Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Sweet Gale - Myrica Gale

Family: Myricaceae (Bayberry family)


"Myrica gale is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2 m (6ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in). It is hardy to zone (UK) 1. It is in flower from Mar to May, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Wind.The plant is not self-fertile.
It can fix Nitrogen. It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil."[PFAF]

"General: Shrub, 0.5-2 m tall, spreading by suckers; stems spreading, finely hairy when young, glabrous at maturity, loosely branched, bark dark reddish." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Leaves: Alternate, deciduous, oblanceolate to more oblong, 3-6 cm long, up to 2 cm wide, entire to coarsely few-toothed above the middle, hairy on both surfaces or rarely glabrous below, strongly dotted with yellow wax-glands, rounded to blunt, aromatic." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Flowers: Inflorescence of male and female flowers in spikes on separate plants; male catkins 1-2 cm long, the male flowers with 3-5 stamens, the filaments shorter than the anthers; female spikes 1 cm long, crowded, bractlets flattened, fused with the pistil at the base and longer than the subtending bract, yellow-waxy." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Fruits: Nutlets, 2.8-3 mm long, cone-like, glabrous except for wax glands." [IFBC-E-flora]

Habitat / Range
"Swamps, bogs, fens, lakeshores and estuary edges in the lowland and montane zones; common in coastal BC, rare in SC and NE BC; circumboreal, N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to MN, TN, NC and OR; Eurasia." [IFBC-E-flora]

Origin Status: Native [E-flora]

Ecological Indicator Information
A very shade-intolerant, submontane to subalpine, circumpolar deciduous shrub (trans­continental in North America). Occurs on wet to very wet, nitrogen-medium soils within boreal, wet cool temperate, and cool mesothermal climates; its occurrence increases with increasing latitude. Symbiotic with nitrogen­fIxing organisms. Common and often dominant in non-forested, semi-terrestrial communities on water-collecting sites. Occasionally grows with Carex obnupta, C. sitchensis, and Spiraea douglasii. Characteristic of wetlands. (IPBC)[E-flora]

Species Mentioned: M. gale[Schofield][Berries], M. californica [Berries], and Sierra bay (M. hartwegi) [Berries]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses
In Maine, M. gale (called " meadowfern") is a traditional cold remedy. [Schofield]
Potawatomi have no medicinal use for this plant to our knowledge. Among the whites,185 the leaves and buds have been used for their tonic, alterative, blood purifying and vulnerary properties.[HuronSmith Zuni] "Sweet Gale is the aerial part of Myrica gale." "Sweet Gale has been used in digestive disorders. A strong brew of dried bark is also, used in Sweden as a vermifuge and to cure itching." [PDR]

"The most striking feature of the plant is the pleasant smell of the volatile oil secreted from numerous glands on its leaves and catkins (1). The oil paralyses the biting midge, Culicoides impunctatus (2), giving some support to the view that the volatile oil of M.gale L has a role in resistance to insect pests. ... the leaves of the myrtle contain a flavonol glycoside and an oil which inhibits growth of fungi found naturally on the myrtle leaf. The present report explores the interaction between a human surface pathogen, Trichophyton interdigitale, obtained from Colindale Laboratories, England, with both the intact oil and several of its purified constituents. It was decided to choose a human surface pathogen, because it is a common cause of infection of the feet and groin where it invades keratin and causes an inflammatory reaction. From the therapeutic point of view it is noteworthy that Myrica oil penetrates keratin."[Stuart]

"In traditional medicine very prominent is the bog myrtle Myrica gale L. (Myricaceae), a native plant in Canada as well as in Scotland. GC-MS analysis of the leaf EO revealed 53 components with myrcene, limonene, a-phellandrene, and b-caryophyllene as the major compounds. In the 60-min fraction of this oil the caryophyllene oxide content was higher (9.9%) than in the 30-min fraction (3.5%). The anticancer activity of these extracts was tested in human lung carcinoma cell line A-549 and human colon adenocarcinoma cell line DLD-1. The 60-min fraction showed a higher anticancer activity against both cell types than the 30-min fraction. The higher cell growth inhibition induced by the 60-min fraction could be caused by the accumulation of sesquiterpenes (Sylvestre et al., 2005)."[CRC HEO]


