This cosmopolitan genus contains about 50 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees. Several species have aromatic foliage and are able to thrive in difficult growing conditions. Myrica cerifera (wax myrtle) is especially adaptable, tolerating both poor, sandy soil and swamps. Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry) is similar, but hardier. The fruits of various species are boiled to produce wax for making candles, which are aromatic and smokeless. Myrica cerifera and M. gale (bog myrtle) contain tannins, resins, gums, and bactericidal substances. Myrica gale was once an important her for tea and flavoring in some northern communities; it is the badge of the Campbells, the Scottish clan. Myrica cerifera is a key herb in the Thomsonian system of medicine, being the main astringent used for "any stomach or bowel derangement, particularly after fevers". Myrica californica is similarly used for gastrointestinal disorders and infections.

Evergreen shrub or small tree with oblanceolate leaves, to 9cm (3½in) long. Male flowers are borne in scaly catkins, to 2cm (¾in) long; females in an ovoid cluster, followed by spherical, gray-white, waxy fruits, to 3mm (1/8in) across.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Wax Myrtle, Candleberry
Botanical Name:
Myrica cerifera
Native Location:
Well-drained to wet, acid, sandy soil in sun or partial shade. Myrica gale prefers permanently wet conditions.
By seed sown when ripe; by layering in spring; by suckers (M. gale); by semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Whole plants or leaves are collected during the growing season; bark and root bark in late autumn or early spring. All parts are dried for decoctions, infusions, liquid extracts, and powders. Fruits are gathered when ripe for wax extraction.
3-12m (10-40ft)
5m (15ft)
Parts Used:
Leaves, shoots, flowers, bark
A bitter, pungent herb that has diuretic and rubefacient effects, improves digestion, and prevents and treats formation of stones in the kidney and bladder.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for urinary tract infections, urinary problems associated with prostate enlargement, kidney and bladder stones, gastritis, poor appetite, fevers (bark); obesity, rheumatism (leaves). Externally for rheumatism (leaves).
Culinary Uses:
Leaves and young shoots are cooked as a vegetable. Flowers are pickled. Berries and seeds are also edible.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp 182-183