Flower Power: Bay Laurel

This multiuse tree is not one to rest on its laurels.

By Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.


Harvest and Use

Harvest bay leaves any time of year. The flavor and fragrance is strongest just as the plant begins to bloom. The leaves of indoor bay are more flavorful in the summer. Dried leaves remain potent for a year, after which they should be discarded. In cooking, bay is always used dried. There are several bitter-tasting compounds that are lost with drying. Leaves are usually used whole in recipes and removed prior to serving. Store bay in air-tight containers, out of direct light.

Bay has been used medicinally for centuries. It has a reputation for soothing the stomach and relieving flatulence. 

Use bay leaves to create lovely and fragrant crafts, including herbal wreaths. Bay also repels flour weevils: Add several leaves in a muslin bag to flour canisters. Change to fresh leaves every 6 months.

With truly little care, you can have a shining bay tree to grace your home and table. 

Varieties of Bay

There are dozens of Laurus nobilis varieties, but the nursery trade most commonly offers these four:

Willow-leaf bay, features long, slender leaves. 

Golden bay, has new growth in a lovely golden color.

Crispa or Undulata
Characterized by leaves with undulate or wavy margins.

Offers leaves variegated or marked with gold.