Bay laurel was selected as the 2009 “Herb of the Year” which is most fitting since Laurus is Latin for ‘bay tree’ and nobilis means ‘renowned’. Also known as sweet bay, sweet laurel or bay tree, this famous laurel of ancient Greek and Roman history and crown for Olympic winners, scholars and poets is also the source for the word “baccalaureate” to show academic achievement. It is indigenous to Asia, but has adapted well to the climate of the Mediterranean where it is cultivated extensively, especially in Turkey, for both culinary and ornamental purposes.
A hardy perennial evergreen shrub or tree in zones 8-10, bay laurel may reach up to 25 feet even though they are very slow growing. However, in colder climates it is common to grow it in containers reaching 6 feet in height, so that it can be grown outdoors in summer and as a houseplant in a cool spot near a window in winter. Be sure to allow for the acclimation to the sun when moving back outdoors or the leaves will burn. Bay leaves are deep green, leathery and oval from 2 to 4 inches long and produce a pungent yet slightly minty aroma when rubbed or broken. In addition, as the new leaves form in spring the older ones turn yellow and drop. Bay blooms in spring with greenish yellow waxy flower clusters which the bees love followed by black, oval berries, but rarely if container grown. It prefers full sun or part shade, rich well-drained soil, moderate food and does not like to be over watered especially indoors. Seeds can take 10 days to 6 months to germinate and cuttings take several months to root, so this is one herb which is best purchased as a plant. Bay laurel is also prone to mealybugs and scale, but they can be rubbed or washed off or swabbed with alcohol to keep them under control. The leaves may be harvested year round, but unlike most other herbs, the older leaves should be harvested first as they have more flavor. Fresh leaves may be stored wrapped in moistened paper towels in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator, but in order to prevent curling when drying, place a heavy book on top of them!
A bay tree should be in the kitchen of every gourmet cook, however its main contribution in cooking comes from its spicy fragrance which seems to bring other flavors together giving them depth and richness rather than providing the main flavor component. It releases its flavor slowly so it’s great for long cooking techniques and is usually added whole at the beginning of the cooking time. However, bay leaves should always be removed after cooking since it is too tough and could cause choking, even though traditionally the guest who finds it in their portion is thought to receive a fortune! The leaves may be used fresh or dried and it also may be ground with the veins removed for use in blends. Integral to the traditional bouquet garni with parsley and thyme which is used to enhance the flavor of soups and stews, bay leaves may also be added to fruit syrups, tomato sauces, marinates or boiled in the milk used to prepare custards and rice pudding – basically any dish containing liquid. A tea made from bay leaves is supposed to calm the stomach and relieve flatulence. It is also a popular herb used to flavor wines and soft drinks.
Here are ways you can use even a single leaf :
- place under the breast skin of a chicken before roasting
- use as a fragrant bookmark
- tuck into your pillow to dream about your future
- place into a container of rice to add a unique flavor to rice pudding
- add to an herbal wreath or potpourri
- brew a cup of tea to soothe the stomach
- place around the drain under a sink to deter roaches
- toss into boiling milk for custards or a fruit syrup for a dessert sauce
- add to a storage container of flour or pasta to repel weevils
- tuck into a congratulation card for a message of “merit & honor”
- infuse in boiling water then add to your bath for a soothing soak
1 whole bay leaf
1tsp whole celery seeds
2 whole cloves
1Tbs dried parsley
Wrap the ingredients in a 4" piece of cheesecloth or place in a small muslin bag. Add to any recipe containing liquid, but especially soups, stews and stock. Remove at the end of cooking time
BAY LAUREL PEACHES
1 (29 ounce) can peach halves
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup herb vinegar
Drain peaches, reserving liquid. Arrange peach halves, cut side up, in an 8-inch square baking dish. Set peaches aside. Combine reserved peach liquid, bay leaf and butter in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Add paprika and remaining ingredients to the mixture in the pan, stirring well. Pour over peaches. Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve with ice cream or pound cake if desired.
". . . I have given you all things even as the green herbs."