Myrica cerifera

Bayberry

Description

Myrica cerifera is a 1-3 tall shrub found along the eastern coast of the United States from New Jersey to southern Florida and through the Gulf states to Texas. Often found on sandy sites along the coast, it also inhabits a wide variety of sites from swamps to upland woods. The leaves are very fragrant when rubbed. The bark is aromatic, taste astringent, bitter and very acrid. The wax was first introduced into medicinal use by Alexandre in 1722. It is removed from the berries by boiling them in water. The wax is harder and more brittle than beeswax. Candles made from it are aromatic, smokeless after snuffing, and very brittle. It makes an aromatic and softening shaving lather. It has also been used for making sealing-wax. Two kg of berries yield about half a kilo of wax.1 Common names include wax myrtle and candleberry. The medicinal parts are the dried root bark and the wax extracted from the berries.

Constituents

The bark contains tannins, resin (containing myricinic acid), triterpenoids including taraxerol, taraxerone and myricadiol, flavonoids including myricitrin, traces of volatile oil. The wax (lipid) contains esters of palmitic, myristic and lauric acids.2

Therapeutic activities

Mineralcorticoid activity

Myricadiol has mineralcorticoid activity and could therefore cause salt retention and potassium excretion; however the emetic action is likely to come into effect before a clinically significant mineralcorticoid effect is seen. The resin is acrid. A methanol extract of bayberry was found to have antithrombin activity in a bioassay system.3

Antibacterial

Myricitrin has bactericidal and spermatocidal activity.4

Lipase inhibition

The methanolic extract of bayberry bark has been shown to inhibit lipase in mouse plasma in vitro. The extract has also been shown to depress the elevation of blood triglyceride level in olive-fed mice. Myricetin and gallic acid were suspected to be responsible for the inhibition of the lipase activity however, the contents of these compounds in the methanol extract is insufficient to be responsible for anti-lipase activity in the gastrointestinal tract also seen in vivo. Myricitrin, which is present in abundance in the methanol extract (about 61%), did not show the inhibitory activity. However, administration of isolated myricitrin was shown to suppress the elevation of blood triglyceride level to a slightly smaller extent compared with the methanol extract. Consequently, it likely that myricitrin may function as a pro-drug, which becomes activated after its conversion to myricetin, the active substance, by enterobacilli in the gastrointestinal tract.5

Antioxidant

Myricitrin, and its alkaline degradation products had a strong inhibitory effect on the LDL oxidation induced by radical scavenging and copper-ion chelation. Myricitrin has been shown to strongly inhibit oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in an experimental study simulating human digestion. Myricitrin was shown to be very stable under an acidic condition (pH 1.8) corresponding to the gastric environment but it was easily degraded under an alkaline condition (pH 8.5) corresponding to the intestinal environment. However, degraded myricitrin also had a strong inhibitory effect on the oxidative degradation of alpha-tocopherol, cholesterol and apolipoprotein B-100 in low-density lipoprotein. The study shows that degraded myricitrin still retains the antioxidant and copper-chelating activities toward low-density lipoprotein.6

Anti-inflammatory

Myricitrin has anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive (reducing sensitivity to painful stimuli) actions. Nociceptive pain is physiological pain as opposed to pathological pain and may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication rather than medication with just analgesic activity. Myricitrin has been shown to produce a nociceptive response in models of acute pain. The effects of myricitrin have mainly been attributed to the inhibition of PI 3-kinase and protein kinase c activities, nitric oxide (NO) production, nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) over-expression and NF-kB activation. More recently, myricitrin was found to cause a potent inhibition of calcium transport in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, these findings suggest that myricitrin may relieve both neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Pathological (chronic) pain is an unrelenting condition that often becomes debilitating. A recent study demonstrated that systemic (i.p.) administration of the myricitrin produced an inhibition of tactile allodynia (a painful response to a usually non-painful stimulus) induced by two chronic pain models (sciatic nerve partial constriction and chemically-induced inflammation) in mice. Although myricitrin did not reduce neutrophil migration it did succeed in decreasing paw oedema in drug-induced local inflammation, possibly because of its antioxidant activity associated with a decrease in myeloperoxidase activity. This suggests that myricitrin may be beneficial in the treatment of chronic pain and inflammation.7, 8

Chemopreventive

Myricitrin has been shown to prevent colon carcinogenesis in an experimental bioassay. 34 rats were divided randomly into five experimental groups. Rats in groups 1-3 were given subcutaneous injections of a cancer-inducing compound once a week for 3 weeks. Starting 1 week before the first injection, rats in groups 2 and 3 were fed a diet containing 500 or 1000 mg/kg myricitrin, respectively, for 11 weeks. Rats in group 4 were fed a diet containing 1000 mg/kg myricitrin. Rats in groups 1 and 5 were given the basal diet alone during the study. The experiment was terminated 11 weeks after the start. The frequency of aberrant crypt foci (a precursor of colon cancer) per colon in group 3 treated with 1000 mg/kg myricitrin was significantly lower than that in group 1 (control group) (p<0.01). Furthermore, dietary myricitrin at both doses (groups 2 and 3) significantly inhibited the formation of BCAC (beta-catenin-accumulated crypts - a precursor for colonic adenocarcinoma) when compared to group 1 (p<0.05).9

