Thursday, March 6, 2014

Herb Series – Bay Leaves

This is the second in the herb series, and I’m sure many of us use these versatile leaves in our cooking. Bay leaves come from the bay laurel tree, of which there are several varieties. The most prominent here are Turkish Bay and California Bay. The Turkish leaves are more oval than California leaves, and have a slightly milder flavor. Native to the Mediterranean, bay leaves have been used since ancient times. Greeks used them in cooking, and bay laurel wreaths were placed on the heads of battle victors.

There are also Indian Bay Laurel, Indonesian Bay Laurel, West Indian Bay Laurel and Mexican Bay Laurel, and their leaves are used in many cuisines. Fresh leaves are mild, but develop stronger flavors when dried. Dried bay leaves are available year round and will keep up to 6 months in a cool, dry place.

Bay laurel trees can be grown indoors, but outdoors they can grow well over 20 feet tall. They grow well in part shade and need well-drained soil.

Caution: Do not confuse Mountain Laurel or Cherry Laurel trees with Bay Laurel trees – they are not related and are toxic!

Culinary Uses:

Bay leaves add flavor to meats, fish, soups and stews. They are often added to bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs that is placed in a pot of soup or stew and removed before serving. They are used often in floral arrangements and potpourri blends, as well as in herbal baths. Many pickling spice mixtures contain bay leaves.

Be sure to remove the bay leaf after cooking – the spiny edges can be dangerous to swallow and don’t soften much while cooking.

Bay leaves add vitamins A and C, iron and manganese to cooked foods.

Medicinal Uses:

Oil of Bay has been used to relieve the pain of arthritis, lower back pain, sore muscles and earaches due to its analgesic and warming properties. However, be sure to dilute well and use sparingly. Also, do not take internally and do not use at all if pregnant.


Bay leaves can be used to repel ants and small bugs. Leaves placed in dry goods (flour, cornmeal, etc.) can prevent weevils. They are sometimes used to keep mice away – just crush them a bit and place at known entry points.
To make a bouquet garni, you can use either fresh or dried herbs. Classic elements are bay leaf, parsley and thyme, but the combination is purely your choice. Tie the fresh springs with cooking twine or place the dried herbs in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with twine. Remove after cooking.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

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