Is a Box Myrtle Poisonous?

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The box myrtle (Myrica nagi, Morella esculenta, Myrica esculenta or Myrica rubra) is a member of the Myricaceae family, and is a native of eastern Asia, typically grown across the Himalayas and in India, China and Japan. This tree does not grow natively in the United States, but other members of the Myricaceae family, such as the northern myrtle (Myrica pensylvanica) and the Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), are grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. The American relatives of the box myrtle, specifically the wax myrtle, are indeed poisonous and have been shown to contain carcinogens in the berry wax. The box myrtle, however, is not poisonous and its roots, bark, and berries are used for numerous purposes.

Physical Characteristics

  • The box myrtle is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall, in many different soil types. It prefers well-drained soil, but can prosper in sandy, loamy or clay soils with neutral or acidic pH, and in the sun or in shade. The box myrtle has dark brown or black bark with both male and female yellow flowers that produce drupes of red, knobby succulent fruit.

Leaves and Roots

  • The leaves of the box myrtle are approximately 2 to 4 inches long, elliptical in shape and grow at the end of the branches. They are a dark green on the surface and light green underneath. Leaves can be used to produce a yellow die. The roots of the box myrtle perform nitrogen fixation, the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate that can be metabolized by plants, making them good sources for natural nitrogen additives.

Bark

  • The bark of the box myrtle has been traditionally used for its medicinal properties. It is aromatic, has been used as an astringent, and has been used in a wash to treat arsenic poisoning, skin diseases, wounds and ulcers. The acrid, bitter, pungent bark has also been traditionally used to treat fevers, asthma and cough, and a snuff from the bark has been used to alleviate headaches and eye diseases.

Berries

  • The berries of the box myrtle are the most widely used part of the plant. The sweet fruits are eaten raw, canned and used to make alcohol. They are rich in vitamin C, and like the box myrtle bark, have many alternative medicinal uses when used as an oil or wax. The plant produces fruit in the summer, with a long harvesting season, and must be harvested multiple times. The harvested fruit does not have a long shelf life, and must be used within two to three days.

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