Bay leaf may not seem like an obvious herb to grow in your garden. However, given how useful (and tasty!) it is, I would argue that every cook should grow their own bay leaf plant. From planting to harvesting and using your bay leaves, here’s everything you need to know about growing a bay laurel tree.
Bay leaves are a staple in my spaghetti sauce. If I ever forget to add that one herb, the sauce just seems to taste flat and dull. Isn’t it funny how one little spice can make such a big difference?
I’ve been sharing posts about how to grow some of the most common and versatile herbs yourself, including mint, rosemary, and thyme. The herbs I’ve covered so far are small, easy-to-grow shrub plants.
Today, I’m sharing about a different type of herb – one that grows as a tree! In fact, this herb grows on an evergreen tree called Lauris Nobilis (or commonly called the bay laurel tree).
Let’s explore this popular herb and learn how to care for it as well as some of the different ways to use your fresh bay leaf plant.
Bay Leaf Plants: A Brief History
The Laurus Nobilis tree (a.k.a. sweet bay leaf tree) is a tall tree that originates in the Mediterranean region. It’s a tall tree at 40-50 feet tall and is believed to be one of the oldest as far as cultivated tree species are concerned.
This plant was considered by the Romans and Greeks to be sacred and was often planted near temples. People would burn the greenery during rituals. The leaves were also used in ancient Greece to create a “crown” for the winners of the Greek games.
Benefits of Bay Leaf
Bay leaf plants aren’t just meant for cooking! This herb is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Here are a few non-culinary benefits that bay leaf plants provide.
- Easing migraines
- Aids digestion
- Contain antibacterial properties
- May improve hair health and texture
- Reduces inflammation and irritation, which helps sore joints
- Enhances heart health
Growing Bay Leaf Plants: Everything You Need To Know For Success
Bay plants are slow-growing trees that are actually pretty simple to grow. However, they are frost tender and cannot grow outdoors in zones colder than a 7. In addition, they have stiff, leathery leaves with a rib down the middle of the leaf.
Here’s what this plant needs to thrive.
Growing Needs Of Bay Leaf Plants
- Scientific name: Laurus Nobilis
- When to plant: Bay plants are slow-growing and take a very long time to grow from seeds, so the normal way to propagate them is through stem cuttings in the spring when the tree is still somewhat dormant.
- Light: A bay leaf plant wants full sun.
- Soil: Can tolerate many different well-draining soil types with an acidity of 4.5 – 8.3 (although prefers a range of 6.0 – 7.0).
- Fertilizing: Not usually needed for trees grown outdoors. Bay plants ground indoors will need an occasional well-balanced fertilizer.
- Watering: This plant has shallow roots and benefits from frequent waterings so that it doesn’t dry out.
- Hardiness Zones: Perennial in zones 7-11. Grow indoors in colder zones.
Ideal Locations For Growing Bay leaf
Your bay leaf plant doesn’t require a lot of work, but where you can grow it will change depending on the climate where you live.
- Warm regions: Grow it in garden beds outdoors.
- Colder regions: Grow it in containers so that you can move them around or grow them as an indoor herb when the weather turns too cold for your bay leaf plant.
Keeping Bay Leaf Plants Healthy
This herb is fairly resistant to most pests and diseases, which makes for easy growing. The biggest problems for bay plants usually tend to be cold temperatures, not enough sunlight, or over-watering.
Aphids and scale can be the biggest problems. Spray your infected plant with a mixture of 1 teaspoon dish soap and 1-gallon of water.
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Bay leaf plants don’t generally have a problem with fungal diseases. Leaf spot is the biggest concern, and it’s caused by overwatering and allowing the roots to sit in water for prolonged periods of time.
Harvesting Bay leaf
Once your plant reaches 2 years old, you can harvest leaves from your plant anytime you want. However, you’ll get the best flavor in leaves from the bigger, more mature leaves. Then sit them out for a couple of weeks so they can cure before using them.
You can either use them whole or crush them up, but make sure to remove them after you finish cooking so they aren’t eaten.
Storing And Preserving Bay Leaf
After harvesting, dry your leaves by spreading them out in a single layer on a piece of parchment paper. Leave them there for 2 weeks to dry and cure. Once dried, store your leaves in an airtight container.
Ways To Use Bay Plants
Bay leaf plants are popular for use in a large variety of recipes. In addition, its tall, leggy appearance makes it a wonderful addition to flower gardens and cut flower arrangements as a feathery filler.
Using bay leaf in culinary recipes is one of the most common uses for this flavorful herb. Although it’s native to the Mediterranean region, it’s a staple in many different cuisines. Add a bay leaf to:
- Meat recipes
- Fish dishes
- Roasted vegetables
- Sauces and dips
- Flavored vinegar
- Spice blends
- And more!
Bay leaf is calming and uplifting when used aromatically. Add it to your diffuser as well as sprays, potpourri, or candles to give you a positive boost when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
I hope that this post gave you some helpful information about using and growing a bay leaf plant! This ancient herb is more widely used than ever and makes a wonderful addition to your outdoor garden or your indoor herb garden. And, when you grow your own, you can have “fresh” bay leaves for your recipes anytime.