Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bay Rum Makes the Old Spice Guy Smell Like A Pansy...

I know at some point in your life you've asked that age old question... "How can I, modern cube dweller, smell like a swarthy, rum drinking, fist swinging, girl in every port, ready for danger 19th century West Indies sailor?"

Natural Bay Rum aftershave ...That's how!

Bay Rum has been around about as long as Methuselah...(and if you know how old he is please let me know)...but really, this odoriferous concoction was made and routinely used by sailors in the West Indies around the 19th century. A true "local" product it was made from the leaves of the West Indian Bay tree (pimenta racemosa), Jamaican dark rum & spices. This concoction was them  combined in a bottle and set to "mingle" in a dark place below decks.

The result? a herbaceous cologne perfect for masking the briny odors of hard working sailors hoping to gain the affections of governors daughters, feisty harlots and other comely port side beauties. With an initial nose as bold as a cannonball yet mellowing quickly to be as delicate as a westerly trade wind, Bay Rum did right by the rum soaked Limeys, Privateers and their ilk. Nowadays this sweet nautical elixir can be used by you, the modern male (or female), to mask the ungodly stench of printer toner, ass-berry scented office candles and crappy office coffee.

I know you must be saying "I signed up for a blog about the Redland, not this Cabin Boy perfume-o-rama BS"...stay with me.
Coontie - Zamia Floridiana

Tucked away deep in the Redland, around 320th Street and 197th Ave is a great nursery called Caseys Corner. They carry native and "almost-native" plants, trees, shrubs & palms. Saw Palmetto, Coontie, Old Man Palm, Citrus of all shapes and sizes, even thornless Florida Blackberry bushes.

Florida Blackberry!
 Casey's Corner is one of my favorite stops for plants in the Redland, I like it because of the personal attention, great variety of unique plants and the fact that they use many organic and earth friendly methods in their culture and pest control practices. They use ladybugs & praying mantis for pest control. I myself use ladybugs in my yard and can say that they are GREAT at controlling pests. Their larvae are awesome at attacking all sorts of bad critters, can't recommend them enough. They also use powdered Neem tree & Neem oil as well as organic soaps to control scale and other pests. It's places like this that really typify the diversity of the Redland and how more and more producers are leaning towards sustainable methods, native plants and overall high quality in their products. It's very exciting to see this kind of energy and interest blossoming in this area. Who knows what else will happen in the coming years.
Cotton Candy Plant in bloom
thats the berry in the top left

The first time I visited the nursery, Casey walked us around the property passing us samples of every kind of fruit & herb you could imagine. All at once, and in an almost Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka type experience we were tasting and viewing so many unique plants and fruit it made our heads spin. Some of the flavors that still linger in my mind are the confection-sweet berries of the cotton candy plant (cordia dentata), the heady perfume of All Spice leaves (pimenta dioica), plump & sweet Florida blackberries and the true-to-its-name Cranberry Lettuce, a plant with deep red maple like leaves that taste amazingly like cranberries. I could just imagine it mixed into a salad of various greens, walnuts & goat cheese drizzled with a citrus vinagrette mmmmm...

Defenitely one of the most memorable plants of that trip was this Lemon Bay Rum Tree or Pimenta Racemosa Citrafolia it had the deep scent of bay leaves but with a rich lemon punch. It's complex scent lingered in my brain for weeks afterwards. Apparently they are hard to come by so I knew I had to back for it.

Last week found me in the Redland on a pre-thanksgiving landscape mission. I stopped by Caseys to pick up some Saw Palmetto & Coonties for a corner of my yard I'm dedicating to native palms & cycads. Low maintenance, disease resistant, tolerant of drought and pests; they create a very cool tropical atmosphere and are extremely easy to take care of. I asked about the Lemon Bay and she said she only had one left, done...I bought it and planted it that same day.

