Growing and Using Bay Leaf

Growing and Using Bay Leaf
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We all remember the small tin of bay leaf our grandmothers and mothers kept on hand to use in stews and soups. I used bay leaf after I left home, not even thinking about the flavor, but adding it to stocks and soups as my mom had. Bay leaf, Laurus nobilis, is an invaluable herb in many respects. Yes, it should be in the kitchen of every cook, but it's also useful in crafts, the bath and more!
Bay is a perennial, evergreen shrub in Zones 8-11. It can be grown outside in the ground only if the temperature does not go below 25 degrees, and even then, a young plant could die, if not mulched properly and protected. It's a great container herb however, so even those of us in the north can grow it indoors. It will grow to 5 foot, if kept pruned. In it's native Mediterranean climate it can grown MUCH larger. Unless you are a VERY adventurous gardener, you'll want to buy an established small tree. The seeds can take from 10 days to 6 months, or may not germinate at all. Cuttings can be taken, but even those may not root for months.

Grow sweet bay in a potting soil mixed with a little sand. Don't let it dry out, but don't over water, especially in the cold months. Fertilize in the spring and summer lightly. It's considered an evergreen shrub, and will grow in full sun or slight shade. If your climate is especially hot and it's potted, you should give it shelter from the sun in the hottest part of the day. When brought inside give it a sunny location.

It's important to make sure you are buying laurus nobilis as a culinary bay tree. Others in the same family may be toxic. Some plants are also called "bay" but may not be the correct plant, so always double check. Note that essential oil and any part of the berries should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. The berries have been used medicinally, but I would not advise this, since it could cause problems if not done correctly. The leaves of bay however, are soothing when added to a bath. Infuse a few leaves in boiling water for 15-20 minutes and add to your bath. You can also use the leaves to make an herb tea, which is suppose to calm the stomach.

Add bay leaves to your wreaths or dried arrangements. Add them to a bowl of floating candles for a nice fragrance and a pretty addition.

Bay leaf is one of the ingredients of the famous bouquet garni chefs speak of. The basic grouping is fresh sprigs of bay leaf, thyme and chervil tied together and dropped into the pot. This however can be amended to add parsley, celery, thyme or basil. If the herbs are dried, they should be placed into a piece of cheesecloth and tied. Bay should always be removed. The flavor will be infused as it cooks, but the leaf is too tough, and could cause choking in some cases. Fresh bay leaf is much stronger than dried, so keep this in mind when using it in recipes. If you don't grow your own you can sometimes find it among the fresh herbs in the produce section. Dried bay leaves are readily available, but make sure they are not brown, which means they are old. Look for more of an olive green in color for fresher bay leaves. When harvesting fresh bay use the older leaves first, which will have more flavor. Harvest as needed year round.

Add a bay leaf to stews, soups, stock, fruit syrups, tomato sauces, marinades and desserts such as custards. Break or snip the leaf in two, and remove before serving. You can also use bay when poaching fish and cooking rice or other grains.

Grilled Peppers with Bay Leaves

3 large red peppers

3 large yellow peppers

3 branches of fresh bay leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to season

Place the peppers over a hot grill. Cook until they begin to blacken on all sides. Remove from the grill and place the peppers in a container and cover tightly with plastic wrap until they are cool enough to handle. When cooled, peel the blackened skin from the peppers with a knife. Rub each pepper with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place the peppers in a bowl with sides touching, and insert bay leaves between them and all around. Allow to sit for about one hour. Serve as a side dish with grilled meat. You can reheat on the grill if desired.

Bay Laurel Peaches


1 (29 ounce) can peach halves, undrained

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup herb vinegar

Drain peaches, reserving liquid. Arrange peach halves, cut side up, in an 8-inch square baking dish. Set peaches aside. Combine reserved peach liquid, bay leaf and butter in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Add paprika and remaining ingredients to the mixture in the pan, stirring well. Pour over peaches. Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve with ice cream or pound cake if desired.

Sweet Bay Facial Steam

You'll need:

3-4 fresh bay leaves or 6 dried bay leaves

2 cup water

Combine the water and bay leaves in a pan, cover and bring to a boil. Remove the lid and boil for 2-3 minutes. Pour the water and bay into a large bowl. Using a large towel as a tent lean over the bowl and steam your face for 10 minutes. Follow with a good moisturizer or facial mask. (Don't get too close to the will rise to you).


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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