Thursday, January 17, 2013


As soon as I moved to New York I started going to the local beaches.  I'm not one to sit still for very long and as soon as the SPF was applied I'd go exploring.  Walking along the beach I'd look for shells and pretty rocks, but further up along the dunes were some other treasures to behold.  Beach roses, or beach plum, were the first discovery.  Even tho they're not a showy rose they have a wonderful rich fragrance.  The rose hip, or plum as they're called in this case, are much larger than your average hip and many people make jam with them.  I also found horsetail, a very old plant that's been around since prehistoric times.  Horsetail is loaded with calcium, so much so that one has to be very careful not to take too much for fear of calcium crystals forming.  There's plenty of bittersweet, too, and in the autumn the dunes are a sea of orange.

The best thing I've discovered on the beach, tho, are the bayberry bushes.  They're so huge yet inconspicuous that they could easily be overlooked.  Northern bay, Myrica pensylvanica, has leaves with a sticky spicy aroma and the waxy berries were used by American colonists to make clean burning candles.

The herb is astringent and stimulant and emetic in large doses.  A decoction is good as a gargle for chronic inflammation and is an excellent wash for the gums.

Culinarily the leaves can be used dried as in traditional bay leaves.  In that case harvest them in the fall when they've matured and turned leathery.  Leave them to dry completely and their flavor will intensify.  I use them in soups and stews all winter long.  In season I like to chop them up fresh and use them to season pork and chicken.  I haven't had a chance to see what they do in vodka yet but I'll be trying that soon.  I hear they did wonders in a bottle of gin according to Edible Manhattan.

My special interest in making botanical colognes got me thinking of using the leaves to try my hand at making Bay Rum.  I read many recipes and bought myself a few bottles (most notably Dominca and Ogallala, the reputed best available) and set to work experimenting.  Like all of my colognes they are a work in progress and the formulas will be tweaked and improved upon until I find just the right recipe.  I made mine with fresh bay leaves, allspice, cinnamon, dried orange zest, vodka and white rum.  The scent wasn't quite accurate so I admit to adding a couple of drops of bay essential oil (Pimenta racemosa), the optimal variety of bay leaves used in making Bay Rum.

My colognes, including Bay Rum.