Traditional uses and benefits of Sweet Gale

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Sweet Gale Quick Facts
Name: Sweet Gale
Scientific Name: Myrica gale
Origin Throughout western and northern Europe, from Portugal, Spain, Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands to Scandinavia
Colors Dark red or purple-red at maturity
Shapes Flattened, egg-shaped nutlets that occur in thick, compact cluster 1/3 to ½ inch long
Taste Bitter and astringent
Health benefits Stomach aches, fever, bronchial ailments, liver problems, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, inflamed gums, skin sores and toothache
Sweet Gale scientifically known as Myrica gale is a deciduous shrub belonging to Myricaceae (Bayberry family). The plant is native throughout western and northern Europe, from Portugal, Spain, Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands to Scandinavia. It also occurs in France, Germany, and Poland and across the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into eastern Russia. It is distributed throughout much of northern North America, including Alaska, all of Canada, Washington, Oregon and from Minnesota eastwards to New England in the USA, as well as the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. It is found in northern parts of Japan, the Korean peninsula, Sakhalin Island and eastern Siberia. It is listed as endangered in North Carolina and threatened in Pennsylvania. Apart from sweet gale it is also known by several common names including bog gale, Dutch myrtle, moor myrtle, waxberry, bog myrtle, Meadow-fern, Sweet bayberry, Candle berry, Bog myrtle and sweet willow. The plant teams up with a bacterium in its roots that can fix nitrogen. Its fragrant, dark-green leaves and fruits (which attract birds) make it a good planting choice for wet areas of the garden. It is eaten by horses and goats, but not relished by sheep and cows.

Sweet Gale Facts

Name Sweet Gale
Scientific Name Myrica gale
Native Throughout western and northern Europe, from Portugal, Spain, Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands to Scandinavia. It also occurs in France, Germany, Poland and across the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into eastern Russia. It is distributed throughout much of northern North America, including Alaska, all of Canada, Washington, Oregon and from Minnesota eastwards to New England in the USA, as well as the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. A subspecies (Myrica gale ssp. tomentosa) is found in northern parts of Japan, the Korean peninsula, Sakhalin Island and eastern Siberia. It is listed as endangered in North Carolina and threatened in Pennsylvania
Common Names Bog gale, Dutch myrtle, moor myrtle, sweet gale, waxberry, bog myrtle, Meadow-fern, Sweet bayberry, Candle berry, Bog myrtle, sweet willow
Name in Other Languages Arabic: Azuri, Kandool
Belarusian: Vaskoŭnik zvyčajny (Васкоўнік звычайны)
Bengali: Kayachal
Catalan: Murta de Brabant
Czech: Voskovník
Danish: Mose-pors, pors, Porse               
Dutch: Gagel, wilde gagel            
English: Bog gale, Dutch myrtle, moor myrtle, sweet gale, waxberry, bog myrtle, Meadow-fern, Sweet bayberry, Candle berry, Bog myrtle, sweet willow
Estonian: Harilik porss, Porss, Lutikarohi, Murdid, Soo kaerad, Rabaumalad         
Finnish: Suomyrtti          
French: Bois sent-bon, galé odorant, lorette, myrica gale, myrte bâtard, myrte de Brabant, myrte des marais, piment aquatique, piment royal, poivre du Brabant, romarin du Nord, Myrique baumier, Piment royal, Myrice baumier
Gaelic: Rideag
Galician: Frundo
German: Brabanter Myrte, echter Gagelstrauch, Gagel, Gagelstrauch, Heidegagelstrauch, Heidemyrte, Mäusemyrte, Sumpfmyrte, Torfgagelstrauch, Post, Moor-Gagel, Torf-Gagel
Greek: Mirtia kollodis (Μυρτιά κολλώδης), Myrtia kollodis
Gujarati: Kayaphal
Hebrew: מיריקה מיצנפתית, Mirika miznafit
Hindi: Kayaphal
Hungarian: Fenyérmirtusz, Mirikacserje, Viaszbogyó
Icelandic: Mjaðarlyng
Irish: Raideog
Italian: Mirto bastardo, mirto di Brabante, mortarella brabantica, Mirica
Japanese: Yachiyanagi (ヤチヤナギ),  Seiyouyachiyanagi (セイヨウヤチヤナギ), Gǔdì liǔ (谷地柳), Ya Chiya nagi (やちやなぎ)
Kannada: Kirishivani
Kazakh: Balsipi   (Балсірі)
Latvian: Balzamkārkls, parastā purvmirte, Purvmirtes
Lithuanian: Pajūrinis sotvaras    
Malayalam: Maruth, miṟaika geyl (മിറൈക ഗെയ്ൽ)
Marathi: Kayaphal
Northern Sami: Riddorissi, Sarvvarissi
Norwegian: Pors, Post  
Polish: Woskownica europejska              
Portuguese: Alecrim-do-norte, samouco-de-brabante
Russian: Voskovnik bolotnıy (восковник болотный), voskovnik obyknovennyy (восковник обыкновенный), voskovnitsa bolotnaya (восковница болотная), voskovnitsa obyknovennaya (восковница обыкновенная), Voskovnitsa (Восковница), Datskiy mirt (Датский мирт), Voskovnitsa, Datski mirt             
Scottish Gaelic: Roid
Serbian: Voskovac (Восковац)
Slovak: Voskovník obyčajný
Spanish: Arrayán de Brabante, mirto de Brabante, Mirto holandés
Swedish: Pors, Suomyrtti
Tamil: Marudam
Telugu: Kaidarayamu
Ukrainian: Miryka zvychayna (Мірика звичайна)
Welsh: Gwyrddling, Helygen Fair
Yiddish: Zumpiker vax-hds (זומפּיקער װאַקס־הדס), vax-hds (װאַקס־הדס), Sumpiker vaks-hodes, Vaks-hodes
Plant Growth Habit Aromatic, shade-intolerant, sub montane to subalpine, circumpolar deciduous single or multi-stemmed shrub
Growing Climates Wetlands. Throughout its range, it occurs in moist, peaty soils in coastal bogs, swamps, lakeshores, ponds, streams, marshes, fens, wet heathland, estuary edges
Soil Cultivated on moist acidic soils where few other species can be grown. It thrives best in peaty soils and cannot tolerate liming
Plant Size About 6 feet tall, with a spread of 6 feet
Stem Spreading, finely hairy when young, glabrous at maturity, loosely branched
Bark Spreading, finely hairy when young, glabrous at maturity, loosely branched
Twigs Slender, dark brown, resin dots may be present, small pointed buds, false end bud
Leaf Alternate, simple, oblanceolate, 3-6 cm. long and up to 2 cm. broad. Leaf blade is cuneate-obovate or narrowly elliptic-obovate, leathery, glabrous, base wedge-shaped (cuneate), apex obtuse to acute, margin entire or serrate in upper ½.
Flowering season March to May
Flower Unisexual, unbranched catkins (aments), with the staminate (male) and pistillate (female) catkins appearing on different plants
Fruit Shape & Size Flattened, egg-shaped nutlets that occur in thick, compact cluster 1/3 to ½ inch long. Each nutlet is about 1/8 inch long with a stubby beak
Fruit Color Dark red or purple-red at maturity
Propagation By seed, layering, or root suckers
Flavor/Aroma Bitter strong flavor
Taste Bitter and astringent
Plant Parts Used Leaves, branches
Available Forms Extracts, decoction or alcohol-based tinctures
Lifespan Approximately 30 years
Season August to September

