Bay Leaves

Bay leaves have become almost ubiquitous in the kitchen due to their ability to enhance a wide variety of dishes, but they are also surprisingly good for our health.

The bay (Laurus nobilis) is an aromatic evergreen tree that belongs to the Lauraceae family. It has smooth green leaves that can be used fresh or dried. Bay leaves taste a bit like menthol  with a hint of black pepper and wood. 

A single bay leaf will add a subtle but unmistakable flavour to savoury dishes such as stews, soups, and simmering sauces. It can also enhance sweet sauces, custards, and rice puddings; in the old days, before vanilla became widely available, cooks relied on bay leaves to add a subtle aroma to these sweet dishes.

Bay leaves work well when combined with other herbs (they are essential in a bouquet garni) and also in complex dishes, where they enhance bolder flavours. A good example is bobotie, in which bay leaves are combined with a simple un-sweet custard, to round off the beautifully complex flavours and aromas of a spicy, sweet-and-savoury meat dish. 

The longer the bay leaves are cooked, the stronger and better the resulting flavour, but since the leaves themselves are difficult to chew and digest, they should be removed before consuming the dish. 

As is often the case with culinary herbs, bay leaves have additional uses outside the kitchen. For instance, bay leaves are said to deter weevils when you store it alongside grains like wheat. 

Bay leaves are also very good for human health. As an article on WebMD so aptly put it, they “can pack a mighty punch when it comes to health benefits”. Tea brewed from bay leaves supports your immune system, helps to soothe upset stomachs, and can even help relieve blocked sinuses. 

Bay trees are fairly easy to look after. They like full sun to partial shade in a sheltered spot, prefer well-drained soil, and will benefit from regular watering. Give it a good prune in the summer.

Medical disclaimer:  Always consult your healthcare worker or GP  for medical advice 

Supplied by Canterbury HERB Society