The bay laurel (laurus nobilis) is a plant grown commonly in the Mediterranean and used in many cooking recipes, especially stews. In Malta, it is usually called siġra tar-rand or simply rand. Internationally, it is known by different names, including Bay Laurel, Sweet Bay and Grecian Laurel. It has a particular smell and gives a strong aromatic flavour to many meat-based dishes, for example, rabbit stew (stuffat tal-fenek in Maltese).
In Malta, the plant is indigenous and has been present on the Maltese islands before the arrival of people. The bay laurel tree and its leaves play a very important part within Greek, Roman and Biblical culture. Within Greek mythology, its antique use is described by Delphi. In the casting of the oracles, the location was cleaned through the smoke of bay laurel leaves. In turn, the plant was considered the sacred Herb of Apollo, the god of enlightenment, poetry and music.
The bay laurel plant is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub, and in certain gardens, it is also used for decoration or landscaping purposes. It is used as a hedge, for example, dividing a building from a pool area. In these cases, it is also utilized by gardeners or homeowners who would like to create a smart hedge for privacy purposes. The use of green leaves and the bay laurel plant will provide a more beautiful result when compared to a simple wall. In these cases, the bay laurel plant needs to be kept at a constant height and shape to maintain a smart appearance.
Climate, soil, and watering
It can grow in most types of soil and does not require particularly fertile soil to flourish. Nonetheless, especially whilst developing and maturing, it needs frequent watering. Once it is mature and fully grown, it can go without water for long periods. Of course, healthier soil and more frequent, regular watering sessions (especially in the hot, humid Mediterranean summer) will help the bay laurel plant produce healthier, greener, shiny leaves. It is a robust plant, and this can be seen from the leaves of the bay laurel, which are strong and thick.
The bay laurel can be planted directly into the garden’s ground or else it can grow well in a pot or container. However, if the location of the garden is close to the sea, then the bay laurel is not an ideal plant. Prolonged exposure to sea elements and the salt found in the water can, unfortunately, damage the bay laurel plant. For container growth, make sure there is proper drainage material before planting. Drainage holes at the bottom of the pot or container are also important, so excess water can flow out easily. Water in moderate quantities and avoid waterlogged roots, which can cause lasting damage.
Diseases and Treatment
Unfortunately, the bay laurel plant and its leaves are vulnerable to disease, especially when the plant experiences a lack of rain, lack of water, dirt and high temperatures for long months. The scale insect can attach itself to the leaf and damage it, as it takes the nutrients from the leaf. Unless cared for, this disease can take over the whole plant, attacking the main branches and killing the entire tree. Nowadays, many different forms of treatment exist to tackle this sort of disease. Solving the problem at an early stage is critical for the survival and growth of the laurel bay plant.
Avoiding costly or chemically based treatments is also possible. You can use a power wash along with dish or kitchen liquid soap (no detergents) to wash the leaves. First, you should wash the leaves with a power wash, as the water itself will help clean some of the insects and diseases. Once that is ready, you can spray the leaves with a liquid soap and water mix. Leave this liquid soap mix for a few hours on the leaves, and then wash again the bay laurel leaves with water and a power wash.
Another possible treatment is to use a chemical-based product that can clean the disease and insects whilst also fertilizing the leaves (foliar feed). After 10 to 12 hours, you may use a power washer to clean the product off the leaves. Unless necessary, avoid using strong insecticides as they can damage the surrounding environments, along with other plants or animals and insects that come in contact with the insecticidal product. Insecticides are poison created by humans, that if used incorrectly can harm people too, especially when not using protective equipment during the application or using the wrong dosage. All the precautions, including ventilation during storage, are very important.
Bay laurel plants can be propagated in several ways. One way is to collect the seeds and sow them into small containers of light soil or potting mix. Cuttings can also be taken and planted in a sheltered location. Bay laurels can furthermore be easily transplanted should you wish to start your plants in a container or move them.
The bay laurel leaves are used in many recipes for their aromatic flavour. In Malta, it is used in many dishes, but maybe the most prominent one including bay laurel leaves is the rabbit stew (stuffat tal-fenek). Another popular dish is roasted potatoes with fresh bay leaves and olive oil.
- Dried leaves can be stored along rice and grains to protect against insects
- Wood can be added to grills and smokers for a typical aromatic flavour
- Can protect plants in the vicinity from harmful insects and pests
The most important elements for the laurel bay plant are water and fertilizer. Like many other plants, fertile soil, regular watering and a maintenance plan will deliver a healthier plant for every garden. Happy gardening!
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