How to Harvest Bay Leaves. An olive-green and pungent herb, the leaf of the sweet bay plant (Laurus nobilis) is an ancient seasoning herb that has a prominent role in Greek mythology as well as in modern-day kitchen gardens. This hardy perennial shrub is an all-season plant that moves from the fall garden to the winter windowsill without trauma...
An olive-green and pungent herb, the leaf of the sweet bay plant (Laurus nobilis) is an ancient seasoning herb that has a prominent role in Greek mythology as well as in modern-day kitchen gardens. This hardy perennial shrub is an all-season plant that moves from the fall garden to the winter windowsill without trauma when kept small, in a sturdy pot or container. Bay leaves lose much of their potency within a week or two of harvest, so keep your little bay shrub near your kitchen to give you easy access when you need a leaf or two to drop into the pot.
Things You'll Need
Scissors or shears
Wait for a sunny morning after the dew has dried, when your plant is in an outdoor garden or in a container on a deck or balcony. Wet bay leaves are fine when they go right into a recipe, but can become moldy if stored while damp.
Clip older bay leaves first. These leaves are typically larger, more pungent and found near the bottom of a plant's woody stem. Use a sharp scissors or shears, or your fingertips, to sever the leaves.
Use fresh bay leaves immediately after harvest for more pungency. When harvesting a large number of leaves at one time for drying and storing, collect whole stems with leaves intact.
Bundle the bay leaf stems into bouquets tied at the woody base with twine. Hang the bunches with the stem ends up in a dry, warm and well-ventilated area, such as an attic, hall closet or a corner in the kitchen.
Keep the drying bay leaf bunches away from humidity and direct sunlight. Store harvested, dried bay leaves in airtight containers.
Tips & Warnings
Resist the urge to harvest your bay leaves during their first year. Your second-year tree will produce more pungent and highly flavored leaves.
Don't confuse sweet bay laurel with the California bay laurel, also known as Oregon myrtle, a native tree with leaves that have much stronger flavor.
Although classified as a hardy perennial, the sweet bay plant will often die in prolonged freezing winds. Place your plant in a large pot and bring it indoors in late fall if you live in a cold-weather area.
Always ask for sweet bay laurels when buying starter plants. Other laurels may contain toxins that render them inedible.
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