September 2018
The Herb Lady

Bay Laurel

Yesterday I made beef stew. The first thing I did after I got the pot out of the pantry was drop a bay leaf in. Gradually, the well-seasoned meat, broth, onions and potatoes were all added. I feel sure my neighbors picked up on the wonderful aroma escaping from my apartment. One son and his wife came to dinner.

Oh, I must tell you also – I put a sour cream pound cake into the oven, which was ready to remove at high noon. We ate it while it was hot. This son had been remembering "hot" cake in his youth and hinting for me to provide another.

But this story is actually about bay or bay leaves. Bay (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen shrub which can grow into a small tree. I once grew a bay shrub. When I purchased the plant, it was probably six inches from the taproot to the top of the leaves. I kept it in a pot until it was about two feet tall. At that point, I planted it in an area of my yard where it would receive plenty of sunlight but be protected somewhat by other growth in case of severely cold weather. I was warned that these plants are not completely winter-hardy in Alabama.

My plant survived and grew beautifully. The time came for me to move away and leave it. I cut limbs from the tree and hung them to dry. I removed the leaves from the limbs. Those leaves found a home in a large-mouthed gallon jar. Bay leaves will always be on hand when needed for seasoning.

This plant goes by a good many names. Bay laurel, sweet bay, true laurel, Grecian laurel or simply laurel. It is a native of the Mediterranean region. It seems that they have naturalized in California and are sometimes referred to as "California laurel."

A laurel wreath is a symbol of courage, victory and honor. In ancient Greece, bay wreaths were awarded to victors and most often worn on the head.

Bay leaves cannot be digested, therefore they should not be swallowed. It’s advisable to remove bay leaves from cooked foods after using as seasoning. Sometimes an unsuspecting person will chew a leaf and swallow it. This can cause severe health problems.

If anyone is interested in purchasing a bay plant, contact me and I can give you a good source.


Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 251-644-5473, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..