Bay laurel, or laurus nobilis is a drought tolerant perennial tree native to the Mediterranean region. The fragrant, leathery leaves are dried for use as a cooking herb and in the pantry. Other names for this aromatic plant with deep green leaves are Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel or Roman Laurel. Mature Grecian Laurel trees flower in clusters of white to yellow blooms which turn into small berries. Bay leaves are dark green and up to 4 inches long and 2 inches across.
Sweet bay can grow into a tree 40 feet tall. Bay can tolerate low water in the garden and poor soils. They like full sun to part shade although in hot areas they benefit from a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day. They are hardy to about 20 degrees, or USDA Zones 8 – 10. Perfect for low water landscapes, these are compact plants which grow slowly.
This is also the bay leaf used in the kitchen. Dried bay leaves are added to spaghetti and other sauces, soups and stews. They add extra flavor, but are not meant to be eaten with your dish. Bay leaves also have insecticidal properties. They are kept in kitchen cabinets to protect grains from moths and other pests. My mother always kept a bay leaf in the flour bin to keep flour beetles from hatching, now science has proven this belief to be true.
Bay Laurel is also known as a magical plant in mythology. It is associated with victory, strength and protection. A crown of bay is worn by Apollo the Greek god of the sun, and it is known as one of his emblems. When consulting the Oracle at Delphi the priestesses of Apollo held a bay leaf under their tongue to help induce their trances. It has been used to banish poltergeists, bad luck and to break evil spells. The sudden withering of a bay tree was said to be a bad omen for its’ owner.
Bay Laurel is a classic container plant and is often depicted at the entrances to ancient temples. Grow one in a pot on your doorstep for a touch of elegance. Start with a container at least 12 inches across or larger, if there are no drainage holes you must let the soil dry out before watering again. Grecian bay can be clipped into topiaries or standards and it is always fine to pinch a few leaves for the pantry.
Shameless plug; I have created a page just for Bay Laurel on my main site here. Happy gardening!