The bark and wax of Myrica cerifera, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Wax-myrtle, Bayberry, Candle berry, Waxberry.
Botanical Source.—This plant is a branching, half-evergreen shrub, 1 to 12 feet in height, and covered with grayish-bark. The leaves are glabrous, cuneate-lanceolate, rather acute or obtuse, distinctly petiolate, margin entire, but more frequently remotely dentate, particularly toward the end, paler, with distinct veinlets beneath, generally twisted or revolute in their mode of growth, shining, resinous, dotted on both sides, 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches in length, and from ½ to ¾ of an inch wide. The flowers appear in May, before the leaves are fully expanded. The males grow in aments, are sessile, erect, 6 to 9 lilies in length; originating from the sides of the last year's twigs. Every flower is formed by a concave, rhomboidal scale, containing 3 or 4 pairs of roundish anthers oil a branched foot-stalk. Females on a different shrub, less than half the size of the males, consist of narrower scales, with each an ovate ovary, and 2 filiform styles. To these aments succeed clusters or aggregations of small globular fruits, resembling berries, which are at first green, but finally become nearly white, and consist of a hard stone inclosing a dicotyledonous kernel, studded on its outside with small, black grains, resembling fine gunpowder, over which is a crust of dry, greenish-white wax, fitted to the grains, giving the surface of the fruit a granulated appearance. The fruit is persistent for 2 or 3 years (L.—P.—W.—G.).
Ɣ History and Description.—This plant is found in dry woods, or in open fields, from Canada to Florida. The bark of the root is the preferred part; boiling water extracts its astringent and alcohol its stimulating principles.
BAYBERRY BARK.—As met with in commerce, the bark is in curved or quilled pieces, from 1 to 6 or 7 inches long, covered with a thin, grayish, mottled epidermis, with slight transverse fissures, beneath which the true bark is of a dull reddish-brown color, rugged, darker internally, breaking rapidly with a short fracture, and giving, when pulverized, a light brown powder, of a pungent, peculiar, spicy odor, a bitter taste succeeded by astringency, acridity, and a stinging sensation which gradually extends to the fauces, where it leaves an unpleasant feeling and a sense of constriction; it is powerfully sternutatory, excites cough, and forms a dense froth when briskly agitated with water. Water takes up its active properties; diluted alcohol is its best menstruum. The root should be collected late in the fall, cleansed from dirt and foreign substances, and then, while fresh, pounded with a hammer or club to separate the bark, which should be thoroughly dried without exposure to a wet or moist atmosphere, then pulverized, and kept in darkened and well-closed vessels.
BAYBERRY-TALLOW, or MYRTLE WAX (Bayberry wax.)—This substance is yielded by the berries and is obtained by boiling them in water, upon the top of which it floats, and from which it is removed when it has become cold and hardened; it is a concrete oil or fatty substance of a pale-green color, with a tendency to dirty gray, of moderate hardness and consistence, having the tenacity of beeswax, but more brittle and not so unctuous to the touch, of a faintly balsamic and pleasant odor which is increased by burning it, and of an astringent, bitterish taste. It fuses at a temperature of from 47° to 49° C. (116.6° to 120.2° F.) (Moore), burns with a clear, white flame, producing little smoke, and has the specific gravity 1.004 to 1.006. Water does not act upon it; boiling alcohol dissolves about four-fifths of its weight, but deposits it again upon cooling; but ether also dissolves it, and on cooling deposits it in crystalline plates like spermaceti; the ether becomes green, leaving the wax nearly white; oil of turpentine, aided by heat, dissolves it sparingly; alkalies and acids act upon it nearly as upon beeswax. Sulphuric acid, assisted by heat, dissolves about one-twelfth of its weight, and converts it into a thick, dark-brown mass. A bushel of bayberries will yield about 4 pounds of the wax.
