Bay leaf: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on bay

Bay is an evergreen shrub often referred to as a small tree of the Lauraceae family. It has shiny oval leaves, pointed, with dark green on top with a lighter underside.

Flowers, which appear in clusters in the spring are yellow and are followed in female plants by small black or purple berries.

In the wild it can grow up to 60 feet tall, but cultivated outside its native habitat it only reaches 3-10 feet in height.

common names
& nomenclature

Bay Laurel's scientific name comes from the Latin Laurus meaning "verdant" and nobilis meaning noble, or of high rank.

Also known as:
bay laurel, grecian laurel, poet's laurel, sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, and laurel

Bay Leaf, the odorful plant
Bay leaf: Where in the World
habitat and range for bay

Bay leaf (or Bay laurel) is native to Asia Minor and areas around the Mediterranean.

Bay leaf: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting bay

Bay laurel requires mild climates and will only grow well year round outside if it has 4 hours of direct sunlight a day and if kept relatively cool. It does make an attractive container plant or houseplant.

The soil should be rich and well-drained and allowed to dry out between watering, however it should receive a little extra water in the springtime.

The plant can be propagated easily from cuttings.

Harvest the leaves as needed once the tree is established. This is one herb that's better dried than fresh, as the fresh leaves are bitter.

Bay leaves may be pressed to dry; properly dried leaves are bright olive green. Store them in a dark, cool, dry place in an airtight container.

take note!
This plant can be found in your grocery store as "bay leaves" and in your garden center as "laurel" or "bay laurel".

Always check the Latin name when buying plants, especially this one, as there are many "bays" and "laurels" out there, some that aren't remotely related to this herb. For example, Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia is poisonous while Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica has been used as a substitute for Bay laurel in cooking and has its own uses as well.

Bay leaf: The Rest of The Story
bay history, folklore, literature & more

Bay laurel is a small evergreen tree, which seldom grows taller than 20 feet in the Unite States. Its leathery dark green leaves have wavy edges and grow on short stalks. Bay berries are dark purple or black.

If all you do with bay is add a leaf or two to soups and stews, you're missing an opportunity to use a natural soother. Bay will never replace sleeping pills, but it has a number of benefits, mainly in the area of mental health.

Low doses of bay oil have been found to sedate laboratory animals, and higher doses produce temporary stupor. The herb also reduces blood pressure in laboratory animals, but the effect is mild. Bay has never been shown to put people to sleep or lower their blood pressure, but these animal results are suggestive. Many people find that bay infusions are relaxing.

Like most aromatic spices, bay leaf oil kill disease-causing bacteria and fungi. Bay is not a powerful enough antiseptic to be used in place of appropriate medical treatment, but for minor household accidents, the fresh herb can be used externally.

Several modern herbals continue to recommend rubbing bay oil into arthritic joints, but modern research has never demonstrated any anti-inflammatory action.

Bay should be used in medicinal amounts only in consultation with your doctor. Learn more about the herb on our Bay laurel profile page.