Bay Leaf Plant

Bay Leaf Plant - The All-inclusive Info About This Curative Plant

A native to Asia minor and also adaptable to the Mediterranean type of climate, the bay leaf is a plant blessed with many medicinal properties. Even if you use only a few of its leaves, it is still worth making a place for this lovely plant in your garden.
Gardenerdy Staff
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2018
Bay leaf plants are typically tall, dense, and aromatic shrubs with leathery leaves, belonging to the family Lauraceae. Standing 60 ft. tall when it's fully grown, this plant has a variety of uses just like many other herbs, such as basil, cinnamon, etc. The fresh leaves are pungent, bitter, and full of flavor, but many believe that the taste and aroma fully develop after they are thoroughly dried. The leaves of this plant are 2.5 to 7.5 centimeters long and 1.6 to 2.5 centimeters wide.
Bay Laurel
There are many varieties of bay plants; however, the one with delectable, uber-popular leaves is the 'California bay'.
How to Root a Bay Leaf Plant
Not keen on buying a bay plant from a nursery? You can grow your very own plant from a small cutting. Follow through the instructions given below to know how.
The Cutting
ø How tall should it be? About 4 to 6 inches in length.
ø From where should the cutting be done? A mature bay leaf plant.
How to Get a Heel Cutting
» Tips
ø Don't clip off the shoot with a scissors.
ø Pull or tear it off the respective branch so as to get a pointed end on one edge. Or else, use a knife to make a similar cut.
ø If you want to take it with a scissors, ensure that you cut a part of the branch as well. Either way, the aim is to get a shoot with a small surface of its branch.

Take a good few cuttings, as growing bay leaf plants can be a tough task. If you try with a good number of them, you can afford one or two casualties.
Bay leaf plant
» Time/Season: Autumn/Fall, or Early Summer

» Place: An area which receives sufficient sunlight as well as shade (differing at different times of the day), having a comfortable temperature (not too hot and not too cold)

» Soil: Light, loose, and fertile soil that is well-drained but moist

» Time to Grow: Almost 10 months

» Method

ø Take the cutting, and pluck the excess leaves off. You should be left with 2 to 4 leaves on the shoot.

ø Take care that leaves should be plucked from the lower end (where the shoot was attached to the branch), leaving the remaining leaves towards the top half.

ø Take the end of the cutting that has a part of the branch, and dip it in a rooting hormone. This will help in propagating root growth.

ø Bury one-third of the shoot in loam. Take care that the shoot should receive sunlight but not too much of it; shade is equally important.

ø If you're planting indoors, you can adjust a plastic bag over it such that the bag makes no contact with the shoot but covers it well. This plastic will help in retaining the heat -- like a very small greenhouse effect for the shoot!

ø It is more preferable to plant indoors, considering the fact that bay plants grow very very slowly. Throughout this duration, you will need to maintain apt conditions, which might prove to be a little difficult if it's lost like a weed in a big garden!
How to Care for a Bay Leaf Plant
Bay plant
Bay plants are very resilient compared to most other plants. Once they've grown to a decent height, they're self-sufficient and a delight for any gardener! However, throughout the growing stages, it can be a bit tedious to take care of one.
ø Soil and sunlight are crucial factors while growing bay leaf plants.
ø Direct sunlight is vital for them, but excess of it can burn them. Ideally, they should be placed in such a way that they receive direct sunlight only for a few hours. Partly shady conditions work best for these plants.
ø Drainage of soil is an important aspect for them. Remember that the soil needs to be moist, but too much water will rot the roots. All-purpose soil works well if you're unsure about which kind to pick.
ø These plants go on to become very tall; so, plan before you plant them anywhere. An ideal space would be a slightly open area with good ventilation, providing enough area for root growth.
ø Bay plants and very low temperatures don't get along well. If the temperature in your area dips to subzero at night, or during a certain season, you will need to get your plant moving. Having a pot with wheels can prove to be a lifesaver here; else, moving it back and forth can be a real hands-on (literally so!) task.
ø Do you feel that small rabbits and other animals can loiter around easily near the planting area? Be very careful, as months and years of your hard work can be literally eaten away in a bite or two! If your plant is small, then it's safer to keep it indoors till it's big enough. Bay plants are quite resilient to most animals, but you'd rather be safe than sorry.
ø If you intend to keep the plant in a pot and not in the ground, you will need to renew the soil. Note that the plant will still grow if you get lazy, but for optimal growth, repotting is always beneficial.
ø Like any other plant, it is advisable to mulch the bay. Mulch is like a blanket for soil; something you use to cover the top layer of soil wherever the bay is planted.
Why Would You Want to Cover the Soil?
There are several advantages of doing so. It avoids the growth of weeds and prevents the plant from drying up quickly by reducing evaporation from the soil. You can buy one of these, or simply use plastic. I would personally recommend using waste products from your garden itself, like trimmed-off dry grass, or old leaves and twigs. They're biodegradable, look very natural, and most importantly, cause no problems while watering the plant.
Diseases and Problems
Bay plants are resistant to most common plant diseases other than mildew. While there could be a number of different diseases, which might be difficult to notice, the ones mentioned below are the most common ones and are spotted instantly.
Scales
ø If your bay plant is infected by this disease, you will notice small, light-brow-colored, round insects (which literally look like scales) under the leaves.
ø These annoying insects produce sticky excretions that develop a black fungus (sooty mold). You can spot this very easily if your plant is infested by these insects.
Aphids
ø The first visible symptom is damaged leaves. They turn yellow and curl up.
ø It is caused by tiny soft-bodied insects that feed onto a plant's leaves.
ø Some aphids even munch onto small twigs and trunks.
ø Aphids release a sticky, sugary substance (from the two tubes on the rear end) known as honeydew.
ø On taking a closer look, you might spot this glistening stuff under the leaves, or on the soil below the leaves.
ø Honeydew develops a black fungus (sooty mold). This should also be easy to spot on leaves located on the lower portion of the plant, or on the soil itself.
ø Defoliation: Eventually these insects will wipe away all the leaves from a plant.

