If you think making your own natural Bayberry Candles smells like fun, be forewarned, it is hard work! First you need to collect the berries which are smaller than black pepper corns and it takes it takes from 3 to15 pounds of bayberries to make 1 lb of wax. The smaller the berries are, the more of them that you will need. According to Bayberry wax and bayberries by Louis O. Williams, “Bayberries probably have some 5 to 10 percent of wax by weight, although as much as 25 percent has been reported”. He also writes that the “wax” from the berries is not a true wax but, “rather a vegetable tallow composed largely of glycerides”. If you have ever wondered why real bayberry candles are so expensive, you will wonder no more after trying to make your own.
Bayberry candle wax was discovered by early American colonists who were looking for an alternative to tallow (made from rendered animal fats), which gives off black soot, air pollutants and an unpleasant smell (especially if the fat became rancid, yuck!). The color of bayberry wax can vary from sage green to olive green in color. The aroma of bayberry wax is sweet, rich and distinctive. Colonist folklore states that if you light a new bayberry candle on Christmas Eve, you’ll have health, wealth and prosperity in the coming year. The adage reads, “A bayberry candle burnt to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket”. Bayberry candles are fragrant, more brittle than bees’ wax candles, and are virtually smokeless. Bayberry candle wax comes from the bayberry shrub which produces very decorative bluish grey tinged berries. There are two types of Bayberry shrubs, the Northern Bayberry (Myrica Pensylvanica) and Southern Bayberry (Myrica cerifera), both which produce the berries.
Once you find a nice stand of bayberry bushes loaded with bayberries, simply strip the little berries off of their branches and into a bag, but be careful because spiders, wasps and other biting or stinging creepy-crawlies may be living among the berries. After you collect the quantity of berries that you need for the amount of bayberry wax that you want to make:
1) Remove any leaves, twigs or debris in the berries and pour them in a metal cooking pot.
2) Cover the berries with two inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and continue to boil the berries for about 10 minutes. You will see an oil-like sheen form on the surface of the water then a foamy scum will begin to float on top — this is the bayberry wax melting off of the berries. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.
3) Remove the wax that has floated to the top and hardened. Break it into pieces that will fit into a coffee can. Throw away the remaining twigs and berries in the pot.
Place the coffee can filled with wax into a pan of water on the stove and heat it slowly at low temperature. As the melts down you can add more chunks. If you were not able to collect pounds of berries (I only collected ¾ cup) you may add some bee’s wax as an extender.
5) When making bayberry candles, be sure to keep the candle small, like the size of a tea-light or votive, set a candle wick into molds and pour the melted wax into them. Allow candles to cool then remove from the molds. Light your homemade bayberry candles and enjoy!