Bayberries

Gosh, we’ve been so busy these past few weeks that I’m not even sure where to begin regarding our newfound obsession with bayberries. I guess it’s been about three weeks since my last post, so I’ll try to recap as best I can.

A few weeks back we were exploring the woods that line the bike path near our house. We ran across some Northern Bayberry bushes, noted them, then came back and did some research on them. We learned that people used to make candles out of the waxy berries, and that the leaves are used as seasoning, much like Bay Laurel (which we grow at home).

We had put the bayberries on hold for a moment because it was actually time to collect rosehips for winter tea. We drove down to where I thought I remembered an actual “wall” of roses; I was wrong, but we still found some.

We were pretty late to the beach rose party, though: most of them were shriveled up and black on the vine. In any case, I only mention the rosehips because while we were looking for them, we found big thickets of bayberry bush, and many bushes actually dripping with berries.

Because we didn’t go to this area with the intent of collecting the bayberries, we weren’t prepared for them, so we only were able to collect about three ounces. With a 16:1 berry to wax weight ratio, three ounces would get us absolutely nowhere. During the week, we went back to our original bayberry spot near the house, but to our heartfelt disappointment, every last berry was stripped clean from the bushes. Every single one.

So this weekend, we decided to make another run to the beach where we happened upon them with the rosehips.

Scarborough Beach

It was a spectacular view, really, for bayberry picking, and I can’t think of many other ways I might like to spend a Saturday.

The bayberry is fairly easy to spot. It has lanceolate leaves, somewhat shorter than an olive. The leaves (at least at this time of year) are green with tinges of red, with a dark greyish-brown bark and these bright, pale blue berries. As the berries age, they darken a bit, but if you’re looking at all, it shouldn’t be hard to spot them.

The berries can be collected easily by placing a large vessel under the collection bush, then scraping around the branch with your thumb and forefinger into the vessel. We used large, plastic bowls because they were easy to carry. When crushed between your fingers, the berries have a very distinctive, pleasantly astringent, clean, crisp scent. To me, they smell like autumn or winter mornings.

We plan to make some colonial-era candles with the wax, but as we only collected a couple pounds of berries, we will likely only retrieve a couple ounces of wax, and we don’t know if that will yield even enough to make one candle. In any case, we intend to try and make notes for next year.

These excursions aren’t really entirely about the getting, anyway. We truly enjoyed the trip to the ocean to collect the berries, and I suppose if that’s what gets us to exploring, then I don’t even care what we come home with.

Black Point has a lot to offer. We found all kinds of neat plants, this very cool abandoned carriage house (which I think had a run as a mid-century restaurant) and has now been completely overtaken by nature. I even found a bird’s nest inside! There were lots of little pathways and trails to explore, from tidepool to beachside. We’ll definitely be back.


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