The California Bay Laurel is a fragrant evergreen tree with edible nuts.
California Bay nuts are a native food that can be cooked and ground into a flour, imparting a rich coffee-chocolate flavor to baked goods. It can also be brewed and used as a stimulating coffee substitute! And they're healthy, too, having a nutritional value similar to walnuts. California Bay is an undervalued food and medicine source, important to Native American cultures for thousands of years.
Its aromatic leaves can be used as a spice like culinary bay leaves, giving a spicy, peppery, bittering flavor to soups and stews. The leaves have many medicinal uses and are valued for their beneficial effect upon the digestive system. The strong aroma of the leaves can occasionally cause headaches in certain people.
Always cook nuts before consuming.
California Bay Laurel has lance shaped leaves that are a medium to deep yellow-green color with a glossy surface. They can grow in deep shade making them a valuable understory plant. They have clusters of tiny yellow flowers that give way to small, olive like purple fruit which are considered inedible. As an understory evergreen plant, they provide year round color in the garden.
Environment and Culture
The California Bay Laurel grows well in a wide range of ecologies, including Redwood forests, mixed evergreen forests, pine forests, and oak savannas. They will grow well as an understory plant with the Oregon White Oak, the California Black Oak, and the California Foothill Pine.
Many species of birds will chose the California Bay Laurel to nest in and deer like to nibble on their young shoots. Additionally, the nuts are consumed by squirrels, Steller’s jays, and dusky-footed woodrats. Their wood is also considered excellent for use in making cabinets, furniture, paneling, and interior trim.
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
The California Bay Laurel needs very little care. Some pruning for aesthetic purposes may be desirable. Without pruning they will cast a very dense, year round shade.
The leaves of the California Bay Laurel can be harvested year round to be used sparingly as a seasoning/spice. Their nuts can be harvested from the tree or from the ground in the Fall. The outer flesh of the fruits should be removed, and the nut cleaned before roasting. The shell can be cracked and removed before or after roasting.
Roast at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the nut is dark coffee brown. Then, grind into powder and mix into other baking flours or use as you would coffee grounds. Stores for a long time.
Native Range: CA, OR
USDA zones: 4-9
Ease of Care: Easy
Deer Resistance: Medium
Light Requirements: Full Sun-Full Shade
Soil Type: Tolerates most soil types but grows best in deep soils with regular watering.