Also known as Sweet Bay and Laurel, this evergreen shrub/small tree is a famous symbol of honour of Greek and Roman times. The dark green shiny oval leaves are distinctive and ornamental as well as useful – use them fresh or dried to as a bouquet garni, to flavour soups, stews, marinades and stuffing. The leaf can also be boiled in milk to flavour custard & rice pudding, used as a garnish, or placed in rice & flour bins as a weevil deterrent. If you’ve ever watched the River Cottage series you’ll know that Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall cooks almost nothing without a bay leaf, especially fish, which always gets a leaf tucked inside before cooking! The leaf is used in , marinades & stuffing.
The flowers bloom in late spring and are small and yellow, appearing at the base of the leaf stem. These form into hard, green berries, later becoming purple-black, and can be used along with the leaves. Medicinally the leaf is infused to relieve indigestion, colic & flatulence and to stimulate the appetite. The essential oil is used to calm the autonomic nervous system and when added to a bath, it stimulates the circulatory system. The oil is also a useful antiseptic, used for bronchial problems, and blended essential oil can be massaged around sprains and into rheumatic joints for its analgesic effects. Both leaves and berries contain essential fatty acids and anti oxidants.
The leaves can also be dried and crumbled into pot pourri, and the branches provide great foliage for flower arrangements.
Can grow to 7m but can also be pruned to keep it smaller – it is a good candidate for topiary and is often pruned into lollipop and other shapes. This makes it suitable for growing in a large pot. Full sun to part shade, tolerant of most soil types as long as it is well drained. No herb garden should be without one!