Learn how to make real bayberry candles from scratch with this simple tutorial. Bayberry candles were traditionally gifted at Christmas time and New Year’s Eve in colonial America and burning bayberry candles is said to bring good luck in the coming year.
Bayberries have a natural wax in them that has a greenish hue and wonderful wintry forest aroma. The wax can be extracted from the bayberries and melted down to make your own bayberry candles with a few simple steps. Collecting the berries is the most time-consuming part but is well worth the hard work for these beautifully scented homemade bayberry candles.
What are Bayberries?
Bayberry plants are common shrubs from the family Myrica. Most varieties of bayberry shrub have evergreen foliage and berry-type fruit with a pleasing fragrance. The gray berries are coated in a waxy substance that has been traditionally extracted for candle making Bayberry wax has a beautiful natural olive green hue and smells like a wintry forest. There are approximately 30-35 varieties of Myrica found all over the world and are known by other common names like wax myrtle, sweet gale, candleberry and bay-rum tree.
Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica aka Morella pensylvanica) is native to the North American eastern seaboard and found prominently throughout New England's Atlantic coast. These native shrubs grow wild all over the island of Nantucket, where I live and is the variety I used to make these natural bayberry candles. Southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera aka morella cerifera) can be found throughout the Southeastern coastal states. Look for native species of Myrica in your area to forage.
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Bayberry candles have been made for centuries and were prized for their pleasing scent, whereas most candles made in colonial times were made from tallow or animal fat. Tallow candles don't burn as clean or smell as nice as those made with pure bayberry wax, so bayberry candles were saved for special occasions and given as gifts by early colonists in the United States. Early settlers would collect the berries in late fall to make candles for the holiday season. It became a tradition for early American colonists to burn a new bayberry candle every Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve to bring good fortune and abundance in the next year.
The tradition and legend of the bayberry candle continues yet today. According to tradition, a bayberry candle should be lit when the first star appears in the sky in the evening and burn until after midnight right down and extinguish on its own. Whatever you do, don't blow out the handmade candle as it is considered bad luck to extinguish the candle yourself. Usually friends will exchange their own candles and recite the following poem.
Bayberry Candle Poem
These bayberry candles come from a friend. So on Christmas Eve & New Years Eve burn it down to the end.
For a bayberry candle burned to the socket will bring joy to the heart & gold to the pocket.Anonymous
How to Make Traditional Bayberry Candles
A few weeks back Iley and I set out to the woods to collect as many bayberries as we could. Jake found us in the woods as he was riding his bike through and stopped to help. Thing is, you need a lot of berries to extract enough wax for true bayberry candles, I'm talking bushels of bayberries. The general rule of thumb is that it takes 15 pounds of bayberries to extract 1 pound of wax. I only got 6 oz. of wax from the 12 pounds of berries we collected. For this reason, bayberry wax candles are usually made with a blend of bayberry wax and beeswax to help stretch the wax and make more candles. A 1 to 1 ratio of pure bayberry wax and pure beeswax will still produce fragrant candles with a green hue. You can even it stretch it a bit more to up to 1.5 times as much beeswax.
The basic breakdown is, pick lots of bayberries, boil them in water, filter it through cheesecloth, allow the mixture to cool so the bayberry wax separates and hardens. Then melt it with some beeswax to make bayberry taper candles. If you've ever made your own taper beeswax candles before the process is the same.
Waxy Bayberries: You'll need roughly 15 pounds of berries to make 1 pound wax, so collect as many as you can. You can also purchase pre-made bayberry wax, in case you can't procure enough bayberries from your surroundings.
Pure Beeswax: Add beeswax to stretch the small amount of bayberry wax you'll extract.
Candle Wick: For up to 1" diameter taper candles, use 15 ply flat braid candle wicking or #5/0 square braid wicking. 1mm thick hemp wick can be used for mini tapers up to ½" thick like what is shown in the images.
Large pot: Use a large stockpot to boil the bayberries.
Large heatproof bowl or another pot: You'll need another pot or a large bowl to strain the boiled bayberry liquid into.
Candle making pouring pot: Melt the wax in a candle pourer or in a tin can set in a boiling water bath.
Tin can: Use a tin can to rest the dipped candles on as they harden between dips.
Skewers or chop sticks: Use these to drape the wicks over as you dip them into the wax.
Step 1: Boil the bayberries
First, winnow or remove the bulk of leaves and twigs from your foraged bayberries. Add the waxy berries to a large pot and fill it with water to cover the berries with 2 inches of water. Bring the pan of water to a boil then lower the heat to a low rolling boil for about 20-30 minutes. The bayberry oil and wax will melt out of the berries and settle on the surface of the water.
Step 2: Extract the wax
Line a bowl or another pot with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Pour the hot mixture through the cheesecloth to filter out the berries, leaves and twigs. Reboil the berries in more water to extract as much wax as possible from them and then repeat the filtering process. Allow the liquid to cool and the wax will harden on the top of the water. Once the bayberry wax solidifies it can be easily removed from the water.
Step 3: Prep the raw materials
Weigh the bayberry wax and then add an equal amount or up to 1.5 times more beeswax to it. Melt the bayberry wax and beeswax in a candle-making pitcher or a tin can set in a boiling water bath. Cut the wick a few inches longer than the doubled length of the desired length of taper candles you want. So if you want 4" long candles, double that to 8" and add a few inches to it and cut the wick to 10-12" long.
Step 4: Dip the candles
Lay out newspaper to protect your work surface from hot wax drips. Dip the cut wicks into the melted wax and remove them. Loop one wick around a skewer so that the ends hang down evenly. Holding the skewer, dip the wick into the wax and then lay the skewer across the second tin can to allow the wax to drip down into the can as it cools and hardens. Repeat the dipping process until you have your desired thickness of candles. Standard taper candles have a ⅞" diameter at their base. Let the resulting candles harden completely by hanging them over a drying rack.
Bayberry Candle FAQs
Bayberry candles have a distinct and pleasing wintry evergreen fragrance.
No, bayberry candles made with real bayberries and pure beeswax are not toxic. Bayberry is a non toxic plant used medicinally by Native Americans and herbalists. It's natural wax burns clean.
The burn time for bayberry candles depends on the size of the candle. A standard ⅞" diameter taper that is 6" tall will typically burn for 4 hours. A tiny taper like what is shown in the images that is ½" diameter and 4" tall will burn for 1.5 hours.
Gift Wrap Ideas
Wrap bayberry 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).
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How to Make Bayberry Candles
- large pot
- large heatproof bowl
- candle making pouring pot
- tin can
- skewers or chop sticks
- cotton wick or hemp wick
- Remove the bulk of leaves and twigs from your foraged bayberries. Add bayberries to the 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 through the cheesecloth to filter out the berries, leaves and twigs. Optionally 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 the 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 the wick to 10-12" long. Dip wicks into the wax and remove them. Loop wick around the skewer so that the ends hang down evenly.
- 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 the process until you have your desired width of candles.
- Wrap bayberry tapers to give as gifts of good luck on Christmas Eve and new Year's Eve.
- Supplement homemade bayberry wax with pre-made bayberry wax if necessary.