California Bay Laurel {Umbellularia californica}; lance-shaped leaves, round nuts with coffee-colored shells the size of marbles

California Bay Laurel. Courtesy of Flickr user Charles Hutchins. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.
California Bay Laurel. Courtesy of Flickr user Charles Hutchins. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

California Bay Laurel {Umbellularia californica} Plants Profile on USDA.gov

Description: Evergreen tree.  Lance shaped leaves are arranged alternately on the branches.  Leaves are a dark green on top adn a light leathery green on the bottom.  The leaves have a distinctive Bay spice odor.  The tree can sometimes be found by smell alone. The flowers are in yellowish-white umbels. The round nut-like fruits have a green to purple fleshy covering.  If the fleshy coverish is removed, the nut shell is a light tan, the inner nut meat is greenish.

Courtesy of Flickr user John Rusk. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.
Courtesy of Flickr user John Rusk. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Habitat: Common below 5000 feet. Hillsides, margins of streams and flatlands.

Uses: Pick leaves & air dry. These leaves may be used in recipes calling for Bay.  The commercial spice Bay ocmes from a different species of tree (Lauris nobilis).  Because California Bay is more aromatic, 1/3 less is needed in recipes calling for Bay leaves.

Remove the dried nut meats from the shell & they may be eaten raw, though they can be bitter. Roasted nuts are more palatable.  Spread whole dried nuts on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Taste test the roasting nuts occasionally so they are not scorched. Even with the roasting, they can still be bitter.

Other: A tea brewed from the leaves was used as a disinfectant by early settlers. 

Bay leaves act as a natural insect repellant.  California Indians used to fumigate their lodges by burning a bough of Bay.  A dog collar of woven leaves help to repel fleas. Packets of leaves placed in cupboards seems to repel a variety of insects.

 

Bibliography: Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California, by James Wiltens

Bibliography: Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California, by James Wiltenshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_bay_laurel

Database Entry: Melanie Dixon & Distance Everheart 5-14-13, 10-23-14

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