Bay Laurel Tree
The leaves of bay laurel are quite recognized for their usage as a kitchen spice, but bay laurel is an evergreen shrubbery or tree native to the Mediterranean zone. It has broad, pointed oval petals that are dark, glossy green in color, with a rugged surface.
Its ordinary routine is to grow into a significant tree with numerous stems that bolster a thick green pyramidal canopy. But this slow-developing plant voluntarily accepts excessive pruning, so you will just as often see it popping up as a shrub or pot plant kept cut down into a thick green mass.
We acknowledge very few trees as a legitimate part of an herb garden. Most herbs are annuals and modest shrubby perennials. But there’s one tree that rises tall in an herb garden of useful plants—bay laurel. Its tall spires of glossy leaves produce a fragrant focal spot.
The bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) is a multi-trunked tree rising to 40 feet (12.2 m) in its native region of Asia Minor. However, in North America and alternative northern parts, you’re not expected to see one growing that large because intense winters reduce the size. It sports 3- to 4-inch (7.5 to 10 cm) dark green glossy leaves that grow thickly along the smooth-barked branches. When grown under optimal conditions, bay laurel will thrive with pale yellow flowers in the summertime.
COMMON VARIETIES OF BAY LAUREL
Although most nurseries carry just the conventional dark green-leaved bay laurel (A), there are varieties with light golden leaves, such as ‘Aurea’ and ‘Sicilian Sunshine.’ On the West Coast of the United States, bay laurel is sometimes confused with native California or mountain laurel (Umbellularia californica). It has a similar flavor to bay laurel but contains essential oils that can cause headaches and be toxic in sufficient concentration.
CARE AND FEEDING
Plant bay laurel in full sun, where it will be protected from high winds and will have room to spread. It is a relatively shallow-rooted tree that will benefit from regular mulching. Bay laurel is a multi-trunked tree but can be trained to a more upright form by removing secondary trunks. Mostly, it is a trouble-free plant that is rarely attacked by fungus or insects.
Bay laurel is unquestionably a warm-climate tree. It will thrive reliably only as far north as Zone 8. When temperatures drop below freezing for any period, the leaves will turn a pale brown and fall off. If freezing weather is anticipated, a cloth encompassing and mulch at the base can change everything between life and death.
If you live in colder provinces, plant bay laurel in a large pot so you can bring it indoors for winter protection. Water moderately during winter—just enough so it doesn’t dry out.
GROWING IN SMALL SPACES
Gardeners with limited space can quickly grow bay laurel in a container. Plant it in a pot at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) deep to provide adequate room for roots. Bay laurel grows more slowly in a pot than in the ground. Fertilize monthly to encourage growth. Overwinter bay laurel under protection or indoors during the winter if your area is subject to below-freezing temperatures.
We can clip the leaves of bay laurel anytime for fresh use. Use leaves only six months old. Anything older than that will be less flavorful.
THINGS WORTH KNOWING
Permanently remove bay laurel leaves from foods before serving. Even after cooking, the leaves remain stiff and can get caught in the throat if accidentally swallowed.
Crowns of laurel leaves were awarded to winning athletes at the ancient Greek Games.
The priestesses in ancient Delphi chewed bay laurel leaves to evoke a religious trance and stimulate visions of the future.