Apoptosis-inducing

The mitochondrion plays a central role in cellular metabolism and apoptosis. During apoptosis, a wide variety of cellular signals elicited from the membrane, cytosol or mitochondria are activated by stimuli. These signals can disturb redox and energy metabolism and modulate the expression of certain genes (Bcl-2). Mitochondria may sense the death signals and commit cells to apoptosis by releasing death factors into the cytosol, such as cytochrome c. Myricitrin has been shown to induce apoptosis via a mitochondrial-dependent but reactive oxygen-independent pathway involving protein kinase C, cytochrome c and the caspases cascade.

Actions

Traditional actions

Astringent, tonic, stimulant, mild diaphoretic. Emetic in large doses.

Possible actions (based on the myricitrin research)

Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, apoptosis-inducing, chemo-protective, lipase-inhibiting.

Traditional usage

The early American colonists used bayberry to make fragrant candles rather than medicines. Initially bayberry was used medicinally only in the South, where the Choctaw Indians boiled the leaves and drank the decoction as a treatment for fever. Later, Louisiana settlers adopted the plant and drank bayberry wax in hot water for the most violent cases of dysentery. During the early 19th century, bayberry was popularised by Samuel A. Thomson, a New England herbalist. He used it for producing 'heat within the body'. Thomson recommended bayberry for colds, flu, and other infectious diseases in addition to diarrhoea and fever. Contemporary American herbalists recommend using the herb externally for varicose veins and internally for diarrhoea, dysentery, colds, flu, bleeding gums, and sore throat.10

Jethro Kloss, in his book, Back To Eden writes:

Bayberry is excellent as an emetic after narcotic poisoning of any kind. It is good to follow the bayberry with an emetic, such as lobelia. Bayberry is also valuable when taken in the usual manner for all kinds of haemorrhages, whether from the stomach, lungs, or excessive menstruation, and when combined with capsicum it is an unfailing remedy for this. Very good in leucorrhoea. Has an excellent general effect on the female organs, also has an excellent influence on the uterus during pregnancy, and makes a good douche. Excellent results will be obtained from its use in goitre. In diarrhoea and dysentery, use the tea as an enema. For gangrenous sores, boils, or carbuncles, use as a wash and poultice, or apply the powdered bayberry to the infection. The tea is an excellent wash for spongy and bleeding gums. The tea taken internally is useful in jaundice, scrofula, and canker sores in the throat and mouth. The tea taken warm promotes perspiration, improves the whole circulation and tones up the tissues. Taken in combination with yarrow, catnip, sage, or peppermint, it is unexcelled for colds.11

M. Grieve writes in A Modern Herbal that bayberry is used in the treatment of diarrhoea, jaundice and scrofula. Externally, the powdered bark is used as a stimulant to indolent ulcers, though in poultices it should be combined with elm. The decoction is good as a gargle and injection in chronic inflammation of the throat, leucorrhoea and uterine haemorrhage. It is an excellent wash for the gums. The powder is strongly sternutatory and excites coughing.1

The specific indication according to the Eclectics were as a stimulating astringent indicated when there is excessive mucous discharge, where catarrhal conditions exist in any locality, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Also where atonic diarrhoea, or persistent diarrhoea, accompanies prostrating disease; also where there is feeble capillary circulation of the mucous membranes, accompanied with phlegmenous ulceration. Locally and internally for sore mouth, with spongy, bleeding gums.

It was a remedy for those conditions where the vital powers are at low ebb. It aids the nutrition, stimulating the absorption of food, and promotes the restoration of depraved blood. It is considered a valuable alterative and a mucous membrane tonic where it was used in any condition where the mucous surfaces have lost tone, and are throwing out a profuse discharge. Bayberry was given with capsicum for its stimulating and tonic properties. It was combined with pleurisy root for breaking up recent severe colds. Bayberry was also used in chronic stomatitis, where the breath is bad, and there is slow ulceration, the mucous membranes. It was combined with Hydrastis and applied to the mucous surfaces in chronic nasal catarrh. Bayberry is described as combining stimulating and astringing powers in about equal proportions. The entire circulation is slowly but steadily elevated by it, and a good outward flow of blood secured.12

Priest and Priest describe bayberry as a positive diffusive stimulant that arouses circulation and eliminative organs. Indicated for a soft, compressible pulse and peripheral laxity. For heavy catarrhal states of mucous membranes where it removes thick, viscid secretions from gastro-intestinal tract. Babyberry was also recommended for its positive influence upon the uterus and the venous system.13

