This evergreen shrub is found in various habitats ranging from New England to Delaware and Maryland in the United States. However, the plant can be successfully cultivated as far north as southern Connecticut and Long Island on the U.S. east coast. It also grows in Bermuda and the Caribbean. Its waxy fruits are a source of food for many birds including Wild Turkey, Quail, Wren and Tree Sparrow whose digestive systems remove that waxy coating and prepare the seeds for successful germination. Bayberry’s fruits are also a traditional source of the Christmas decorations called bayberry candles. The wax was extracted by boiling the berries, and skimming off the floating hydrocarbons. The fats were then boiled again and then strained. The leaves are glandular and produce aromatic essential oils. Another very interesting botanical note is that his plant’s roots possess nodules, which are home to a symbiotic species of fungus, which fixes nitrogen at a faster rate than legumes. This makes it possible for poor soil to become hospitable for other plant species requiring more nitrogen to thrive.
The root bark is the part of the plant used, and Native American tradition contains many references to its uses to support various structures and functions in the body. In the early 19th century Samuel Thompson regularly use Bayberry in his practice to support. For twenty years starting in 1916, bayberry root bark was listed in the American National Formulary. The root bark has an extremely astringent taste, due to the high tannin content, and is also quite warming. The two properties are those valued by traditional herbalists who seek to find ways of supporting the body’s natural defenses and working with the healing response. Bayberry has been used to support respiratory function especially when bringing tone to excessively wet mucous membranes is called for.