Bay Leaf – The Only Tree in Your Herb Garden!
Bay leaf is very potent so it doesn’t take much to spice up a hearty vegetable stew or a pot roast. Using a single, whole leaf and removing it prior to serving your dish will give you the best results. If you use dried, ground leaves, make sure the fragments are very small since they tend to be tough and chewy. Parsley and thyme compliment this herb well.
Planting & Care
Bay grows very slowly. Most gardeners choose to purchase it as an established plant rather than taking the time to grow it from seeds or cuttings. Unlike most of the plants on our herb gardening list, this is actually a small tree that can be pruned down to the size of a shrub. When you go shopping at the plant nursery, be sure to ask for sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) since other trees in this family can be toxic.
This tree thrives in rich, slightly sandy soil that is well drained. Water it several times a week in hot weather to prevent the root system from drying out. Move potted bay plants out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day in the summer. Place mulch around the roots to retain the moisture in the soil. Add a small amount of fertilizer in the spring.
If you live in the extreme southern U.S. where temperatures don’t dip below 25 degrees faranheit, you can plant your bay leaf tree directly outdoors. Otherwise, transplant it to a 5 gallon container so it will have plenty of room to grow.
Bring this tub indoors in the winter to protect the plant from freezing. If your bay tree is spending a lot of time inside, invest in a grow lamp or place it by a window where it will receive plenty of direct sunlight.
Harvesting & Storage
Wait until your plant is well established before you start harvesting bay leaves. With proper care, bay will live for a long time – so there isn’t any rush. If you are trimming the tree to keep it small, use the bay leaves you remove during this process for seasoning.
Once the plant is thriving, you can begin harvesting the largest leaves (these have the best flavor). Allow each bay leaf to air dry in a moisture free environment for several days before use. This cuts the bitter taste.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user eljay