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Sweet Bay Info

The Bay tree, "sweet bay" or (Laurus nobilis) is native to the mediterranean and is a shrubby evergreen with aromatic leaves. The bay tree can reach up to 65 feet in height when it is grown in a natural habitat. There are many varieties of bay trees found naturally; however, only the true "sweet bay" is culinary.  All the other bays can be poisonous.
Bay is often grown as an ornamental shrub and kept pruned as a topiary in decorative urns. It can be grown indoors or outside.  Bay likes high-light areas inside the home and takes full sun outside.  Plant in rich, moist, well-drained soil and remember to protect from wind.  The bay tree is hardy in more southern and tropical climates in zones 8, 9, and 10.  Bay can be successfully grown in northern climates in containers and brought inside in freezing temperatures.

The leaves are used either fresh or dried in mediterranean and French cooking. The leaves are always removed before serving the dish. The leaves are a main ingredient in bouquet garnis.  Thus, the leaves are used to flavor stocks, soups, stews, and marinades.  Tuck several bay leaves under the skin of your favorite meat or fish before roasting or grilling. Boil several bay leaves in milk to flavor custards and puddings.  The leaves naturally help repel ants so spread several in the pantry for protection. Also, drop one or two leaves in your rice liquid when steaming. If your recipe calls for dried bay leaves, substitute fresh ones remembering to use half the amount of dried as fresh bay is a bit strong.

The bay tree has been associated with folklore for centuries.  Apollo's temple at Delphi had it's roof made with bay leaves for protection against disease, witchcraft, and lightening. Also, bay leaves have been used to protect against the plague.
To the Romans, bay was a symbol of wisdom and glory and a wreath of bay leaves adorned scholors, athletes, and poets. The latin laurus means "laurel" and nobilis "renowned."  Laureate means "crowned with laurels."  Therefore, the old-time words for poet laureate and baccalaureate derived from ancient Roman times.