If you notice similar signs, inspect the undersides of the leaves for these insects. They are usually found in large colonies, as they multiply quickly.

Aphids are easily demarcated from most other insects due to two unique protruding tubes from their rear end.
Solutions
ø Wash the plant with water and soap using a pressure hose.
ø Aphids: Washing in case of aphids will help you get rid of the sooty mold, some honeydew, and a good few insects (they won't die, but they'll be shoved off far away).
ø Scales: If you have a small plant, you can take a damp cloth, and manually wipe each leaf to get rid of these insects. Once you wipe off most of them, end by spraying the plant with a soapy solution.
ø Alternatively, you can use cotton dipped in methylated spirits to wipe under the leaves. This will definitely repel the insects and even kill a few.
ø While spraying the plant with a soapy solution is an easy fix in this situation, beware as some soaps can be harmful for plants.
ø Do a small patch test, and wait for 5 to 7 days before using the solution on the entire plant.
Powdery Mildew
ø This is a very common problem among a variety of plants.
ø Powdery mildew is easily noticeable on the leaves of the affected plant. The appearance, as the name suggests, is similar to that of talcum powder sprinkled over the leaves.
ø The causative agent for mildew are fungi. Different fungi attach to different types of plants.
Solutions
ø Fungicides are efficient in clearing mildew. Unfortunately, there are no quick tips on dealing with this widespread menace.
ø The first and foremost way to prevent mildew is by placing the plant where it can get sunlight. Direct sunlight is a deterrent for powdery mildew.
ø Watering plants from below is a nice way to keep mildew at bay. More water on leaves encourages fungal growth.
ø Prune your plant from time to time. Good circulation and ventilation are anyway important for bay plants, more so to keep mildew away.
How to Harvest Bay Leaves
ø It is best to harvest leaves from a plant, once it matures.

ø Plucking off the scanty foliage of a young and developing plant won't do it a lot good.

ø The ideal time to harvest leaves is a sunny morning after the dew has dried up.

ø You can either use garden shears to clip off the leaves, or simply use your hands.

ø While harvesting leaves so they may be dried and preserved, clip them off along with some length of the stem. So, you can tie their stems together and hang them somewhere to dry.

ø Don't dry bay leaves directly in the sun. Instead, dry them indoors in a warm and dry corner.

ø Once dry, airtight containers, or zip-lock plastics are useful to store them.
How to Prune a Bay Plant
Pruning bay leaf
Pruning bay leaf
What to Wear: Wear something sturdy that covers your hands completely. (Sometimes pruning can be a rough job, especially with overgrown branches out to scratch your hands and face.) Clear safety glasses and gloves are also a good idea.

What Tools to Use: Anvil Pruners and Loppers

What to Cut
ø When people have an overgrown bay plant, they're usually irritated with the abundant growth and go all out while chopping the branches.

ø A miscalculated and bad pruning session can seriously affect, or even kill your plant. So, be patient and careful all along.

ø If you want to chop off a few extra twigs from a branch, make a long scratch along its surface. Check if it's brown or green below. If it's green, the branch is still alive, whereas brown would indicate that it's dead.

ø You can still trim and shape the branches that are alive, but you'll have to be careful -- too many snips and it might be a problem.

