Sweet Bay ‘09 Herb of the Year Part II

hese days, I live in Vista, California, just 10 miles from where I grew up in Encinitas. Both places have the same Mediterranean climate, the same USDA zone 10 & Sunset Western Garden Book Zone 24 and yet they are vastly different. I can look out in the morning to the west and see that the coast is fogged in, while I have lovely morning sun and that is only one of many, many “micro-climate” differences, yet we supposedly have the same gardening zone. Still, when it comes to growing bay, it is the really the same in either place – it grows enormous here, 25 to 30 feet high and a few feet wide. So, I am amused by the books that say it grows 4 to 6 feet high and in other climes I’m sure that is true where inclement weather makes it less vigorous but I can expect 4 to 6 feet of growth in a single season! It can be grown in a container quite well & that will stunt, or “bonsai” if you will, its growth. Laurus nobilis, is commonly known as “Sweet Bay”, “Bay Laurel” or just plain “Bay”, (not to be confused with an inferior plant called “California Bay”, Umbellularia californica, or “West Indian Bay Rum”, Pimenta racemosa. Please note: that the unrelated “Mountain Laurel”, Kalmia latifolia, in the Ericaceae family, has poisonous leaves.)

Here is a great craft to do with all that bay, make wreaths for the kitchen! I first learned to this from my BFF Theresa Loe of www.gardenfreshliving.com over 15 years ago (I think) and recently I taught my new friend Peggy how to make them at a class I taught at www.keyscreeklavenderfarm.com these are Peggy’s gifts to her friends!

She also added bay to her website that has crafts for teachers & children …
http://ottogo.com/may-2009-craft-of-the-month-butterfly-theme.html “This craft is
great for repetitive pinch and release and for bilateral motor coordination.
Painting can become a real tactile experience if you have the child use their
finger instead of a brush to paint. Put the butterfly on the refrigerator or
filing cabinet. Catch a whiff of the herbs whenever you walk by. It will have
your spirits fluttering! This craft is a real olfactory experience. It utilizes
a lot of pinch grasp and fine motor control.”

Every year, I chuckle, when the culinary catalogs come with expensive $$$ fresh bay wreaths for sale like this one from

when you can grow & then make your own bay wreaths to use, enjoy & give!

Culinary Bay Wreath


  • Fresh bay branches
  • wreath form
  • paddle wire, available at craft stores
  • clippers
  • ribbon, optional

With clippers, cut bay branches into lots of approximately 3 – 4 inch sprigs. Use the wire to securely attach the sprigs to the wreath form. How much bay you will need depends on the type & size of the form you have chosen. TIP: Dry the finished wreath flat on a table for a week or so before hanging on the wall. This is so that the wreath does not droop and dry lopsided.


  • Use homegrown bay leaves, fresh or dried, in any recipe calling for bay. Be sure to add a leaf, even if none is called for, to your favorite stews, soups, chilies, & pasta sauces. Don’t forget dessert! Do as the ancients & add a leaf to rice puddings, custards, cakes & more, for a delicious treat.
  • Grind up dried bay leaves for “Powdered Bay Leaves”, a spice no longer offered for sale by spice packers. Sift out any hard bits before using.
  • Put a leaf into your flour, rice & other grain storage canisters for a classic method of preventing pesky grain bugs.
  • To relieve sore muscles, simply add 1 or 2 leaves to your bathwater & soak.

While on vacation in the Outer Banks, N.C. last year we had lots of great fish and I found that “Old Bay®” was a common seasoning used in many restaurants, did you know you can make your own?

Make your “Own Bay” Seasoning Blend (Shhhh! Don’t tell “OLD BAY®”)

Combine well and store in an airtight container. Use your “Own Bay” seasoning as you would that other stuff!

1 tablespoon ground bay leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons celery salt

1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, ground

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground mace


Try making “Own Bay-o Dip”

…adapted from http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2008/05/shrimppoboy

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (optional: to taste, add some lemon zest too!)

3 teaspoons “Own Bay” seasoning

~Stir together mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, if using, and 3 teaspoons “Own Bay” seasoning

Use this tasty mayo instead of tartar sauce with fish. Great with French fries! Yummy with crudités’.


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