I live on the southern Oregon coast. A place where Myrtle Trees grow in the wild in abundance. They become huge and grow in groves. Why, are they called California Bay when they actually originated in Oregon and are called Myrtle here? And, why are they different from Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel? They look exactly the same, smell exactly the same, and taste, in cooking, exactly the same. I defy anyone to tell the difference. They grow (rapidly here) the same as any and all bay. How do I know? Well...
Thinking as you because of what I had read that there was a difference, I bought some Sweet Bay seed. Yes, right here amongst towering Myrtle trees (Lauris nobilis)
I actually planted Sweet Bay seed (quite a few of them) and wonder of all wonders they sprouted with vigor and grew just as fast. I kept the best and planted it under my (high) dining room window because the seed packet said they are slow growing. (How gullible am I?) Now we have to prune the Sweet Bay twice a year and we are losing the battle. Anyway, the rest I took to Garden Club where we sold it at our annual plant sale as Sweet Bay, not Myrtle. Ha! Yes, I have some strange looks.
I am not trying to negate your article in any way, Carrie. In fact, it is a very good one.
Because I have been trying to track down this mystery about Sweet Bay, Myrtle, California Bay, Lauris nobilis, etc differences for years, I am curious beyond words about this tree. When I use the leaves in cooking, I can tell absolutely no difference in flavor. I have both the Sweet Bay and a beautiful Myrtle (Cal. Bay) growing on our farm. So, if you will allow me, I would like to send you leaves from each tree to see if you can tell the difference.
In closing, I have a weird theory of my own. Is it possible that someone or some company selling herbs and spices long ago made up a few stories about the Myrtle leaf being inferior to the Sweet Bay leaf and even that the Myrtle has some poison ingredient that may harm us? (Yes, I have heard this.) We are used to hearing all kinds of things about plant foods in the news and on the internet today, so I think it is completely possible that stories made up about the Myrtle leaf long ago still follow it around. I know now that people that have lived here a long time use the Myrtle leaf in cooking without any adverse reactions. So, again, I would love to send you some leaves, labeled, of course, from our Myrtle and from my Sweet Bay under the dining room window. And, for an SASE, anyone else that may be interested. Just send me D mail. Thanks
Thank you so much for your terribly kind offer, but one would need to be a botanist to explain the differences, which I most assuredly am not. I would refer you to the Herb Society of America reference cited in my article. When I had finished writing, my first conclusion read "why should Laurus nobilis be herb of the year when there are at least two other nearly identical candidates?" but then I thought better of it ... the AUP forbids writers from starting fights between Dave's and other entities, lol.
The HSA also mentions Persian Bay and Mexican Bay! And says you can tell U. californica apart from L. nobilis with a microscope!! I was going to say maybe the seeds were bogus but apparently L. nobilis isn't hard to start from seed, just from cuttings.
I was very excited to find out about the Caribbean bay! I read the nonsense about filling a mason jar with bay leaves from the grocery store and adding Bacardi, and then much later found out what "Bay Rum" really is (I don't use aftershave, myself). The HSA has a sweet little poem honoring L. nobilis which includes a line about how "Laurel flavors bar rum" or something ... Ridiculous!!!
I would say, there is a small tiny chance U. californica is toxic in huge doses but so is water or salt (and that chance is 100%). (I am not a real doctor, nor do I play one on TV. ) Don't fret so much about which is which, just see if you can smell, taste, see a difference for the sake of curiosity (which you and I seem to have plenty of).
There are no Rights and Wrongs! Just more and less true. (Did I just say that? Is that true?) How did these things evolve 1000s of miles apart to be so similar? Because absolutely, while Sophocles or Plato or whomever was being lauded with a wreath of L. nobilis, indigenous peoples on the West Coast of North America were cooking with U. californica. ?????
I'm glad you enjoyed the article, or, at least, that it gave you something to think about. Thank you for writing--it's helpful.
I purchased what I believed to have been a bay leaf tree (no latin name given) it has been growing for many years in a pot, never a flower, or suckers. It is aprox. 5ft. tall, does need to be transplanted. Have tried this many times in different kinds of soups, stews etc. I could tell a difference in taste using fresh leaves, thought it might have just been me, so tried it on other people...they ALL have said while eating, a nice unusual taste. Now I'm concerned that I am poisoning people! I've used this for years, never any problems, not really sure what to do...other than to stop feeding people with this. But it really does taste good! Any ideas? I refuse to give this up...if it is ok, then to never use it again? That would be a crime!
Sounds like L. nobilis to me, just what they sell in the supermarket, except your leaves haven't been sitting in various warehouses for a long time before sitting at the supermarket for a long time before sold before being used. You're lucky to have that tree!