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Beyond Soup: Explore How to Grow and Use the Bay Laurel Plant.

MY FIRST BAY LAUREL tree was a tiny four-inch seedling from the nursery. I found out quickly that growing bay leaves is not all that difficult.

I put the pot in my herb garden where it got morning sun and afternoon shade. Before long, the little specimen outgrew the pot. Throughout the summer, I repotted it several times. By autumn, the bay tree had grown well over a foot with multiple branches.

Bay laurel, or Laurus nobilis, is what is known as "true bay." This perennial, evergreen herb is in the Lauraceae plant family, which also includes cinnamon and sassafras. Bay has been grown in the Mediterranean region for so long that when we think of bay, we associate it with the Mediterranean.

Bay leaf benefits are almost unlimited. From the culinary arena to medical research, bay is attracting the attention of cooks, medical professionals, and herbalists.

There are other varieties of bay, including California bay, Umbellularia californica. California bay is native to California and is in the same family as avocados. The difference between bay laurel and California bay is both visual and sensory. True bay has large, somewhat rounded pointed leaves and, when dried, has an herbal, slightly floral, eucalyptus-like flavor. California bay leaves are more pointed and slender, with a much stronger flavor.

When we were in Italy, I saw bay trees more than 30-feet tall. Practically speaking, though, bay trees are grown either as a topiary or a large shrub.

GROWING BAY LEAVES OUTDOORS

The plant hardiness zones for bay are zones eight through 11.

Caption: Bay tree in bush form.

IN THE GROUND

If your climate is agreeable, ordinary garden soil with good drainage will provide a happy home for your bay tree year-round. Bay can tolerate full sun or part shade but doesn't like soggy feet or excessively dry soils, so take that into account when watering.

IN POTS

Since I live in southwestern Ohio in Zone 6,1 grow my bay trees in containers, and treat them as tender perennials, bringing them indoors when the temperature dips consistently to below 15 degrees. I follow Ron Wilson, the gardening expert's advice for planting herbs in pots. I like half potting soil and half cactus soil, which allows for good drainage. Let the soil dry out between waterings. When the bay outgrows its current pot, go to the next size up.

WHEN TO FERTILIZE

Fertilize both in the ground and potted bays in spring and summer. For lush foliage, try a fertilizer that's a little high in nitrogen.

PRUNING

That depends on you. I'm not fussy about pruning but will give my bay trees a light pruning when needed. And don't toss the prunings away. Those leaves can be dried for culinary and household use.

OVERWINTERING BAY IN POTS

It's good to acclimate your bay tree gradually to the indoors. Around the end of September, put it in a shady place outdoors. By the end of October or November, depending on the weather, give it one last good watering and take it inside to go dormant. Bay does well in a southern exposure with good air circulation. I keep mine in the lower level of the house, which stays about 50 degrees. No need to fertilize during winter indoors. Water infrequently.

As spring approaches, again acclimate the tree to going outside. Put it in a shady, protected place and gradually put the plant in a permanent outdoor location.

GROWING BAY LEAVES INDOORS

A bright, sunny spot with plenty of fresh air will keep your bay tree healthy. Let the soil dry between waterings. Mist the leaves occasionally. Don't put the plant too close to a heat source. Fertilize in spring and summer.

GROWING BAY LEAVES FROM SEEDS AND CUTTINGS

I've tried growing bay leaves from both seeds and cuttings and found them to be difficult tasks, requiring the right environment and a lot of patience. Seeds take up to nine months to germinate, and cuttings taken from semi-hard stems take up to five months to root properly. If you're adventurous, I say go for it. As for me, I'll start with seedlings!

HARVESTING BAY LEAVES

Give the leaf a tug, pulling downward. That way, you'll get a clean break without damaging the stem.

DRYING AND STORING

Dry in a dehydrator or by hanging in bunches upside down, away from light and moisture. When leaves crinkle with your fingers, they're dry. Store away from heat and light.

DISEASES AND PESTS

Bay trees aren't usually bothered by diseases and pests, but once in a while, you may see a mealy bug or scale damage. Mealy bug damage makes the leaves look sooty, and sucking scale insects look like soft ovals that attach to the stem or leaf. A good horticultural oil spray will take care of both.

REAP BAY LEAF BENEFITS IN TEAS, OILS, AND FOODS

The first couple of years when I was growing bay leaves I didn't know much about the many bay leaf benefits. I used the leaves for culinary use only. As my mom taught me, I put a few bay leaves into my grain bins to keep insects from hatching. Bay flavored my soups and stews.

When I was studying to get my herbalist certification, Bay laurel was one of the herbs I chose for clinical research. That research led me to learn a whole array of bay leaf benefits. I started with bay leaf tea, using fresh, chopped leaves to infuse in boiling water. Bay leaves contain vitamins and minerals, so I knew it would be a healthy drink.

