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Herbs on the Windowsill: Bay Laurel

Herbs on the Windowsill: Bay Laurel

Keep a potted bay laurel tree to flavor soups and stews.

By FamilyTime

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While you wouldn't want to eat a fresh or dried bay leaf, they add good flavor to soups, stews, sauces, and some pickles. Happily, it's an easy matter to grow a fresh bay tree in a pot.

Bay laurel, also called sweet bay, is easy to grow in a container and then move inside and outside according to the weather. It's a slow growing tree, and so can stay in the same pot for four or five years as long as the pot is large enough to begin with.

Bay Facts
In the countries of the Mediterranean where they grow naturally, bay trees can reach 30 or 35 feet. In cooler climates, they rarely reach more than 15 feet and usually are more shrub like, growing to five or six feet high.

Before you decide this is too large for your needs, remember that you can start a bay tree when it's just eight or nine inches tall and keep it trimmed to the height you can manage. Even a two-foot plant will yield more bay leaves than most home cooks ever need!

Bay Care
Plant the bay laurel in a pot filled with potting soil that drains well but also holds its moisture. You never want the dirt to completely dry out.

Keep the pot in a cool place with good light. If you feel it is not getting enough light, use a grow lamp. Water it just enough to keep it moist and do not let it dry out between watering.

In the warm weather, when the bay laurel is outdoors, water it more often. 

Fertilize the plant with plant food developed for houseplants once or twice during the winter, and a little more frequently in the summer.

Bay laurel trees can be trimmed and pruned to keep them bushy and also to train them. Some gardeners like to cut them as topiaries.

If the temperature where you live drops below 30 degrees, bring the bay plant indoors in the fall and then move it outdoors in the spring. While it can go outside early, make sure the night temperatures are not dropping before freezing and acclimate the plant to the cooler weather over several weeks.

Culinary Uses
A single fresh bay leaf will flavor a soup or stew very nicely. Discard it before serving as it's tough and bitter tasting. Most home cooks like the flavor the fresh leaves impart.

Some cooks prefer the flavor of dried bay leaves, which is a little less bitter than fresh. Snip leaves from the plant and let them dry in a brown paper bag. Use them as soon as they dry or store them for the season. They will loose flavor when stored for longer than six months. 


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