Bayberry, Our Most Local (and Overlooked) Herb, Often Lives Right Under Your Nose

Suddenly bay has become boring. There’s a new leaf in town, hiding in plain sight.

It was chance that led me to crush the leaves of the ubiquitous Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) in passing.  Immediately the scent of fresh, tender foliage cried, “cook me!” To think that I used to look at this native denizen of our area’s dunelands with some scorn as a garden designer, thinking, “but what does it do?” No flowers, silly little round fruit, and all those evergreen leaves.

I had been aware of bayberry’s Old Time application in soap making, which is what may have put me off. And while most foraging resources list the dried leaf as the edible part, no one spoke about using it as a fresh herb. I now find myself gathering the fragrant green leaves from our beach and riverside bushes and carrying them home for dinner. The leaves of shrubs growing in full sun have a more pronounced flavor than those shaded by the wild cherries of the Rockaways or the serviceberries of Battery Park’s South Cove.

So far, the finely chopped fresh bayberry leaves have lent themselves well to a fresh herb rub for baby back ribs and under-the-skin stuffing for roast chicken (they were mixed with sweet butter). Gin infused with the leaves takes on a delicately green herbal note, which works well with the spirit’s juniper kick. They often grow side by side, after all: Top a bayberry-infused Gibson with some pickled field garlic, and you are granted gold star entry to foraging heaven.





Marie Viljoen lives in Brooklyn and believes in food, flowers and plants you can eat (and drink). Join her on her seasonal forage walks or find her at her blog, 66 Square Feet.

  • Dayhvid

    hi, you may be interested to know that 3380 years ago, a young woman in Denmark was buried with a bucket of mead, the ingredients of which were Honey, Wheat, Cranberry, and the lot flavoured with Bog Myrtle, your Bayberry leaf ;) I live in Canada, and just found the recipe, and looking for sources here; sure hope I don’t have to come to Manhatten ;) 
        Cheers, Dave  if you want to read about the girl and her burial

  • j.michael queen

    Whoeverdesigned a web page that jumps around like a Dervish with palsy knows nothing of how to keep someones interest. I refuse to jump around trying to follow an entry, and I bet many others feel the same, but may not take the time to say so.

    Sincerely, Prof. JMQ

  • Amber Benham

    Thanks for the heads up! That photo gallery was causing problems, so I removed it. Happy reading.

  • dave lutz

    Please check bayberry leaves out on webMD or similer site before eating. While it has been used as a Medicine, it may have some bad stuff.

  • I just read in the encyclopedia that uncooked bayberry leaves are poisonous and a tea version used to be used to induce abortion. Stumbled on your page while looking at how to make bayberry candles, happy foraging.