I made a fragrant and healing bay leaf oil for my skin and hair. What I learned during the process is that bay contains powerful antioxidant and antibacterial qualities.

In tests, bay essential oil showed both antimicrobial and antioxidant activities on fresh produce against Salmonella and E coli.

On top of all those qualities, bay contains wound-healing benefits. Bay is used in spa products and soaps. During a foray into the outdoor markets in Turkey, my girlfriend spied bars of green soap made with bay. She brought me back a bar and it was so nourishing for my skin. Now I want to learn how to make green soap! This is a healing soap so gentle it can be used on babies.

Fun Fact:

The word "baccalaureate" has its roots in ancient Greece when Bay laurel was used to crown and decorate athletes and persons of distinction. Turkey is one of the largest exporters of bay, and that's how the nickname "Turkish bay" came about.

LET'S EXPLORE SOME OF THE WAYS TO USE BAY, STARTING WITH THE HEALING ASPECTS OF BAY ON THE BODY.
HEALING BAY OIL

This recipe may be doubled
or tripled. Make sure your bay
leaves are clean and dry so
that no mold forms during the
infusion process.

Ingredients

1 cup high-quality oil, such
as cold-pressed, estate
bottled, extra virgin olive oil or
almond oil

2 heaping tablespoons of
chopped fresh bay leaves

1 sterilized glass jar with lid

Instructions

* Leaves need to be pounded
or ground until they start
releasing their oil.

* Put pounded or ground
bay leaves in a jar. Pour oil over
leaves and seal.

* Let infuse in a cool, dry place
for two weeks.

* Strain leaves out and add two
more heaping tablespoons of
chopped fresh bay leaves that
have been pounded or ground.

* Let infuse in a cool, dry place
for another two weeks.

* Strain and store in a cool, dry
place for up six months.


BENEFITS OF BAY OIL

* Rub on sore muscles for soothing relief and smooth skin.

* Before shampooing hair, rub a little oil into scalp to help remove dandruff and for shiny hair.

* Rub a few drops on your temples to relieve a tension headache.

* Gently rub a little oil on a cleaned scrape or cut.

* Substitute this oil in recipes for melt and pour soap.

Tip

If any watery substance forms in the bottom of the jar, discard it while straining, otherwise, it may form mold.

CULINARY USES FOR BAY

Bay is an important culinary herb. Since bay is a salt buster and rounds out the flavor of a dish, you'll be able to use less salt but still retain flavor. My herbes de Provence recipe includes bay leaves. This blend can turn ordinary pork tenderloin roast into company fare.

Add a bay leaf to homemade or jarred pasta sauce for a boost of flavor and nutrients. Remove leaf before serving.

BOUQUET GARNI

Bouquet garni sounds so fancy yet it's so simple. It's a wonderful addition to stocks, soups, and sauces.

Ingredients

1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

3 sprigs fresh parsley

A few small sprigs of fresh or dried thyme.

Instructions

* Tie into a bundle.

* Add at beginning of cooking time.

* Remove before serving.

FRESH OR DRY--WHICH IS BETTER?

I use fresh bay leaves but will tell you the flavor is more bitter than dried leaves. So you use what you like.

Always remove bay leaves after cooking!

When adding bay leaves to dishes, use whole bay leaves so that you can remove them easily. They don't get soft enough in the cooking process to eat and can stick In the throat or cause digestive or tummy troubles with their sharp edges.
BAY LEAF TEA

The warming aroma of this tea,
while it's brewing, is floral with
a slight menthol note.

Ingredients

3 fresh bay leaves, chopped

8 oz. water

Desired sweetener
Instructions

* Pour boiling water over
leaves in a teapot. Let infuse
until color changes to a
light gold green, about six to
eight minutes.

* Strain and sweeten
as desired.


BAY LEAF BENEFITS IN TEA

* Helps calm a fluttery tummy.

* Reduces congestion.

* Good for your cardiovascular system.

* Helps reduce anxiety and tension.

POTATOES WITH BAY

Turn a plain baked potato into a gastronomic delight. Slice a baking or sweet potato almost in half horizontally. Insert a couple of bay leaves. Close the potato up. Roll in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 425-degree oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Yum!

Caption: Bay tree in bush from.

Caption: Bay tree in topiary form

Caption: Bay leaf bundle drying

Caption: Bay laurel

California bay

Caption: Dried bay leaf

Fresh bay leaf

Caption: Removing leaf from bay tree

Caption: Bay leaf bundle drying
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Title Annotation:GROWING :: BAY LAUREL
Author:Heikenfeld, Rita
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2017
Words:1722
Previous Article:Hop to it! How to Grow and Use Hops.
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