Bay laurel

steve_in_los_ososApril 5, 2013

I've had a small "bay laurel" tree (labeled as Laurus nobilis) in a container for a couple of years now but am puzzled by its lack of scent of any sort. The leaves do not have any detectable odor fresh or dry, whole or broken. They look like bay leaves but even store-bought dried leaves have more aroma.

This can't be right, can it? I live in a very mild climate, but could the lack of heat give this result?

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Maybe you should try making tea out of a leaf or two as a test?

I doubt I can be of help but the only thing I can offer is that some herbs are best harvested in the morning and require hot sun to get the oils out. Not sure if that's the case with bay.

The darkest bay leaves will have the most flavor, and require drying for several days to get rid of fresh leaf bitterness.

Coincidentally I just bought a small bay and it has no fragrance though I didn't make much of it.

Also, if I open up a McCormick container of bay, it doesn't smell like much.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:56PM
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Mine has very little scent until it's added to the stew or soup pot. I think it needs the heat to release the oils.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:50PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I find bay has a strong scent as soon as you tear a leaf - winter or summer, hot or cold, fresh or dry. Even bay picked in a frost will have a scent. If yours has no scent I am wondering a) if it really is bay or b) whether your sense of smell just isn't picking it up. It varies a lot between people. Bay grows easily here and I use it in large quantities, usually just a bit wilted because I cut a branch and keep it in the kitchen until it is all gone and then cut another.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 12:23PM
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I tried pouring a little boiling water over a recently dried leaf. There was a "bay leaf" scent, although it dissipated soon.

I read recently that "all" parts of the plant are strongly aromatic and this is what has prompted my question. Then later I came across something that stated the scent is tightly bound and leaves must be rubbed briskly to release it. Obviously I need to stop reading!

I also read (...) that the plant is often misidentified in commerce so that's what got me worrying. Still not convinced that I have the real thing.....

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 7:29PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Can you post a picture? I could tell you immediately.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 3:55PM
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Here's hoping these pictures are adequate! Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:04PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Yes - that is definitely Laurus nobilis - Bay. How much water are you giving it? It looks a little yellow, Maybe overwatering? Does it have to be in a pot? If you have space I think it would do better in the ground where it could find its own moisture and get toughened up. That would increase the essential oils.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:42PM
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Thank you! Alas, it does have to live in a container. There is no soil available where it is growing (one of my few "warm" spots).

I'm trying to establish a container garden of culinary plants beyond the typical herbs. Things like bay, curry leaf, thai lime, ginger, lemon grass, etc. Also I really don't need/want a larger plant. One little clean-up pruning in the Spring gives me more bay leaves to dry than I will use for the entire year! And often as not I just go out and grab a fresh leaf when i need it.

That said, I'm not that good at container gardening and have trouble with both watering and feeding, so it's a long learning process :-)

Thanks again for taking a look at my plant. I'll stop fretting about its identity.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 6:35PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

steve - I wouldn't worry too much about giving the bay your 'warm' spot. They grow here and can take quite a bit of cold and grey skies. I am sure it would grow anywhere in your zone, sun or shade (except dry shade).

Bay is tolerant of severe pruning and is often used for topiary so keeping is compact would not be a problem. As you say, in ground culture is much less hassle than container growing.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 2:09PM
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I have had a bay tree for about 12 years and I do not think you have to worry too much about its lack of fragance--I think it is more prevalent when you rub it (forcibly :) between your fingers. My tree is in a big container by my front door and every few years I take it out and do a little bit of root prunning. Other than that I do not do much--by the way, I live in the Seattle area so it is much, much colder than where you are.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 5:38PM
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I live in southern San Luis Obispo county and I have a bay laurel that is now at least 15 feet tall. I bought it at a Farmer's Market years ago. (It is planted in our sandy soil.)
Bay laurels are not as strong in flavor as the Turkish bay leaves a person finds in the spice section of markets.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 8:17PM
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