compounds as substitutes for this one of Dr. Thomson. Among the most successful of these, is that offered by my colleague in the Physio-Medical Institute, Prof. S. E. Carey, as follows: Myrica, two pounds; zingiber and asclepias tuberosa, each one pound; capsicum, one ounce. To this might be added two ounces of hydrastis, when it was desirable to increase the tonic action of the article, and especially when such a tonic influence is needed on mucous membranes. But even here, though asclepias is substituted for hemlock and the cloves omitted, the value of the preparation is lowered, in many cases, from the excess of astringency. This led me to suggest a still different preparation, with reference to combining relaxation, stimulation, and astringency, in nearly equal force; and yet so to harmonize them that a moderate addition of either one would so change it as to suit especial requirements. In this way, it was designed to form a compound that would meet the largest possible range of acute cases. My formula is as follows; and as it has received the sanction of the great majority of the large number of old practitioners to whom it has been submitted, it is now fairly to be considered as the officinal composition:

Officinal Composition: Myrica bark, asclepias tuberosa, and zingiber, each one pound; bark of xanthoxylum fraxineum, four ounces; capsicum, half an ounce. Mix the powders intimately. Half an ounce of the compound is usually sufficient for a quart of boiling water, in preparing an infusion; and from a half to three fluid ounces may be given at such intervals as may. be desirable. It is more diaphoretic and more softening to the pulse than Dr. Thomson's formula; but is used for the same general purposes. The taste is pleasant, and the stomach usually receives it quite well. If greater astringency is desired, a suitable amount of bayberry may be added; or a proper additional amount of capsicum, if greater stimulation is needed. Combined with two ounces of hydrastis, it forms an admirable warm drink in dropsy, the dropsical or other sequelae of scarlet fever, and similar states of enfeebled action; though it is not suitable even there, if the respiratory mucous membranes are disposed to be dry. The same combination, used cold, is an excellent tonic for languid stomachs. Three parts of this composition with one part of caulophyllum, make the most effective parturient that can well be devised for all cases except such as present a distinct tendency to dryness of the vagina and rigidity of the os tinea; and the same combination rarely fails to secure the early expulsion of the placenta, arrest hemorrhage, maintain the lochia in due quantity, and anticipate all tendency to prolapsus; and is also excellent for painful or profuse menstruation.

V. Compound Sirup of Myrica, Dr. Thomson's "No. 5." Mix, one pound each of crushed myrica and bark of populus tremuloides. Macerate for twenty-four hours in two quarts of thirty percent alcohol; transfer to a porcelain percolator, and add water till three pints pass, which set aside. Continue the percolation with hot water till exhausted; add five pounds of sugar, and evaporate to five pints. Mix the two products. Previously tincture, for seven days, four ounces of crushed peachmeats in a quart of brandy; now filter this through muslin, with suitable pressure, and add to the sirup so soon as the latter is cold. This formula was introduced to the profession by Dr. Samuel Thomson. It is an admirable tonic, of soothing and astringing action, of great value in debility of the stomach and bowels with a tendency to diarrhea. Different processes are followed in preparing the formula; but I. have found the above the most economical and satisfactory. Dose, half to a whole fluid ounce, three times a day.

VI. Compound Ointment of Myrica. Take half a pound each of bayberry tallow and sweet gum; spermaceti and lard, each six ounces; olive oil, two ounces. Melt the spermaceti and lard first, then add the other ingredients, strain through thin muslin when thoroughly melted, and stir constantly till cold. Care should be taken not to raise the heat too high. This is a very valuable ointment for ringworm, tetter, porrigo, tinea capitis, acne, and other irritable and dry forms of cutaneous disease. The quantity of olive oil may be increased or diminished, according to the temperature of the season and the dryness of the sweet-gum used.

This bark is an ingredient in the Compound Wine of Columbo.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at