The great Eclectic Scudder claimed that the agent was a stimulant to the essential processes of digestion, blood-making and nutrition. The remedy may be given to advantage to those patients who are afflicted with chronic malarial symptoms and jaundice, with imperfect liver action, who are troubled with headaches, which are worse in the morning. The tongue is coated yellow, there is weakness and the patient complains of muscular soreness and aching in the limbs. The pulse is slow and the temperature is inclined to be subnormal. There is dull pain in the right side. No appetite, unrefreshing sleep, or where there are catarrhal conditions of the bile ducts resulting, in jaundice.12

Bayberry was also used as a warm infusion (in small doses so as to not cause vomiting) to induce perspiration in colds or to relieve cramping diarrhoea (but not dysentery), uterine haemorrhage, and haemorrhage from the bowels and lungs. Bayberry was used with capsicum in flooding and excessive lochia (post-natal bleeding) where is exerts a direct stimulating influence on the uterus leading to its firm contraction in cases of labour 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.14

Used in cold preparations (such as alcohol extracts), bayberry was used in chronic menorrhagia, and leucorrhoea with prolapse. For such purposes, it is combined with relaxing tonics; 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. In these conditions bayberry was given in frequent, small doses. Bayberry wax was used externally as an ointment for ringworm, tinea capitis, and other dry and excoriated sores.14

Indications

  • Fevers, colds
  • Diarrhoea, mucous colitis - bayberry is having a relaxing effect on the bowels, reducing, but not suppressing, the potentially debilitating eliminations of diarrhoea.15, 16
  • Poor appetite, poor digestion (stimulates the flow of bile)
  • Leucorrhoea (douche), sore throat (gargle), sores and indolent ulcers (poultice)
  • Stomatitis, bad breath and mouth ulcers (gargle)

Use in pregnancy

Not recommended during pregnancy.

Contraindications and cautions

Myricadiol has mineralcorticoid activity; however the emetic action is like to come into effect before a clinically significant mineralcorticoid effect is seen. It is however theoretically possible those high doses could interfere with steroid medication or medication for blood pressure regulation.2

In large doses, bayberry root bark may cause stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting. Those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions, such as colitis should use it cautiously.

Administration and Dosage

Powdered herb: 0.6-2 g by infusion or decoction.16
Bayberry (Bark) 1:1 45% alc: 0.6 to 2.0 ml 3 times daily.16

References

  1. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal 1931 http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/bayber20.html Accessed 15/09/2008
  2. Van Wyk BE, Wink M Medicinal Plants of the World 2004; Arcadia: Briza. 209
  3. Chistokhodova N, Nguyen C, Calvino T, Kachirskaia I, Cunningham G, Howard Miles D. Antithrombin activity of medicinal plants from central Florida.J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 Jul;81(2):277-80.
  4. Taguri T, Tnaka T, Kounob I.Antibacterial Spectrum of Plant Polyphenols and Extracts Depending upon Hydroxyphenyl Structure. Biol. Pharm. Bull. 29(11) 2226—2235 (2006)
  5. Kobayashi K, Ihara S, Kobata A, Itoh K, Kusunoki N, Yoshizaki F. Inhibitory effect of Myrica bark on lipase activity in mouse plasma and gastrointestinal tract. J Med Food. 2008 Jun;11(2):289-93
  6. Yokomizo A, Moriwaki M.Myricitrin degraded by simulated digestion inhibits oxidation of human low-density lipoprotein. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2005 Apr;69(4):693-9.
  7. Meotti FC, Missau FC, Ferreira J, Pizzolatti MG, Mizuzaki C, Nogueira CW, Santos ARAnti-allodynic property of flavonoid myricitrin in models of persistent inflammatory and neuropathic pain in mice. Biochem Pharmacol. 2006 Dec 15;72(12):1707-13.
  8. Meotti FC, Senthilmohan R, Harwood DT, Missau FC, Pizzolatti MG, Kettle AJ. Myricitrin as a substrate and inhibitor of myeloperoxidase: implications for the pharmacological effects of flavonoids. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Jan 1;44(1):109-20
  9. Asano N, Kuno T, Hirose Y, Yamada Y, Yoshida K, Tomita H, Nakamura Y, Mori H. Preventive effects of a flavonoid myricitrin on the formation of azoxymethane-induced premalignant lesions in colons of rats. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2007 Jan-Mar;8(1):73-6.
  10. Holistic Online http://holisticonline.com/Herbal-Med/_Herbs/h75.htm Accessed 15/09/2008
  11. Kloss J Back to Eden 1939 http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Pjma9L3OLWwC&pg=PA90&lpg=PA90&dq=Myrica+cerifera&source=web&ots=iBIqyAWWpV&sig=UltCEuA4Dpyv8AYaqcCnklNLr-I&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result#PPA91,M1 Accessed 15/09/2008
  12. Ellingwood F The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919 http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/ellingwood/myrica.html Accessed 15/09/08
  13. Priest AW, Priest LR. Herbal Medication - A clinical and dispensary handbook 1982 Romford: Fowler;66
  14. Cook W The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/cook/MYRICA_CERIFERA.htm Accessed 18/09/08
  15. Mills SY The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine. 1991. London:Arkana;157
  16. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia 1983 Cowling:British Herbal Medicine Association;146-147