I'm a procrastinator by nature (not proud), so the holidays always seem to approach very quickly for me. Lofty goals for loads of DIY projects and recipes for blog posts get further and further out of reach as Dec. 25th looms closer and closer ever so quickly. So, I hope I posted this in time for you all to use this holiday.
Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is a common shrub in New England and Nantucket seems to be loaded with it. It's leaves and berries have a pleasing wintry fragrance and the waxy berries have been used for centuries to extract candle wax. The wax has a beautiful natural olive green hue.
A few weeks back Iley and I set out to the woods to collect as many bayberries as we could, mama doing most (all) of the collecting. Papa found us in the woods as he was riding his bike through and stopped to help. Thing is, you need a lot of bayberries to extract a usable amount of wax. I only got 6 oz. of wax out of my 12 pounds of berries. That's a lot of picking, but all in the name of handmade with love gifts for my favorite peeps.
There are other types of Myrica species that can be used to make wax if this northern variety doesn't grow where you are. I suggest a quick google search to see if there are any native varieties growing in your neck of the woods.
I unfortunately did not get to photograph every step, since I did some of this at night (and I'm a purist when it comes to natural light only in photos, hehehe). The basic break down is, pick lots of bayberries, boil them in water, filter it through cheesecloth, allow it to cool so wax separates and hardens. Then melt with some beeswax and make taper candles. If you've ever made your own tapers before the process for dipping is the same.
Stay tuned for some holiday treats recipes which double as easy handmade gifts, and also a super-power vegan nog (yup, it's that good and good for you!). Subscribe to the blog so you don't ever miss a post, link in sidebar or top menu.
Detailed how-to after loads and loads of photos...
DIY Bayberry Candles
- bayberries (12-16 lbs to get 6-8 oz. of wax)
- cotton wick or hemp cord
- large pot
- large heat proof bowl
- cheesecloth for filtering wax
- heat proof container for melting wax such as a tin can
- second tin can
- skewers or chopsticks
Remove the bulk of leaves and twigs from your foraged bayberries. Add bayberries to pot and cover with water by 2". Bring to a boil and simmer at a low rolling boil for about 20-30 minutes. Line a bowl or another pot with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Pour boiled bayberries into cheesecloth lined bowl to filter out the berries, leaves and twigs. Then remove cheesecloth from bowl. You can reboil the berries in more water to extract more wax from them and then repeat the filtering process. Allow the liquid to cool (I let it sit overnight outside) and the wax will rise to the top of the water and harden. You can now easily remove the solid wax from the water.
Weigh your bayberry wax and then add an equal amount or up to 1.5 times more beeswax to it. Melt bayberry and beeswax in a candle making pitcher or a tin can set in a boiling water bath. Cut wick to a few inches over the doubled length of the desired length of taper candle you want. So if you want 4" long candles cut wick to 10-12" long. Dip wicks into wax and remove them. Loop wick around skewer so that the ends hang down evenly.
Tip: hot wax is messy so lay some newsprint or kraft paper down on your work surface before you start to dip your candles.
Holding the skewer, dip the wick into the wax and then lay the skewer across the second tin can opening to allow the wax to drip down and cool. Repeat process until you have your desired width of candles.
Wrap taper pairs with twine or raffia and add some greenery, or a dried orange slice/cinnamon stick for a festive gift. Or package them into muslin pouches, dyed or stamped as you please. I had some indigo shibori pouches on hand that I dyed a while ago for things just like this. (I love when I do that)
P.S. You can also buy bayberry wax here, in case you can't procure enough bayberries from your surroundings. I found this out after the fact btw (typical).