The Lemon Bay Tree (pimenta racemosa citrafolia) is a close, hard to come by cousin of the West Indian Bay Tree (pimenta racemosa). Both are natives of the Caribbean islands but are very well adapted to our South Florida (Zone 10) soil & weather patterns. It's an amazing little tree. Full, tall & very green with shiny foliage. And the Each leaf smells intensely of lemon, and if you inhale deeply enough I swear you can smell Coca-Cola...I'm thinking secret ingredient number A24-9...

While Lemon Bay is not related to the bay leaf we cook with (laurus nobilis), you can use. Lemon Bay in cooking too. One of the best ways to capture the flavor is to grill it with fish. Simply make a foil pouch, place the fish inside, add one large leaf, butter, kosher salt, pepper and seal it up & grill on med high heat until done (10min x inch of fillets thickness). The result is a delicately scented fillet you wont soon forget. I also added some leaves to my turkey brine this year along with some florida orange zest & locally grown sage, it made for some mighty fine fried thanksgiving turkey. 

I was curious as to what else I could do with my new favorite plant, so a few Googles later...I found myself wrapped up in ancient crypto-apothecary lore and now I'm writing a blog entry about homemade Bay Rum...we are living in extraordinary times my friends...
Enough wandering! back to the Bay could go the easy way and buy Bay Rum at your local Walgreens (just drive to a corner, any corner, I'm sure you'll run into one) OR you can do the fun thing and make it your own damn self! Its easy and many guys do you know can say they make their own aftershave...I thought so. So here's the deets...

Bay Rum Aftershave
  • 4 Ounces Vodka (something cheap, like Popov...remember, rhymes with "top off") 
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark Jamaican Rum
  • 6 fresh West Indian Bay Tree Leaves or Lemon Bay Leaves (I used my lemon bay leaves, Don’t use the bay leaf they sell at the grocery store)
  • 6 Whole Allspice berries, slightly crushed
  • 1 Stick of Cinnamon
  • Fresh Zest from a Small Florida Orange (the zest is the colored part of the rind, w/o the white inner layer (that's called the pith) You can get the zest with a "zester" , microplane or just use a really sharp paring knife to cut around the orange)
Main plant ingredients left to right: Orange peel, Allspice, Cinnamon & Lemon Bay Leaves
How To Make it Do what it Do: combine all ingredients in a mason jar or similar clean glass container, set in a cool dark place, not the fridge, and let sit for about 2 weeks. Strain the contents through a few coffee filters until all solids are strained out. Put the finished product in a worthy bottle (those Grolsch beer bottles with the flip top are perfect). Splash it on after a shave or add a dab to your face on your way to the marina...the ladies down at the dock will thank you for it ;). And if aftershave isn't your thing you can also use it as a room fragrance, just drop some scent reeds into the bottle and voila, your living room is now West Indies scented!
I hope you've enjoyed this left turn into the obscure, good luck to you in your homemade aftershave endeavors and now if you'll excuse me I have to go tie the jib to the yardarm so we can make the sheet fast and tack true to the Trades...but first I think I'll freshen up with some homemade Bay Rum...

Keep it local, keep it good, keep it locked on Redroots! ;)



  1. Love the title, and the history of bay rum is correct. It is about as masculine a scent as could be! A bit of warning: it is not moisturizing in the slightest. I got a bay rum aftershave made with a similar method, and it burned my face like a flamethrower. Try adding a few drops of vegetable glycerin for a moisturizing affect. Otherwise, great tutorial and great history lesson!

    1. Thanks for the tip on adding aloe, I'll be trying that out on my next batch!

  2. Nice blog. I found it in my google search results for lemon bay rum. I live in Southwest Florida and have been trying to decide whether or not to purchase a specimen I saw for sale at a local nursery (only $25 for a 6 ft tree) and now I think I will do it. Thanks.

    1. Glad you liked the post! It's a great tree and has so many uses, a great multi-tasker to have in the yard.