Bog Myrtle – Myrica Gale: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Bay Leaf of Wild Plants

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Sweetgale AKA bog myrtle (myrica gale) is edible and medicinal, but it can induce an abortion. So excited moms-to-be will want to stick with enjoying its beauty and the beauty of the gorgeous moths who use it as a host plant.

Sweetgale AKA bog myrtle (myrica gale) is common in central Ontario, in shores and along wet banks. It tends to form large colonies. It’s the main shrub in the lake near the one acre, which is more of an acidic peat bog due to the old mill that was there. Our lakebed is feet of sawdust. That’s prime real estate for sweetgale.

Its red flowers are female, and the yellow are male, and they are usually on separate plants but not always. The plant itself changes back and forth between sexes. Most flowering plants are male and female, because flowers on hermaphroditic plants can pollinate themselves.

Edible Uses of Bog Myrtle

The leaves and nutlets are edible. The leaves can be picked anytime for tea or seasoning, and dried to increase the scent and flavour. Early summer is the best picking time. You can store the dried leaves in a jar out of sunlight. Use them like bay leaves, sparsely and by putting them in dishes whole, cooking and then removing before serving. The nutlets can be used sparingly for seasoning too, but make sure you don’t accidentally pick some galls instead! It has a strong scent and bay-like flavour.

If using the leaves for a tea, it’s recommended to skim the oil off the top or leave it uncovered when steeping. This oil has some toxicity.

Hop put this one to disuse for ale, the fate of many herbs. But some homebrewers are bringing it back. In Denmark and Sweden it’s used to flavour schnapps.

Medicinal Uses of Bog Myrtle

Bog Myrtle is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags include Abortifacient, Diuretic and Emmenagogue. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes its use by herbalists to terminate pregnancies. There are quite a few herbs with parts and components that can potentially induce an abortion, but often the dosage required is also toxic to the one consuming it. There are many cases of people dying trying to self induce an abortion with herbs. You wouldn’t want to do try this at home just like using a wire hanger is also dangerous. Please be safe and seek professional help for pregnancy issues.

Alternative Uses of Sweetgale

A yellow dye can be obtained from the bark, buds and seeds. And a brown dye from the branch tips.

The resinous scent may repel fleas and other insects, so it’s used in essential oil recipes for insect spray and the plant itself for pest proof bedding.

It’s used to perfume potpourri, soaps, etc.

It’s a nitrogen fixer for soil.

Growing Myrica Gale

Rain gardens and ponds are perfect for native sweetgale, and in your pond it will protect any fish and other small pond occupants. If you want to keep it under control you may want a rhizome barrier around the border you’d like it to fill. It will feed many bugs and the larvae of of many local moths including many olethreutes spp., the old maid underwing (catocala coelebs), projecta gray (cleora projecta), red-fronted emerald (nemoria rubrifrontaria), and ruby tiger moths (phragmatobia fuliginosa).


The oil in the leaves is toxic in high doses.

Do not consume if pregnant or trying to conceive. This plant may induce abortions.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

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