28 Apr2005

In ancient Greece and Rome, triumphant laurelcompetitors were crowned with bay or laurel (name used interchangeably in some places) leaves, hence the association with the victorious, the glorious and those possessing tremendous wisdom. Garlands of bay leaves were given to triumphant Olympians as well (as opposed to medals). The word baccalaureate, for example, hails from the word laurel. And here I was thinking “laurel” was just an indispensable ingredient in my chicken and pork adobo! A couple of years ago I chanced upon a scrawny seven foot tall “laurel” or bay leaf tree at a garden club plant sale. The plant wasn’t too healthy but I debated whether I should buy it. At P1,200, it was a tough call as dried bay leaves are fairly common and economical. I didn’t buy it and regretted my decision for several years afterwards. I have come across dozens of recipes (particularly Mediterranean) that call for fresh bay leaves and often read cookbook tips that old dried bay leaves are a shadow of their freshly dried cousins. Boohoo indeed. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when wandering around the Greenhills tiangge (flea market) last week, I spied several small but very healthy looking “laurel” or bay tree cuttings for sale in the plant section near the central fountain. Yahoo! I bought one plant that was just 8-10 inches tall for an outrageously expensive PHP250! Doesn’t it look good enough to cook with?

The Sweet Bay Tree (Laurus Nobilis) is part laurel2of the Lauraceae (Laurel) family. In some countries, like the Philippines, the name laurel has taken root as the common name but it really is a misnomer and a potentially dangerous one as only Sweet Bay Trees yield edible leaves… all other laurel trees are actually poisonous! Some sources say Bay Trees are native to Asia but because they have been in the Mediterranean for so long they are also commonly credited to be native to that region. At any rate, there are several edible varieties of sweet bay around the world… with slightly different types of trees abundant in Indonesia, India, the Mediterranean and California. Bay leaves are an important ingredient for several national cuisines. In France, for example, bay leaves are a critical part of a bouquet garni, together with parsley and thyme. The bouquet garni, in turn is necessary for a really yummy bouillabaisse. Bay leaves seem to bring out the best of all the other spices in the dish as they tend to modulate the flavors.

The cuttings for sale at the tiangge were taken from a much bigger and more established tree. The plant I purchased seems extremely healthy and the leaves of this already exhibit the fine traits of a much older bay leaf plant – oval, medium green leaves with a slightly different color and silvery finish to the underside of the leaves. Bay leaves differ in flavor and intensity based on their origin with Mediterranean bay leaf tasting sweeter and milder than their California cousins. My prized find remains in its plastic pot until I find a suitable place to plant it. As soon as I get more leaves and I get the courage to cut them off the plant, I will try cooking with fresh bay leaves and will let you know if it really makes a difference! Source: The Oxford Companion to Food

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Barney says:

    Ah… one of my “dream projects”: A self-sustaining herb garden.

    Apr 28, 2005 | 10:13 am

     
  2. dodi says:

    Great looking laurel tree! Hope it grows well for you. Just don’t put too much in your adobo just like my kasambahay because it will taste bitter. Can you please feature the corn-based “binaki”? It has been a favorite since childhood but I can’t seem to find any here in Manila or Luzon for that matter. Learning a lot from you!

    Apr 28, 2005 | 1:45 pm

     
  3. alaric says:

    give it as much sun as possible. water it when necessary but make sure its not waterlogged (allow the soil to dry before watering) and it will grow in no time. the six-inch plant i bought two years ago is now a six-footer. too bad i dont cook. :)

    Apr 29, 2005 | 5:47 am

     
  4. Marketman says:

    Thanks for the tips Alaric. Curious why you would buy a bay leaf plant and not cook with it? If you pluck some leave and let them dry for a few days they should be perfect for an adobo, no?

    Apr 29, 2005 | 6:54 am

     
  5. alaric says:

    i have a thing for trees and shrubs that do not produce fruits or showy flowers. i saw a photo of a laurel plant in gardening book and i knew i had to have one. it took more than a decade of searching before i found some on sale at the uplb garden show.

    May 2, 2005 | 1:30 am

     
  6. H. Hawes says:

    I have a dark laurel in the garden here, which I have always considered to be of the wild kind.
    I brought, from a previous garden, a much lighter coloured,larger leafed variety. I have always understood that the darker wild sown type (laurel) to be poisonous; and the lighter coloured bay (Laurus nobiliis) as shown in the ABOVE PICTURE to be the edible, non-poisonous kind. Can anyone verify scientifically, which are the poisonous and which the non-poisonous kinds, please?

