Bay leaves are among the most versatile of herbs, and the plants, if regularly trimmed, make decorative shrubs. The glossy, sweetly scented leaves are indispensable in the kitchen.
Bay leaves are flat, pointed oval, about 3 inches long, dark green and glossy. Both leaves and wood are strongly aromatic. In ideal conditions, the shrub will grow to 25 feet tall and up to 6 feet across. The stems are tough and woody and have a gray bark. The flowers, which appear in late spring at the base of the leaf stem, are small, yellow, and rather insignificant.
Take 4-6 inches long cuttings in spring when the new growth has hardened a little. The cuttings may not take readily, despite your best efforts. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and pot in a good rooting medium. Once the plants are growing well, spray with water occasionally to keep the leaves glossy. If kept closely clipped, bay will continue to do well in its container.
When transplanting outdoors, choose a sunny location. The ground should be well prepared with compost and bone meal.
Scale manifests itself as hard brown ovals, which appear on the undersides of leaves or on woody stems. If the plant is not too big, remove scale by brushing with an old toothbrush dipped in a mixture of half water and half rubbing alcohol. Spray mature trees with horticultural oil, then repeat in ten days.
- Mildew is a fungal disease that manifests itself as a grayish, downy deposit on the leaves. Plants that do not have adequate sunshine or air circulation are most often affected. Spray affected foliage with sulfur early in the morning while foliage is still moist with dew. Badly infected foliage should be cut out and destroyed.
Bay has a spicy fragrance and flavor, and the leaves are used in all types of cooking. Try them in soups, stews, casseroles, stocks, syrups, sauces and as a decorative garnish. Since the flavor is strong, use with discretion. Check leaves carefully for scale before using, and never use immature leaf tips, as they have a high acid content. Bay leaves should be removed from food before serving. Dry leaves by hanging them in bunches in a warm, dry place.
An infusion of the leaves may be taken for flatulence.
Bay leaves add a strong, spicy fragrance to potpourri. To prevent silverfish damage to books or clothing, place a few leaves in drawers or on bookcases. A few leaves in the pantry shelves will keep weevils away.