ø If you're looking to shape the shrub into a decorative tree, chop off the branches towards the lower end of the plant. The exposed bark will then resemble that of a tree.

ø Cut out excessive growth to shape the bush as desired. Be careful not to cut more than one-third of the branches in your attempt to do so.

ø Remember, the first rule of pruning is to limit the height of the plant. Wherever the foliage and branches are scanty but the plant is still reaching higher, that portion needs to be trimmed off. This results in optimal health and growth of the plant.

ø Certain branches might be growing far more 'actively' than the rest. Such disproportionate growth in strange angles is accompanied by scarcely populated leaves and needs to be chopped off at the earliest.

ø If the branches and leaves are dense, snip off a bit of the fresh layer of leaves. If the outer covering is thin, only then can the inner one get sunlight and better circulation.

ø Bay shrubs usually have several trunks growing from the ground to the main plant. It is important to keep clipping them off annually and letting the plant have only one main trunk.

ø Throughout the process, you might want to have a napkin at hand to clean the dirt, leaves, or twigs that might get stuck in your shears. You can even use a cloth dampened with a disinfectant for this purpose.
Uses of Bay Leaves
Bay leaf cuisine
ø Bay leaves are useful in numerous ways. The most popular usage of these aromatic leaves is as a culinary spice. Bay leaves, like most other spices, cannot be consumed alone. While the sharp edges may not make a scrumptious meal, the taste itself is too sharp and bitter. A few leaves are added to the desired dish for its delectable flavor, and they are usually removed before consumption.
ø Unlike the popular belief, this is not because they are toxic and inedible. The leaves are stiff and sharp-edged. Ingesting the leaf as a whole, or small chunks of it can cause lesions and bruises on the inner lining of the digestive tract.
ø Few things that bay leaves are an absolute hit with are stews, stocks, soups, braised potatoes, pickles, and roasted meat. If you're in love with the flavor, you don't need to look for dishes that incorporate this magic ingredient; simply add a leaf or two while boiling pasta or rice!
ø Traditionally, bay leaves, like some other spices, are believed to repel insects. So a leaf or two in your garment rack will help keep the moths at bay. Also, you can place them in a rice, or flour container to avoid annoying and messy bugs.
ø Many people use them as potpourri. Its spicy and herbal fragrance is irresistible for most. Just crush a few leaves and place them in a bowl in your living room, and let everyone get a wonderful whiff as they walk in!
ø These leaves are known to help fight dandruff. It is one of the easiest home remedies for the annoying condition that refuses to let go of most. Boil around 5 bay leaves in 5 cups of water for around half an hour, and use this solution to rinse your hair after a wash.
ø Bay leaves are nutritive and high in many vitamins and minerals. Regular consumption helps in multiple ways and leads to a healthier system.
ø Bay leaves are also proven to help if you have painful menses, migraines, urinary problems, cuts, bruises, and common cold.
ø Bay leaf oil contains an important essential oil that helps against arthritis, rheumatism, sprains, and insect bites.
Relief from Common Cold
» Ingredients: 500 ml of water + 25 dry bay leaves + Juice from 2 small lemons + 300 grams of honey
» Add all the ingredients, and let it boil till the solution is half the initial quantity.
» Let it cool, after which you can collect the viscous syrup in an airtight container, and store it in the fridge. Consume three spoons twice a day for relief from a bad cold.
Note that some uses mentioned herein are traditional, and while people who have personally tried it are firm believers of it, there is no scientific proof that cites the same.
There are several different varieties of bay plants. The plants and their leaves are similar in appearance; however, the flavor after plucking and drying the leaves may vary vastly. The table below lists out common types of bay plants that people are likely to come across.
Different Types of Bay Leaf Plants
Name Scientific Name Common Names Flavor Fragrance Appearance Region
Sweet Bay Laurus nobilis Mediterranean bay, bay laurel Mild Oregano/Thyme Oval, Tinted-green Mediterranean
California Bay Laurel Umbellularia californica laurel, Oregon myrtle, and pepperwood Strong Oregano/Thyme dark gray-green, narrow, oval western North America
Indian Bay Leaf Cinnamomum tamala tejpat, Malabar leaf Strong Cinnamon/Clove dark gray-green, narrow, oval India, Nepal
West Indian Bay Pimenta racemosa Bay rum tree, ciliment - Woody/Floral Same as all but wider leaves Caribbean
Mexican Bay Leaf Litsea glaucescens - similar to Sweet Bay Mexico, Central America
Indonesian Bay Syzygium polyanthum salam leaf Mild Woody/Floral Wider in the center Indonesia
Note: All mentioned varieties are edible, except the West Indian Bay. The plant produces a fragrant toxic rum that is used for making cologne and essential oils.