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Helpful Herbs: Bay Laurel

Bay Laurel can be a 60 foot tall tree in the wilds of our Southern states. But in cooler climates, in culinary gardener’s backyards, it is a fun plant to grow in a container and enjoy in your cooking. And, perhaps surprisingly, it has some great benefits for your health as well.

Since Bay Laurel won’t overwinter, it is best to grow it in a container and bring it indoors when the temperatures threaten frost. Enjoying full sun and rich soil, Bay Laurel can grow up to 6 feet tall in a pot, and can be a very full and bushy plant. Because it is picky about its growing conditions, do not plant in terra-cotta and make sure to use rich, high quality potting soil.

While Bay Laurel is easiest to start from a sapling – especially since it is a slow grower – it can also be cultivated by taking a cutting off an established plant. The plant will take 2-3 years to mature, and you shouldn’t harvest from it for at least a year.

Harvested bay leaves should be dried before use, fresh bay leaves are quite bitter. The more mature the leaves, the deeper their flavor. Leaves can be dried for a few weeks in a warm, dry place, and then used whole or crushed.

You’re probably most familiar with using bay leaves as a seasoning in soups and stews, where they release a deep, rather tea-like flavor into your recipe and bring the soup’s various aromas together in harmony. While using a bay leaf in your stew might seem unnecessary, if you smell and taste test soups with and without bay leaves, the flavors are distinctly different and deeper when this herb is used.

Bay leaves can also be used in baked potatoes, baked beans, and other slow-cooking foods as a seasoning agent. They are never typically eaten – they’re just too tough to chew – but their aroma and flavor can transform a dish.

Extracts and essential oils from bay leaves can be very helpful to your health. The herb can stimulate your digestive system, which helps prevent cramping, upset stomach, and can even alleviate symptoms of Celiac’s disease. As a salve or poultice, Bay Laurel is used to relieve congestion issues, and it is naturally soothing, sometimes used in aroma therapy to reduce stress and anxiety. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a topical solution for open wounds and abrasions.

Bay Laurel has been used as a culinary flavor for centuries, and it’s also part of some historic symbolism. The Bay Laurel was the plant whose leaves were wound together to create the laurel wreath of Ancient Greece, and the word “baccalaureate” translates as “berries of laurel”. In Greece, physicians would be presented with laurel to represent the wisdom of Apollo, who was the god of medicine, music, and poetry.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses the nymph Daphne transforms herself into a laurel tree to dissuade the god Apollo’s advances. The symbol of the laurel is also used in Christianity, often to represent the resurrection of Christ. Cultivated in England since the 16th Century, this noble herb was used to treat bee stings and liver problems in ancient times.

A plant that can grow in your kitchen or garden as a decorative small tree, Bay Laurel will grow to be part of your everyday cooking, and it will also help you with your health .

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