Plant Description

Sweet gale is an aromatic, shade-intolerant, sub montane to subalpine, circumpolar deciduous single or multi-stemmed shrub that normally grows about 6 feet tall, with a spread of 6 feet. The plant is found growing in wetlands. Throughout its range, it occurs in moist, peaty soils in coastal bogs, swamps, lakeshores, ponds, streams, marshes, fens, wet heathland, and estuary edges. The plant is cultivated on moist acidic soils where few other species can be grown. It thrives best in peaty soils and cannot tolerate liming. Its multiple stems and branches often form dense patches. The plant spreads vegetatively by both branch layering and rooted suckers, often creating large island of plants. Stems are spreading, finely hairy when young, glabrous at maturity and loosely branched. Lower stems are up to about 1 inch diameter with grayish-brown bark. The twigs are slender and hairless, with resin dots. The plant has reddish brown bark with prominent lighter lenticels, turns grayish brown with age. The branchlets are fragrant when bruised.

Leaves

Leaves are alternate, simple, oblanceolate, 3-6 cm. long and up to 2 cm. broad. Leaf blade is cuneate-obovate or narrowly elliptic-obovate, leathery, glabrous, base wedge-shaped (cuneate), apex obtuse to acute, margin entire or serrate in upper ½.  Upper surface is dark green while lower is pale green. Both surfaces are heavily dotted with minute bright yellow wax glands and are hairless or with fine hairs.

Flower

Sweet gale’s flowers are small catkins that appear just before the leaves emerge. Male and female flowers are mostly borne separately on different plants (dioecious), sometimes on the same plant (monoecious), in clusters called catkins. Male catkins are formed from the lateral buds at the tips of one-year-old twigs, with 12 to 25 flowers each with a broad, sharply pointed, yellowish to reddish-brown bract and 4 to 8 pale stamens. They are erect and cylindrical, about ¼ to ⅓ inch long; they are yellow with triangular, reddish scales.

