Care and Growth of
Bay laurel, or laurus nobilis is a drought
tolerant perennial tree
native to the Mediterranean region. The fragrant, leathery leaves are
dried for use as a cooking herb and in the pantry.
Bay Laurel, Grecian Laurel or,
Other names for this
aromatic plant with deep green leaves are Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel or
Roman Laurel. Bay leaves can be added to spaghetti sauces, stews
or soups for flavor.
Mature Grecian Laurel trees flower in clusters of
white to yellow blooms which turn into small berries. Bay leaves
are dark green and up to 4 inches long and 2 inches across.
Sweet bay can grow into a tree 40 feet tall. Bay can tolerate low
water in the garden and poor soils. They like full sun to part
shade although in hot areas they benefit from a bit of shade during the
hottest part of the day. They are hardy to about 20 degrees, or
USDA Zones 8 - 10.
Perfect for low water landscapes, these are
compact plants which grow slowly. Generally, bay doesn't need
pruning thanks to its compact growth habit, but they tolerate being
trimmed and shaped into hedges. Perhaps as a result of their
insecticidal properties, bay trees are generally not bothered by
This is also the bay leaf used in the kitchen. Bay leaves can be
used fresh from the garden, but their flavor is a bit different.
Dried bay leaves are added to spaghetti and other sauces, soups and
stews. They add extra flavor, but are not meant to be eaten with
Bay leaves also have insecticidal properties.
They are kept in kitchen cabinets to protect grains from moths and
other pests. My mother always kept a bay leaf in the flour bin to
keep flour beetles from hatching, now science has proven this belief to
be true. Harvest older leaves for use in the kitchen. To
keep them from curling press them between paper towels under a heavy
book or board,
Bay Laurel is also known as a magical plant in mythology.
associated with victory, strength and protection. Conquering
wore laurel wreaths upon returning to Rome in victory. A crown of
bay is worn by Apollo the Greek god of the sun, and it is known as one
of his emblems.
When consulting the Oracle at Delphi the
priestesses of Apollo held a bay leaf under their tongue to help induce
their trances. It has been used to banish poltergeists, bad luck
and to break evil spells. The sudden withering of a bay tree was
said to be a bad omen for its' owner.
Another similar fragrant tree is called California Bay, Oregon
or Umbellularia Californica. These shrubs are native to
California and the US southwest. They can grows to 20 feet tall,
or taller with more water. California Bay should be used carefully in
the garden as it has been identified as a host plant for spores
carrying Sudden Oak Death.
Buy only from reputable nurseries and California Bay
should probably not be used outdoors as an insecticide. Their
leaves are much more fragrant and more bitter.
It can be used in
cooking but in much smaller proportions. Use in moderation;
California Bay is also called Headache Tree. The almond sized
nuts can also be roasted and eaten.
Sweet Bay Laurel is a classic container plant and
is often depicted at the
entrances to ancient temples. Grow one in a pot on your doorstep for a
touch of elegance.
Start with a container at least 12 inches
across or larger, if there are no drainage holes you must let the soil
dry out before watering again. Grecian bay can be clipped into
topiaries or standards and it is always fine to pinch a few leaves for