Chemical Composition.—According to George M. Hambright (1863), bayberry bark contains albumen, tannic and gallic acids, starch, gum, red coloring matter, traces of oil, an acrid resin soluble in alcohol or ether, an astringent resin soluble in alcohol, insoluble in ether; myricinic acid, etc. The latter substance is granular, and when shaken with water, produces a bulky froth, hence is analogous to saponin. It is persistently acrid in taste. Ammonia, added to its aqueous solution produces a rapid change of colors from deep green to red, and finally to yellow (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1863, p. 193). The fruit yielded (Dana) solid fat, 32 per cent; starch, 45 per cent; and resin, 5 per cent. According to G. E. Moore (1852), bayberry-tallow is composed of palmitin, 1 part, and palmitic acid, 4 parts, with a little lauric acid (laurin). A more recent analysis by G. Schneider (1890) shows this wax to be chiefly composed of palmitin (70 per cent), myristin (8 per cent), and lauric acid (4.7 per cent), mostly in the free state (see G. M. Beringer, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1894, p. 221).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Bayberry bark is astringent and stimulant, and as such is valuable in debilitated conditions of the mucous membranes; in drachm doses, it is apt to occasion emesis. It was largely employed by the followers of Samuel Thomson, in catarrhal states of the alimentary tract. The bark has been successfully employed in scrofula, jaundice, diarrhoea, dysentery, aphthae, and other diseases where astringent stimulants were indicated. Specific myrica, in small doses (2 to 5 drops) will be found a good stimulant to the vegetative system of nerves, aiding the processes of digestion, blood making, and nutrition. In larger doses (5 to 20 drops) it is a decided gastric stimulant. In small doses it has been found advantageous in chronic gastritis, chronic catarrhal diarrhoea, muco-enteritis, and in dysentery having a typhoid character. It is said to restore arrested lochial discharges. Cases calling for myrica show feeble venous action, while the pulse is full and oppressed. It is not adapted to acute disorders of the alimentary tract, as a rule. A weak infusion used as an injection, is an admirable remedy in amenorrhoea and atonic leucorrhoea. Use the specific medicine or tincture internally also. In scarlatina in the latter stages, when the tissues are swollen and enfeebled, it may be used both for its antiseptic and stimulating effects (Locke).
The powdered bark, combined with bloodroot, forms an excellent application to indolent ulcers, and has likewise been employed as a snuff for the cure of some forms of nasal polypus. In the form of poultice, with elm or alone, it is a valuable application to scrofulous tumors or ulcers. The decoction is beneficial as a gargle in sore mouth and throat, and is of service in injection, in leucorrhoea and fistula, and also as a wash for ulcers, tinea capitis, etc. It also forms an excellent gum wash for tender, spongy, and bleeding gums. The leaves are reputed astringent, and useful in scurvy and spasmodic affections. Probably the M. pennsylvanica, M. carolinensis, and M. Gale, possess similar properties. Bayberry or myrtle wax, has been used by Dr. Fahnestock in epidemic dysentery with typhoid symptoms, with considerable success; it possesses mild astringent, with some narcotic properties. It is also used in the form of plaster, as an application to scrofulous and other ulcers. Dose of the powdered bark, from 20 to 30 grains; of the wax, 1 drachm; of the decoction of the leaves or bark, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces; specific myrica, 2 to 20 drops. Bayberry bark was a constituent of "Thomson's Composition Powder or No. 6."
Specific Indications and Uses.—Profuse mucous flows; catarrhal states of the gastro-intestinal tract; atonic diarrhoea, typhoid dysentery, atony of the cutaneous circulation; full oppressed pulse. Locally and internally—sore mouth; spongy, flabby, bleeding gums; sore throat of scarlet fever when enfeebled and swollen.
Related Species.—Myrica Gale, Linné. Sweet gale, or Dutch myrtle, a smaller plant than the bayberry, is found in swampy places in northern portions of Asia and Europe, and in the United States from the Carolinas to Canada. Its subcoriaceous leaves, pubescent-downy beneath, and its fruit are dotted with a yellow resin. The taste of the leaves and twigs is aromatic, bitterish, and astringent; the odor strongly balsamic. A volatile oil, seven-tenths of which is a stearopten, was obtained in small quantity by Ravenhorst (1836) from sweet-gale leaves. It solidifies at 12° C. (53.6° F.).
Myrica ocuba, a widely distributed shrub, in the Brazilian province of Para, furnishes a fruit whose seeds yield Ocuba wax. It has been used in Brazil in the manufacture of cheap candles.
Myrica jalapensis, Kunth.—A solid fat, is obtained from the fruit by boiling it with water, and the bark of the root is astringent and acrid, and in larger doses emetic. The fat is readily saponifiable with alkalies, has probably the same composition as myrtle wax from Myrica cerifera, and is given internally in powder for diarrhoea and jaundice (Prof. J. M. Maisch, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1885, p. 339).