    Mar 17, 2007 | 8:40 pm

     
  7. ginny says:

    HI CAN SOME ONE OUT THERE HELP ME WITH MYNEW BAY LAUREL I MADE IT THROUGH THE WINTER BUT THE LEAVES ARE STARTING TO TURN BLACK I THINK IT IS BLACK SCALE BUT CAN NOT FIND HOW TO CARE FOR IT MANY THX IF YOU CAN HELP

    Mar 20, 2007 | 7:25 am

     
  8. RK MOntalvo says:

    can you please inform me regarding where i can buy “laurel” trees??? I will appreciate it very mucH! thanks

    Mar 25, 2007 | 10:45 pm

     
  9. Marketman says:

    RK,I bought my tiny plant oddly in the center of the greenhills tiangge…it was about 8 inches tall at the time…I have seen it sometimes at the FTI Taguig market, the seedling bank, and the Makati Garden Club on rare occasions during plant shows. Mine has thrived and is now branching out after a year or two in a large pot…

    Mar 29, 2007 | 7:01 am

     
  10. romulo de jesus jr says:

    where can i buy laurel plants,im here in quezon city

    May 18, 2007 | 7:02 pm

     
  11. kate singson says:

    i have laurel plants for sale–sms me at 09165133926

    May 23, 2007 | 1:50 am

     
  12. colleen walker says:

    I was looking for a response to the question from Ginny on March 20th 207. My bay leaf plant is just now showing black around the edges of the leaves. What is it and what can I do? Please email to the above addy as soon as you can…. I LOVE this plant and so do my recipes!

    Thank you!

    Jun 21, 2007 | 6:50 am

     
  13. Marketman says:

    Sorry Colleen and Ginny, I have no idea what is wrong with your bay leaf plant. Being based in Manila, if you are in the states I would have even less idea as the variety of bay is different I think…

    Jun 21, 2007 | 8:29 am

     
  14. Shay says:

    I chance upon your website looking for a Pinoy term for bay leaf! Alas, stumbled in your page. And for a while, I thought I was reading a wikipedia stub. Very informative! Didn’t think that a laurel plant can be that outrageously expensive. I normally go back to Philippines just to buy one. haha nice blog! will be dropping by again!

    Sep 7, 2007 | 9:31 am

     
  15. Ging says:

    I have two kinds of bay leaves I got from Spain. The best way to keep them bushy is by cutting/harvesting the top new leaves frequently, just before they turn dark green. It will also help the plant if some lower leaves are pinched off regularly, especially ones that have shown disease, withering, or have simply stayed small. My bay leaves are slow-growing, but can’t complain much. I live in Quezon City and grow herbs along with ornamentals.

    I use my bay leaves fresh, adobo, paella, arroz a la cubana, etc. The store-bought dried leaves are stronger, but I suspect they may have been artificially “enhanced”.

    Oct 14, 2007 | 3:04 pm

     
  16. Marketman says:

    Ging, thanks for those tips. I have to agree with the pruning…the gardener recently cut the main stem and shoots have started to emerge… I thought the plant was going to die!

    Oct 14, 2007 | 3:08 pm

     
  17. Ging says:

    Use the cut branches for propation. A good 4-6 inch cutting will do. Trim off lower leaves, plant cuttngs in a small plastic pot. Cover with a “mini greenhouse” i.g. large plastic softdrink bottles ghalf and the top portion use t cover the protruding cutting. Let halved plastic bottle stay for a month! It keeps moisture in for a good time. Water frequenty. Place under semi-shade. Yes, they take a long time to root. Remove bottle “greenhouse” after a good 3 weeks. Water regularly. When up and happy, your 4 inch seedling is now ready to be transfered to a bigger pot with well draining soil on the ground. 75 to 80% success rate. I use Mediterranea or Enrico available at Greenhearts garden shop in QC.

    I’ll post photos of the steps and my thriving bays. I have olive trees from Spain too. Maybe 10+ years from now I’ll know if they will bear fruit. Then I’ll figure out how to salt pickle them. :-)

    Oct 15, 2007 | 2:16 am

     
  18. rasta says:

    how much does a bay leaf plant cost now a days in the philippines?? please can anyone tell me?? email me at redcap_02@yahoo.com thanks.. and peace

    Jan 23, 2009 | 1:45 am

     
  19. Bonnie J says:

    My bay leaf tree which I bought about four years ago as a 12″ plant is now at least three feet. It has been exceptionally healthy until the past winter and has been dropping leaves in droves. I have repotted it, hoping to overcome the problem.
    What can I do to preserve it until I can put it outdoors in a pot again. Could it be the dry air in the house in winter?
    Anyone have any helpful suggestions, please let me know.

    Mar 5, 2009 | 9:36 am

     
  20. J. Hoiseth says:

    Just a concern about your mentioning California Bay. This is taken from the Herb Society of America’s Guide on Laurus Nobilis (Bay Laurel):

    Umbellularia californica – California Bay

    California bay or California Laurel is very similar to Laurus nobilis, and some forms of both are superficially identical but readily separable by chemical and microscopic botanical characters. California bay would be a great bay substitute for cooking were it not for the fact that is has no GRAS status and the principal constituent, umbellulone, is toxic to the central nervous system when eaten and causes convulsive sneezing, headaches, and sinus irritation when inhaled deeply. Despite this, some companies market California bay,
    and some Californians insist this is the only bay. Other than that, California bay is a great ornamental troubled by few insects and other pests (deer usually avoid it unless starving.)

    Apr 12, 2009 | 3:55 am

     
  21. Eduvie says:

    Can someone tell me whdere I can buy a live Sweet Bay Leaf plant in the Atlanta, GA area or via internet to be shipped to me. I really need one in my herb garden. Pls e-mail me the info @ edholdings@gmail.com

    Thank you.

    Ed.

    May 19, 2009 | 2:47 am

     
 

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