2009 Herb of the Year: Bay (Laurus Nobilis)

An herb that can rest upon its laurels.


| February/March 2009



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Recipes:
• Bay-Infused Bread Pudding with Decadent, Easy Rum Sauce
• Chocolate Pudding with Bay
• Hot Chocolate with Bay Laurel
• Roasted Squash with Bay
• Potato Corn Chowder with Bay
• Bay Syrup 

Sidebars:
• Beware: Look out for these Dangerous Bay Varieties 
• Tip: Use Bay as an Insect Deterrent
• DIY: Make Your Own Bouquet Garni
• Did You Know: How the Herb of the Year is Selected 

Web Exclusive Recipes:
• Bay Béchamel with Alliums
• Bay Hot Cross Buns
• Hungarian Baked Vegetable Stew 

Bay laurel has been a part of the herbal repertoire for at least as long as people have been keeping written records. Also known as sweet bay, this evergreen herb makes a great addition to the kitchen garden and easily can be grown on a patio or deck. Bay plants charm cooks with their uniquely flavored, waxy green leaves, and the herb’s medicinal qualities cover a wide variety of complaints and conditions.

Because of its many, varied uses, the International Herb Association has chosen bay (Laurus nobilis) as its 2009 Herb of the Year.

Legend and Lore

Classical legends mention bay in relation to the nymph Daphne, who transformed into a laurel tree during her pursuit by the Greek god Apollo. Versions of the story vary; one says that Daphne was a fiercely independent, wild creature and, rather than give herself to Apollo, she pleaded with her father, the river god Ladonas, to transform her. Another account indicates that Apollo was wounded by an arrow of Eros (Cupid) and fell madly in love with Daphne, who fled from his advances and was changed into the slender bay laurel moments before her capture. All agree that Apollo was so astounded by the tree’s beauty that he claimed the laurel as his own and dedicated it to reward the highest achievements of Greek civilization.

Bay was first an herb of poets, but also of oracles, warriors, statesmen and doctors. The leaves were made into wreaths for illustrious poets (thus the term poet laureate) and the ancients used the leaves to crown heroes. Bay laurel was the symbol of wisdom, both acquired and intuitive. Laurus nobilis is believed to derive from the Celtic word laur, meaning green, and the Latin nobilis, signifying noble. Baccalaureate is from the Latin for laurel berries, which were given to Greek students of the classical period.

Indoors, Outdoors and in Pots

A tender perennial native to the Mediterranean, bay prefers well-drained soil and full sun. It does best if pruned on a regular basis, which encourages new growth. It does not tolerate cold winters—Zone 7 is about the limit for outdoor cultivation. If you live in a colder climate, it needs to be grown in pots and moved indoors for the winter. I do know gardeners who grow bay trees outside in a protected area, often with southern exposure. The gardeners wrap the bay in Reemay (a polyester material) or burlap to protect the plants from freezing weather and drying winds. Some of these plants reach heights up to 20 feet. Bay laurel most often is propagated from root cuttings.





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