The female flowers are slightly smaller. They also form from lateral buds at the tips of one-year-old twigs. They consist of 15 to 25 tiny flowers, each with two red stigmas supported by oval bracts. The effect is that of fluffy, bright red tufts. Throughout its range, Sweet gale flowers in spring to early summer. Flowering normally takes place in between March to May.

Fruits

Fertile flowers are followed by flattened, egg-shaped nutlets that occur in thick, compact cluster 1/3 to ½ inch long. Each nutlet is about 1/8 inch long with a stubby beak. Fruits are enclosed by spongy bractlets that act as flotation devices in water. This aid in their dispersal to other wet habitats. The fruits ripen in July.

Traditional uses and benefits of Sweet Gale

  • Leaves are abortifacient, aromatic, astringent, emmenagogue and stomachic.
  • In some native cultures in Eastern Canada, the plant has been used as a traditional remedy for stomach aches, fever, bronchial ailments, and liver problems.
  • Traditionally it was used as a medicinal herb to treat wounds, ache and digestion problems.
  • Dried bark was used to treat intestinal wounds and to relieve itching in Sweden.
  • The plant possesses styptic, wound healing and diuretic properties.
  • Leaves of the plant chewed or as an infusion are used as a tonic.
  • The branch tea is used as a diuretic or as a treatment for gonorrhea.
  • It effectively strengthens the Nerves, treats weak memory and mental illness related to old age.
  • The Chinese sip sweet gale infusions to settle upset stomach.
  • If taken when the first symptoms appear, it can often ward off the illness.
  • Gale tea is also drunk for tuberculosis.
  • Modern herbalists recommend a solution made from the root bark to heal inflamed gums and skin sores.
  • Settlers made tea from the bark, leaves, or roots and drank it for upper respiratory infections.
  • The Bella Coola of British Columbia made a decoction from the branches of sweet gale to treat gonorrhea and urinary problems.
  • In Scandinavia the plant’s dried bark was used to treat intestinal worms and relieve itching.
  • Sweet Gale was considered very useful for helping stimulate your dream life, or to obtain lucid dreaming.
  • It is also used for toothache.
  • In the boreal forest, a stem, leaf and catkin decoction was prepared to treat tuberculosis, and seed catkins gathered in fall were used in trap lures.
  • In China, the leaves are infused like tea, and used as a stomachic and cordial.

Culinary Uses

  • They are occasionally put in beer and ale to improve the flavor and increase foaming.
  • The dried leaves make a delicate and palatable tea.
  • Both the nutlets and dried leaves can be used to make a seasoning.
  • Both leaves and aromatic fruits either fresh or dried in small amounts can be used to add flavor to soups, stews and some meat dishes.

Other Facts

  • Yellow dye is obtained from the stem tips.
  • Yellow dye is obtained from the seeds.
  • Bark contains tannin and can be gathered in the autumn and used as a yellow dye.
  • The plant repels moths and insects in general.
  • Strong decoction of the leaves can be used as a parasiticide to kill external body parasites.
  • A fragrant essential oil is obtained from the fruits.
  • The wood and leaves are fragrant when bruised.
  • Leaves are often dried to perfume linen, etc., their odor being very fragrant.
  • Branches have been used as a substitute for hops in Yorkshire and put into a beer called there ‘Gale Beer.’
  • The bark is used to tan calfskins.
  • The Swedes use it in strong decoction to kill insects, vermin and to cure the itch.
  • The dried berries are put into broth and used as spice.
  • The foliage has a sweet resinous scent and is a traditional insect repellent, used by campers to keep biting insects out of tents.
  • It is also a traditional component of royal wedding bouquets and is used variously in perfumery and as a condiment.
  • In Scotland, it has been traditionally used to ward off the Highland midge, and it is marketed as an insect repellent and as an ingredient in some soaps.
  • In Denmark and Sweden the plant is commonly used to prepare home-flavored schnaps.
  • An essential oil derived from the fruits is used in perfumes and soaps, purportedly good for sensitive skin and acne.
  • Tea made from the leaves is also supposed to aid in dream recall and lucidity.

Precautions

  • This herb should not be taken internally while pregnant or breastfeeding- may cause miscarriage.
  • The leaves are normally used as a tea, but they do contain poisonous aromatic oil, so some caution is recommended in their use.
  • Bog myrtle should only be used in small amount as it can cause headaches and other discomforts.
  • Highly fragrant essential oil extracted from the seeds is toxic and should never be used internally.
  • In some people, the herb may cause skin irritation.

References:

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/MYRGA
https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=19265#null
https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomydetail?id=24842
https://pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Myrica+gale
https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/galswe03.html
https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MYGA
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrica_gale
https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/myrica-rubra
http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Myrica%20gale&noTransfer=0
http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2500739
https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/shrub/sweet-gale
https://eflora.neocities.org/Myrica%20gale.html

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