Bay, Sweet

Common name: Sweet Bay

Scientific name: Laurus nobilis

Family: Lauraceae

Uses: Cosmetic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal.The fragrant oil is added to bath water to sooth the skin. Culinary use is mainly in soups, stews, and tomato sauces. Bay leaf also flavors shellfish boils, pickling brines, game meats, and herbal teas. Remember to remove bay leaf before serving. The tree itself is decorative when pruned into formal shapes. The branches can be used in fresh or dry herbal wreaths and to add fragrance to potpourris. Bay leaf is said to have some medicinal qualities.

History: Laurus is Latin for laurel

Description: This large, attractive tree is thickly covered with glossy, narrow dark-green leaves about 2 to 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. The thick, leathery leaves have wavy, somewhat variable margins. The greenish yellow flowers are without petals and not very ornamental. Pruning out the lower limbs and rounding the top creates an elegant appearance. The bark is shiny grey, and the fruit is a dark purple to black one-seeded berry about 1/2 inch long.

Plant type: Perennial

Hardiness: Evergreen tree; hardiness zone 8.

Height: averages up to 10 feet (wild plants may reach 23 feet)

Width: varies


Soil: moderately rich, well drained soil with a pH of 6.2


Disease: Susceptible to white wax scale, which makes the leaves sooty and unattractive and retards leaf growth.

Cultivation: Bay trees make excellent tub specimens, especially if grown with the lower branches pruned off and the top rounded. Seeds are difficult to propagate, but cuttings can be successful when taken in the spring after the leaves have hardened. Keep cuttings watered at all times and plant in containers when rooted. Bay trees are slow growing, but after one year in pots they can be transplanted into the garden or a larger container.

Companion planting: Growing bay near other plants is not a problem unless the tree gets too large and the roots take nourishment from nearby soil.

Propagation: Difficult to propagate from seeds or cuttings.

Flowering period: March to May

Flower color:


Garden notes: Bay can be trained as a topiary tree.