What’s In A Tree Name?
The Bay tree (Pimenta racemosa), or the West Indian Bay tree, is the source for the essential oil used in the production of Bay Rum (including Turtle Bay Premium Bay Rum products). This Bay tree, a plant in the Myrtle family, is also known as the “Bay Rum” tree, confusing it as the source of distilled rum, the island drink. This has become an acceptable name (especially in the Virgin Islands) because of an early association during the production of rum. However, Bay Rum essential oil is derived from the Bay tree, while distilled rum spirits are a by-product of sugar production (sugar cane, or Saccharum officinarum.) A description of the Bay tree is accurately described on the StJohnBeachGuide.com website: http://www.stjohnbeachguide.com/
Bay Rum trees are fairly easy to identify. They can be very tall, growing to be as much as 80 feet high, but since the seeds propagate easily under favorable conditions, most established stands contain trees and seedlings of all sizes. As a tree matures, the outer layer of bark peels off, leaving the trunk smooth and shiny with a beautiful blend of brown and tan colors. The trunk is similar in appearance to the guava berry and guava tree, but the leaves of the Bay Rum are distinctive. They’re larger (about six inches long and two inches wide) than either the small-leafed guava berry or the light-green-colored guava and are shiny and blue-green in color. The Bay Rum leaves are also so deliciously aromatic that their fragrance can dominate whole sections of forest. Walking through these areas can be a heady experience.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the once-thriving sugar industry all but disappeared on many islands, including the island of St. John, then a territory of Denmark. With little industry left, the islands seemed to enter their “dark ages,” mostly leaving the indigenous population to fend for themselves. St. John had the perfect climate and soil requirements for the Bay Rum trees to flourish. In the 1890’s, the Danish West India Company saw opportunity in St. John, and, in 1903, purchased land at Cinnamon Bay and began growing fruit for export. The shelf life of fruit did not allow for the riches the company sought, but bay oil was a better commodity for export, once the original uses for the oil were rediscovered. Bay essential oil’s roots can be traced back to the early Europeans who used these oils as a fragrance to combat the stench of living without daily showers and in high humidity climates. This practice encouraged locals to improve their own home-based tree cultivation and distillery skills.
Despite the changing times, the oil of bay, extracted from the Bay tree species, still provides the natural essential oil, appreciated for its subtle quality, distinctly superior to overpowering cologne types available today that mimic the aroma through synthetic fragrances.