Myrica pensylvanica, also known as Candleberry, Wax Myrtle, Northern Bayberry. This native species has long grown across the dunes and woods of the outer Cape. Unfussy, it tolerates sun or shade, drought, poor soil, and salt spray blowing off the ocean and bay. Myrica pensylvanica makes its own fertilizer, balancing nitrogen as roots spread across the sands. Gripping the earth, roots hold strong against wind and weather. In summer, shrubs flower inconspicuously against shiny leaves. Flowers give way to berries. Come fall, the leaves hang on, their color shifting slightly, deepening and darkening with the change in seasons, touched by the autumnal light of the sun. But by winter, most of the leaves will have fallen, tired from hanging on for so long. Clinging to brown branches, the berries stick around. Their color feigning a grey morning just before dawn, the ocean against a snow sky. Birds shelter in the understory. They feed on the berries and flutter through the leaf fall.
Native to the eastern states, Candleberry received its namesake from the colonists. Used for candle and soap making, it was a much more pleasant wax to work with than tallow. Traditional bayberry candles were made by collecting berries in the fall; 5lbs. of berries could yield about 1lb. of wax. Because of this small, unpredictable yield, the candles were burned only on special occasions or given as a gift.
The following recipe uses the fallen leaves from the plant to infuse beeswax, leaving the berries for the birds. A few supplies are needed: namely beeswax, wicks, and candle jars. I gathered a handful of leaves, placed them in a muslin bag and crushed the leaves, releasing the plant essence. Place this bag in beeswax and slowly infuse over low heat for a few hours.
Keep in mind, a bee has to fly 6 times around the earth to produce 1lb. of beeswax, making their harvest just as precious as bayberries; save candle ends and bits to melt down into new candles.
SUPPLIES NEEDED: Make a swap shack visit and designate tools for candlemaking.
-metal or glass heat-proof measuring cup (with a good pourer) and large pot to fit it in
-8oz. heat-proof candle jar or canning jar
-cotton or hemp wick
-stirring stick or wooden skewer
-8oz. beeswax (weighed out)
-leaves and muslin bag or cheesecloth
INSTRUCTIONS: Use caution when melting and working with beeswax.
-Create a double boiler: Place beeswax into measuring cup in a large pot filled with water. Make sure water level is higher than wax and maintain level as it evaporates off.
-Add leaves to muslin bag, tie tightly, and crush leaves. Place in measuring cup with wax.
-Heat wax low and slow (approx. 150 degrees) and cook for a few hours. Infuse longer if using leaves.
-Carefully remove muslin bag, squeezing excess wax back into measuring cup.
-Stir throughly to ensure even temperature before pouring.
-Prepare jars: Place wick in jar. Add a dab of wax to the bottom of the wick first to help secure it to the bottom of the jar. Allow wax to cure.
-Slip wick through the metal eye of a clothespin. Gently pull wick taut towards the end of the clothespin and secure.
-Make your first pour evenly, quickly, and carefully. Leave space at the top for a second pour.
-Allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour without disturbing. Keep remaining wax over low heat.
-Carefully poke 4 - 5 holes around the wick with a wooden skewer.
-Restir beeswax and make a second pour. Allow to cure.
-Repeat if necessary to fill in cracks that occur while curing. (This tends to happen in colder temperatures as the wax on the outer edge cools faster. It’s helpful to keep jars warm prior to pouring in cooler weather.)
-Allow to completely cool before disturbing. Remove clothespin.
-Trim wick to 1/4” and give thanks to the plants and the bees that contributed to your candle.