Theresa Loe is a freelance garden/culinary writer, book author and blogger who specializes in organic edible gardening and gardening with children. You can find her recipes and garden tips at www.gardenfreshliving.com.
National Herb Week was first established in 1991 by the International Herb Association. It is celebrated every year during the week prior to Mother’s Day. The purpose of National Herb Week is to bring attention to herbs, herbal uses and herb businesses. For this reason, many herb farms and businesses celebrate Herb Week with festivals and educational events during this week. Usually the celebrations will include tributes to the “Herb of the Year,” which for 2009 is bay (Laurus nobilis).
Bay laurel is an evergreen, Mediterranean shrub with glossy, dark green leaves. In mild climates, such as Southern California, bay can grow into a substantial tree of 20 feet or more. But in most areas, it is a slow grower and rarely reaches over four to five feet. It is an excellent container plant and is commonly grown as a topiary.
Although this perennial can survive frost in many areas, the leaves can become damaged. In very cold climates, it is best grown in a container and brought indoors for the winter. It does very well indoors if it receives strong light and an occasional misting of the leaves. When grown outside, bay prefers full sun.
Bay leaves can be harvested anytime throughout the year. When you prune or shape your plant, save and dry the leaves for later use.
Bay is sometimes called “bay laurel” or “sweet bay”, but check the botanical name when purchasing your plant to be sure your are getting Laurus nobilis. Another plant called bay laurel is actually California bay (Umbellularia californica). Although it is sometimes erroneously sold as a culinary herb, California bay contains toxic oils and should never be eaten.