"The oil of sweet gale leaves and flowers has been the subject of many studies (1-9). It can be seen that the composition of the oil can vary quite markedly between different populations of the same species. We did not find the data about the composition of the oil from sweet gale fruits.
In this study, a supercritical fluid extraction with CO2 and a micro simultaneous distillation extraction (SDE) method was used for isolating the volatile compounds from sweet gale fruits. This new alternative extraction technology has been shown to exhibit several advantages in the extraction of natural products from plant material (10-12). The influence of SFE process parameters such as pressure, extraction-time and sample pre-treatment on the oil recovery, have been studied. The composition of SFE extracts was compared with results of SDE method.
The effect of extraction time on yield was also investigated. Extraction time was varied from 30 to 90 min under different pressures. It can be considered that the optimal extraction time was 60 min....
As the fruits of the sweet gale are covered with hard scale, the effect of grinding was studied. There is considerable difference between two runs. Extraction from ground fruits proceeded more effectively (the yield increased six times at 40°C and 20.7 MPa). The fluid penetrated the matrix easier and had direct contact with the analyte. As a result, we believe that it is important to grind fruits immediately prior to extraction to avoid possible loss of volatile components.
As can be seen, the same compounds were identified in both the oil and the extract....
Quantitatively the most important compounds (> 2%) in the oil and the extract were 1,8-cineole (20-28%), α-pinene (7-21%), limonene (7-9%), p-cymene (3-6%), (E)-nerolidol (2-5%), camphene (2-4%), δ-cadinene (2-4%), borneol (2- 4%), α-terpineol (3%) and α-terpinyl acetate (3%). All of these compounds have been identified in the oils of sweet gale leaves and fl owers but in different quantities (1-8). Terpinen- 4-ol, γ-selinene, selina-3,7(11)-diene and juniper camphor represented up to 3% and the other terpenoid compounds contributed below 1% of the total oil and extract." [Sokolova]

"Myrica gale has enjoyed semi-sacred status in Irish lore and might have been expected to have occupied an equally central place medicinally, for lack of phytochemical efficacy does not seem to have been a barrier to the use of other herbal species lucky enough to have acquired a magico-religious halo. However, its role has been mainly the humdrum one of an insecticide: either to repel fleas and other insects, especially by being put in beds and linen (Caernarvonshire,19 Isle of Man,20 Galloway,21 Islay and Jura22) or to destroy internal worms (most of the foregoing with the addition of the Highlands23 and Western Isles24 more generally). Despite the lengthy history of use for these purposes, the more recent, short-lived exploitation of the plant commercially as a midge repellent, under the fitting brand name Myrica, only came about through someone’s chancing to notice in Scotland that midges avoid areas where this plant is plentiful.25" [MPFT]

"There is some difference of opinion about the needs of this plant. Most reports say that it prefers a moist soil and that it grows well in an open position in a well-drained soil in sun or light shade. Most reports also say that it prefers or even requires a lime-free loamy or peaty soil[1, 200] but another report says that it succeeds in any ordinary garden soil[11]. In the wild it is usually found in soils with a pH between 3.5 and 6, but it is also sometimes found in fens with a pH as high as 7.5[186]. A suckering shrub, when well sited it can form thickets[186]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil micro-organisms, these form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200].This habit also allows the plant to succeed in water-logged soils[186]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. This plant is occasionally monoecious and also can change sex from year to year[50]. Flowers are produced mainly on one-year old wood[4]. All parts of the plant are pleasantly aromatic[186]. A good food plant for the caterpillars of many species of butterflies[30]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]."[PFAF]

Alleochemical: We report the identification of the allelochemical 3-(1-oxo-3-phenylpropyl)-1,1,5-trimethylcyclo-hexane-2,4,6-trione, known as myrigalone A, from the fruits and leaves of Myrica gale. The structure of the compound was confirmed by high-resolution techniques (UV, MS and NMR analysis). The compound is phytotoxic towards classical plant species used for allelochemical assays and also against Fallopia x bohemica, a highly invasive plant. Application of either powdered dry leaves or dry fruits of M. gale also showed in vitro phytotoxic activity. We hypothesize that M. gale could be used as a green allelopathic shield to control Fallopia x bohemica invasion, in addition to its potential use as an environmentally friendly herbicide. [ASPA]

"Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a cold frame. Barely cover the seed and keep it moist. Stored seed germinates more freely if given a 3 month cold stratification and then sown in a cold frame. Germination is usually good[78]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in the cold frame for the first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer[K]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 5 - 8cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Pot up and overwinter in a cold frame. Fair to good percentage[78]. Cuttings of mature wood in November/December in a frame. Layering in spring[200]. Division of suckers in the dormant season. Plant them out direct into their permanent positions."[PFAF]]




Myricaceae - Wax Myrtle Family

"Shrub. Leaf: aromatic; blade unlobed, ± serrate, especially in upper 1/2. Staminate flower: stamens generally 3–5. 2 species in North America, Eurasia, temperate. (Greek: old name for fragrant shrub) Myrica californica moved to Morella.
Unabridged note: Myrica gale L. circumboreal."[Jepson]

Key to the Species and Taxonomic Notes
1. Plants evergreen, monoecious, 2-6 m tall; leaves usually sharp-pointed....................M. californica
1. Plants deciduous, dioecious, 0.5-2 m tall; leaves usually round-tipped...............................M. gale [E-flora]

Local Species;

  1. Myrica californica - Bayberry [PCBC][TSFTK]
  2. Myrica gale - sweet gale [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]

Species Mentioned;


Other Uses

Medicinal Uses


Page last modified on Sunday, January 2, 2022 1:59 AM