Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sweet Bay, Laurus nobilis

Sweet Bay
Laurus nobilis

Aromatic, dried or fresh, bay leaves add unique and pleasing herbal essence to sweet and savory foods, including: sauces, custards, soups, stews, rice, wholegrains, vinegars and many Mediterranean dishes. Sweet Bay leaves are the signature ingredient used in bouquet garni and Old Bay Seasoning®

Historic Bay Laurel
Did you know Bay leaves are symbolic and were prominently used throughout history? References to bay leaves can be seen in artist renderings and stories of how bay was used to adorn wreaths. Head crowns made of bay leaves were worn by heroes and noble Greek scholars even before crowns were worn by Olympic Games champions in 776 BC.  

Bay laurel artwork is often seen on money and is on the U.S. dollar bill, as well as in Japanese currency. Bay references can also be found in Greek mythology, Chinese folklore and the Bible.

The bay tree has also influenced the English language. From bay laurel, we get the expressions, "winning your laurels," and "resting on your laurels." Language derivatives include the words baccalaureate and poet laureate. 

Turkish Bay Leaves
Since Turkey is such a large exporter of bay leaves, you'll often see Turkish bay leaves sold by spice companies throughout the U.S. Bay leaves also arrive from other countries, including: Spain, Morocco, Israel and France.

Sweet Bay in Cooking
Bay leaves make a useful kitchen herb and enhance the flavors in so many recipes. Besides soups, Pomodoro sauce and stocks, one of my favorite uses for bay leaves is to steep and infuse bay flavor into dairy products, especially in creamy, scalloped potatoes. Watch for the recipe, I'll post it soon!

Growing a Bay Tree
Slow growing bay trees can easily be grown in pots and make a great garden addition, deserving a spot in all kitchen gardens. Bay trees can not tolerate freezing temperatures - we over winter ours indoors.  Hardy to USDA zones 8a-11, sweet bay trees can grow 15 to 30 feet tall, which I was surprised to learn. 

Our little bay tree was a slender 2-foot stick for several years, until it finally began to branch out in its third year. I have yet to prune our bay laurel, which would enhance its growth and branching out; I just can't bring myself to prune such a small stick! Even so, our sweet bay is growing, little-by-little, and is now a few inches taller than 3-foot, making it an ideal plant to be featured in the garden. 

Bay Laurel Topiary
Topiary's are not my style, but if you want to be fancy, and if you have the time (it may take longer than 10 years), your bay laurel tree can be pruned into a formal topiary.

Related Links:  

Dave's Gardens - Laurus nobilis
Bay Laurel, the 2009 Herb of the Year by Carrie Lamont 
Herb Society of America: Laurus nobilis Fact Sheet 
The Herb Companion: Bay (Laurus Nobilis) Article, Recipes and Tips by Susan Belsinger
All About Bay Leaves and Basic Chicken Stock Recipe by Sandra Bowens 
Photograph: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: Laurus nobilis ;Family:Lauraceae Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé ''Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz'' 1885, Gera,
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