Sweet gale

Myrica gale

Common Name: Sweet gale; Meadow-fern

  • Upright shrub that reaches 2–5 feet tall.
  • Is dioecious, with female and male parts on separate plants.
  • Most of the plant contains orange resin dots that produce a delightful, spicy fragrance when crushed.
  • Flowers in the early spring.

Native or Invasive: Native shrub

Characteristics: An upright, branched aromatic shrub found in the area between the open beach and adjacent woods. The bark is reddish-brown to gray. The male catkins (cluster of flowers) form in the fall and overwinter in order to be ready for the spring. The roots contain nitrogen-fixing nodule bacteria that add to the health of the soil. The shrub can often be seen drooping over the sides of rivers and streams. It is found throughout the northern portion of the Great Lakes region and is absent from most of the southern areas.

Habitat: Low cobble or sandy beaches as well as wet stream sides.

Fun Fact: The leaves were traditionally thrown into a fire to keep insects away and to make linens smell good.

Ethnobotanical Uses: Traditionally used as a flavoring for beer, fish and vegetables. Boiled branches were used as a diuretic and to treat gonorrhea. Seeds were boiled to make a yellow dye. The female flowers were used to make fishing lures.

Adapted from Guide to Great Lakes Coastal Plants, by Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, University of Michigan Press.