Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) leaves have long been known to have many uses other than making wreaths. They have been used and appreciated by many in the making of medicinal and culinary products.
My bay tree is one of my favorite container-grown plants. It’s happy to be outside in warm weather and tolerates being inside when nights get cold. Every spring, I remove some of the soil in the pot and replace it with fresh compost. Also, some pruning, to shape the plant, is done as this time — before new growth begins.
Native to southern Europe and Asia Minor, bay laurel is an ancient evergreen shrub or tree with aromatic, leathery leaves well suited to formal clipping. It is believed to be a symbol of honor and victory, and bay was used to crown victorious soldiers, athletes and great poets as a sign of their preeminence. This was because of the legend of Daphne’s escaping Apollo by turning into a bay tree as he grabbed her. Being heartbroken, Apollo changed the leaves of his wreath from oak to bay forevermore.
Bay needs full sun and rich, well drained, moist soil. It won’t survive most of our winters if left outside. However, we can enjoy this long-lived, attractive plant by making its home a portable container.
Bay does brighten a room no matter what size or shape the plant is. It will grow to about five feet in as many years, or you can control the size with annual pruning. One interesting way to grow a bay is to take a very small plant and prune it into a standard or topiary.
Propagation takes a lot of patience, but, in the past, I have rooted some bay cuttings. If the branches are low, layering is an easier way to propagate. Bay seeds will not germinate if they dry out too much before planting.
Bay has numerous culinary uses. Just be sure to remove leaves after cooking as people have been known to choke on them. Bay leaves are not digestible.
French recipes for meat, fish and poultry dishes almost always call for bay. The leaves may be picked and dried any time of year. Fragrant oils are strongest early in the day. Some cooks prefer dried leaves that are not as pungent as fresh ones.
If you wish to prevent curling of the leaves, place a cutting board on top of them for a few days. I prefer to store dried leaves in glass jars. To discourage weevils, place a dried leaf in airtight, flour, meal, and other grain containers. I also place a few leaves in little mesh bags, and put the bags on shelves where food is stored.
Aleppo soap (named for Aleppo, Syria) is well known for its skin care properties. Laurel oil as an ingredient distinguishes Aleppo from other castile soap.
Place a bay laurel in a special spot in your vegetable garden. In ancient times, it was thought to be a symbol of eternal prosperity because of the evergreen leaves. And, maybe place a couple pots of bay outside the gate since bay was believed to ward off wizards and witches.
Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice. Readers may submit gardening questions by email: email@example.com, on the website: www.gardening.partners, or by mail: PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056