side project – bayberry wax

bayberry 02

I’ve been working on a frivolous project recently. above, we see the northern bay berry, a deciduous shrub with a pleasant, christmas-y smell and hard gray berries. these berries contain a scented substance, the only wax more expensive than bee’s wax. it’s expensive because you need a TON of berries to produce just a little of it. however, the process is easy and the work is somewhat enjoyable. beyond that, the bushes grow everywhere on my property, so I decided to procure some of the wax to polish my wooden bow ties with. I might also use it to scent candles or soap I’m thinking of making.

bayberry 03

strip the berries off of the twigs by roughly sliding your hand along the stem. the plant is pretty tough, so there’s not a lot of worry about permanently harming it as you harvest, even if some leaves and twigs get broken. the smell of the plant as it’s being stripped almost makes the process worth it on its own.
bayberry 05

once you have a sizable amount, remove any twigs, leaves, or other debris from the pot. there will be plenty of garbage in there other than berries, but most of it will be too small to bother with. fill your vessel with water so that there are a few inches above the mass of berries. cover the pot and bring the contents to a boil for 5 or so minutes, then turn the heat down low.

you should see an oil film forming on the water’s surface. some sources will tell you to take it right off the heat, but I find that some of the melted wax gets stuck inside the layers of berries which have been roiling in the water as it bubbles; leaving it on low heat for a while allows this trapped wax more time to come to the surface.

the wax layer will cool and harden to a light green solid, some parts in sheets and some parts in grains. you can strain these pieces off and put them in a glass vessel, placing this vessel in turn in a water filled pot. melting this wax a second time will separate any  remaining water out, leaving you with one solid piece of wax. the more effort you spent cleaning the debris out of your berries at the start, the cleaner this wax will be. you can use it for a variety of purposes, and it really is quite nice. as previously mentioned, the only problem is how freakin’ many berries you need for a tiny bit of wax. this photo gives you a little idea of the ratio of berries to wax.

bayberry 10

on the left are the berries required to produce that tiny amount of wax on the right. in the middle we see the fluid I boiled the berries in; despite the gray color of the berries and the green of the wax, the juice extracted by boiling is red! it produces a crazy pink when used as a dye – I’m going to harness this fact in a future project.

New Image

either way, the wax smells great and it lent a nice shine to my tie. it’s a fun, free, and natural project that really takes very little effort – assuming you have time to collect buckets of berries.

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