(laurus nobilis) Each month during 2016, my Herb Picks will be accompanied by a myth or other tale that has come down to us through the centuries, as well as some useful growing information. These are herbs that can be grown in our area, and are found in the Arbor Gate Herb House throughout the year. Needless to say, not all herbs are available during every season, so keep a list handy of those you want to add to your herb collection.
An ancient Greek myth about the bay laurel is one of my favorites. In this tale, Apollo, the god of the sun, was teasing Cupid about his tiny arrows, and Cupid, angered, shot one of love into Apollo’s heart. Daphne, a nymph, was standing close by, watching the two gods. To further express his anger at Apollo, Cupid then shot an arrow designed to repel into Daphne’s heart. When Apollo saw her, he fell madly in love and thought he must have her for his own, but thanks to Cupid’s arrow she became frightened and ran from him. But Apollo was too fast, and as he was about to capture her, she cried to her father, the river god Peneus, to save her. Out of his great love for his daughter, he turned her into what we know as a bay tree.
Apollo embraced the beautiful tree, since christened laurus nobilis, and cried, “My love, my love, I shall love you forever, and evermore you shall be green. I will wear your leaves as a crown to remember you.” To this day bay wreaths are used as a sign of victory and honor to poets and conquers.
Growing bay in our area is relatively easy, but the tree is somewhat slow to develop. It tolerates sun and shade equally well, and doesn’t like to be over-watered. Be sure to plant it where it has plenty of space as it will attain a height of ten feet or more and become quite wide as well. Check the undersides of leaves for scale periodically and spray with a non-toxic horticultural oil if they are found. Fertilize twice a year with an organic fertilizer such as Arbor Gate Blend.
For culinary purposes, the leaves are used green or dried. Bay is traditionally used to season savory dishes such as gumbo, but it is a wonderful surprise when combined with chocolate drinks and desserts as well. Herbal teas with a bay leaf or two added, whether hot or iced, are another favorite of mine.