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It is a distillate that was originally made in Saint Thomas "and probably other West Indian islands" from rum and the leaves and/or berries of the West Indian bay tree, Pimenta racemosa. Other ingredients may be citrus and spice oils, the most common being lime oil, oil of cloves and cinnamon. It was first made fashionable in New York and other American cities before it was available in Europe.
Proprietary bay rum lotions are produced by labs in several West Indian countries, as well as American and European fragrance companies. The original bay rum from St. Thomas by A. H. Riise continues to be produced locally in the US Virgin Islands by the West Indies Bay Company.
The bay laurel, the "bay leaves" in common culinary use, are from a completely unrelated species, Laurus nobilis, and not the West Indian bay tree. Bay laurel can be used to produce a similar, although not identical, product.
- Stills in the Hills, a 2012 exhibit at the White River Valley Museum, Auburn, Washington.
- John M. Maisch (Philadelphia), "On the Origin of Bay Rum", American Journal of Pharmacy 33 (1861:289).
- Maisch identified the leaf in the herbarium at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, collected in St Croix, "by the late Dr, Griffith", which was identified as Myrcia acris, now transferred to the genus Pimenta; Maisch added "But it is very probable that various species are made use of for the same purpose."
- A drop of oil of cloves is added to two parts bay oil and one part pimento oil in one of two recipes for bay rum in "Practical notes and formulæ", The Chemist & Druggist, 34 (27 April 1889:576); the aromatics are steeped in alcohol and as a last step an equal part of "good rum" is added.
- Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Laurus"
- "That it is little known in Europe may also be judged from the fact that it is not even mentioned in Piesse's Art of Perfumery" (Maisch 1861); George William Septimus Piesse, The Art of Perfumery (1857)
- A recipe for bay rum from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy was included in The Pharmaceutical Journal (Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain) 23 February 1878:679
- "St Johns Bay Rum Aftershave - The Original Bay Rum".