I always cooked with bay leaves, the dried kind you get from the spice companies at the store. Never knew I could have fresh ones, until I saw a little bay plant at a local greenhouse, maybe 10 years ago. It said it was hardy in the winters here, so I bought it. Planted it out in the garden bed where other herbs grow. And it grew, a lot , the first summer, and I had fresh bay leaves for the first time and what a difference!
But winter was going to come and even tho the instructions on the plant said it could stay outside here in the ground, I wanted fresh bay leaves all the time now that I knew how much better they are! In the winter, the essential oils in hardy plants tend to go back into the roots, so bay, rosemary, lavender, any herbs you grow outside won’t be very good at all in the cold, even tho the plant might still look ok cos it’s hardy in the winter. Hardy in the winter means it goes dormant and then starts all over again in the spring.
So I dug it up, and brought it in, in a big pot. Big enough to give it encouragement, and allow for a lot of growth, since I didn’t really remember how big it was supposed to be going to get. At first I used a grow light cos the plant was short, too short to get enough light even from my east facing windows, with great morning sun. Then it got taller and now it needs no plant light.
It provides me with a fresh herb taste all year round now. Bay is wonderful to add a unique taste to any way you would cook beef, or with pork, or with pasta. It’s also used in lots of Mediterranean dishes.
It’s best if it can cook in some sauce or juice for a while; that’s how you get the most flavor. Use the leaf whole after it’s been washed off. Or in a piece of beef you’re going to roast, cut slits down in the roast with a sharp knife and stick leaves you’ve cut in half in the slits. Mmm! I really like it in any kind of soup, and I eat good hardy soup a lot in the winter. Just throw a leaf in while it’s simmering.
The leaves themselves should be cooked and then discarded. They remain sharp and abrasive even when cooked sometimes, and it’s not recommended to eat the leaves. The leaves do not digest and the edges can actually cut intestines. The essential oil that releases in cooking adds the amazing flavor and scent, and the leaves are just the way to deliver that.
Oh, and never mistake bay laurel, also know as sweet laurel, for the mountain laurel that grows wild in the mountains of Pennsylvania and other states near here. Mountain laurel is highly toxic! Sometimes a plant and its cousin are extremely different; as different as the tomato plant and it’s cousin, nightshade!
So, my plant grew, and grew, and now is known as my bay laurel tree — about 5′ tall. It began sending new shoots up from the root system maybe 5 years ago and is filling up the pot. It gets lots of sun all year round from the window and a good drink once a week.
There’s an old tale that if you have a tree in the house (including a Christmas tree!) it’s supposed to be good luck to have a bird’s nest in it. So there’s a little artificial nest in my bay tree. No bird, just a nest. Whether or not you believe old tales and want a nest, if you like the fresh taste of really good herbs, you should find a greenhouse that sells bay laurel plants. If you give it good sun and good water, it will give you some amazing foods back!