The term ‘siliment leaves’ may not be very well known. This is because they’re another, uncommon term for West Indian bay leaves (also known as pimenta racemosa). They’re often used in Caribbean cuisine and are usually more fragrant than the Turkish, California, Indian, or Indonesian version of bay leaves.
Even those who are familiar with Caribbean cuisine may not know that bay leaves are also known as siliment leaves. We may say ‘siliment’ to differentiate between West Indian bay leaves and the other kinds that are used in different cuisines.
What Does a Siliment Leaf Taste Like?
This particular leaf has quite an intense flavor; it has notes of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and even cardamom or vanilla at times. If we rub the leaves between our fingers, the distinctive smell of the siliment leaf will stay there for some time.
What is the Siliment Leaf Known As?
We’ve already discussed how ‘siliment’ isn’t the usual local name for this kind of leaf or the plant it comes from. The tree that gives us this bay leaf is sometimes called just ‘the spice tree’ in certain parts within the Caribbean. This tree grows fairly large and might even tower over neighboring plants. It’s also called the ‘bay rum tree’ or the ‘sweet bay’. The former name is probably due to the bay rum cologne that’s made from the plant.
The bay rum tree is part of the myrtle family and is also related to the allspice ingredient. It’s found all over the Caribbean and requires a lot of water plus sunshine to flourish. Since the Caribbean climate is ideal for this plant, we can find it easily in that area.
How Easily Can We Find Siliment Leaves?
If we’re in the Caribbean, siliment leaves are probably all over the place. Since the climate is so supportive for the plant, the leaves are abundant there and are sold fresh. Even if the leaves aren’t actively growing at any point in the year, they’re easy to dry and store for a very long time. If we can’t find fresh leaves, the dried ones are always available and just as beneficial.
What do Siliment Leaves Look Like?
These leaves may come in many different sizes. They can go from 2 inches to 5 inches long, and their width can go up to 2.5 inches.
The leaves themselves are shiny and usually thick, unless they’re in their dried form. Their color could range from bright to bottle green. As they mature, the leaves give off a more robust flavor and also grow darker in color.
What Are the Uses of Siliment Leaves?
We’ve already covered everything about bay leaves in general, but siliment leaves in particular have their own set of uses. Just like other kinds of bay leaves, these are utilized in cooking rice, stews, and soup dishes. Porridge, oats, and plantains also get a nice flavor when cooked with siliment leaves.
We can also make a tea with these leaves on their own, or add other ingredients such as lemongrass, cocoa, etc. In case this sounds interesting, here’s a complete guide to the types and benefits of lemongrass.
Non-Culinary Uses of Siliment Leaves
While these bay leaves might be most used in West Indian cuisine, there are many other ways they come in handy. Some people utilize them as an air freshener and to ward off insects. Fresh siliment leaves might be scattered in cupboards, especially pantries, in order to prevent insects from coming in. We can also keep a dried bay leaf in any jar that has dry spices, lentils, rice, etc. This can help to prevent weevils from attacking the edible items.
Bay rum cologne has been mentioned above; this is an old-fashioned type of scent that’s been widely utilized in the West Indies. This cologne came about at the start of the 20th century, and was made from the siliment leaf oil. The result of the whole process, which also used other ingredients, was a smoky, spicy scent that was both intriguing and long-lasting.
How Are Siliment Leaves Used as Medicine?
In the Caribbean, there’s a long history of utilizing folk medicine. The traditional medical practices are still in play, with the elders of the area usually advising a cup of hot bay leaf tea for health issues such as high blood pressure. According to a few studies, the oil in siliment leaves contains antibacterial properties.
Bay leaves are also believed to assist in alleviating problems like:
- Poor digestive systems
- Frequent headaches
- Muscles pains
- Body aches
- Diabetes (lowering pre-meal blood sugar)
However, the evidence for bay leaves being beneficial for the above ailments is still not conclusive. We need more studies and more proof before the medicinal effects of bay leaves can become official.
There are several other leaves that have health benefits as well. If we’re interested in those, it might be worthwhile to look up the benefits of pandan leaves.
Are There Any Precautions to Keep in Mind When Using Siliment Leaves?
While siliment leaves are safe in themselves, the same cannot be said of the plant they came from. The pimenta racemosa produces the siliment leaves, but other parts of it cannot be utilized in cooking, brewing tea, etc. The plant also grows tiny black berries, which might seem tempting but are not meant for human consumption.
The same tree also produces a concentrated essential oil,, which is used to make the bay rum cologne. The essential oil is toxic and should never be ingested.
Finally, if we are thinking about planting pimenta racemosa in our own garden or backyard, we should keep in mind its needs and tendencies. Along with plenty of water and sunshine, this plant needs a lot of space to spread itself out. It may also grow very quickly, becoming an invasive weed and adversely affecting the other plants in the vicinity.
Possible Side Effects of Siliment Leaves
Allergies to bay leaves or siliment leaves are not very common. It’s usually safe for most people to orally consume both bay leaves and the oil inside them (not the essential oil). There is also ground bay leaf, which is fine when taken orally in medicinal amounts for a short period of time.
However, if we are cooking with bay leaves, these should be removed before eating the food. Some sources state that consuming a whole, intact bay leaf is not recommended. The leaf isn’t easily digested, so it could become stuck in the throat or damage intestinal linings.
Bay leaf extract might be safe for the skin if one isn’t allergic to it. It’s also utilized in a few cosmetics. However, it has also been known to trigger allergic reactions for some folks.
For people who are about to undergo surgery, it is recommended to stop using bay leaves as medication about 2 weeks before the procedure. This is because the leaves might slow our central nervous system, especially when other medication and anesthesia come into play.
It should also be noted that using bay leaves frequently and in large amounts could lead to excessive drowsiness and sleepiness. This might be especially apparent if the leaves are being taken as a form of pain relief.
Since they’re a natural alternative way for people to lower their blood sugar, siliment leaves could also overdo these effects. This is why anyone with Type 2 diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels even more closely when they’re using these leaves. This treatment also needs to be taken alongside diabetes medication, which might need some changes along the way.
The discussion here shows that siliment leaves are a kind of bay leaf with many beneficial properties. While we do have to exercise caution in using these leaves as a medication, there’s no doubt that siliment leaves are an important part of Caribbean cuisine and medicine. Some people even just like the taste of bay leaf tea on its own, though we can always experiment and mix up flavors to get the best combination. If we’re feeling adventurous and want to try a new kind of bay leaf, let’s utilize siliment leaves next time!