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Bay rum tree (Pimenta racemosa)

Bay rum tree (Pimenta racemosa)Bay rum tree (Pimenta racemosa)

The evergreen Bay tree grows up to 20 meters high and, as a child of the tropics and subtropics, tolerates neither drought nor temperatures below 5 °C. Its small white flowers give off a spicy fragrance reminiscent of cloves and nutmeg. The leaves also emit this fragrance as soon as their leathery skin is damaged. The bay belongs to the myrtle family, so it is not related to the Mediterranean bay laurel. However, because it is so similar in appearance, the bay is also called "West Indian bay".

Origin and cultivation

Originally, the bay was probably at home on the Caribbean islands, but already in prehistoric times it made the leap to Central America - probably with the help of man. Because of its leaves, which contain up to five percent essential oil, the bay is cultivated in plantations, including in some African and Asian countries. Pruning cultivated trees to four meters makes it easier to harvest the leaves. Especially in the Pacific islands, including Hawaii and Fiji, it runs wild and displaces native species.


The strong, spicy scent of Bay oil is reminiscent of clove oil, responsible for this is the main ingredient eugenol, which is also found in cloves and can make up almost 50 percent of the essential oil. Eugenol inhibits the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi. In addition, Bay oil has an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect by influencing messenger substances involved in inflammatory processes and pain perception. Tannins accelerate the healing of small wounds.

Use of Bay

Bay tree leavesBay tree leaves
  • The inhabitants of Central America used the leaves to preserve meat and fish and as an antiseptic for minor wounds. Today, bay oil is used to treat tension and sprains and to prevent sore muscles
  • In the cosmetics industry, bay oil extracted from the leaves is used as a fragrance component. The scent is pleasantly spicy and masculine-tart. In hair tonics, Bay oil stimulates blood flow to the scalp and is said to promote hair growth. Traditionally, bay oil is dissolved in Jamaican rum, the resulting bay rum is excellent as an aftershave and as a home remedy for various skin irritations.
  • Leaves and dried fruits of the bay serve as a spice in Caribbean cuisine.

A close relative of the Bay is the Jamaica pepper Pimenta dioica, whose unripe and dried fruits find use in cooking as allspice.

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