Wild Bay (or Bayberry) in Prince Edward Island
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Gwen Day
Posted on: April 2, 2002

Approximately 3 years ago, I bought some bay laurel seeds from your company. All 21 seeds spouted and started on their way to healthy plants, so I gave all but 4 away to family and friends, (21 was too many for my self). When I was out in P.E.I. 2 years ago, they told me that they had wild bay laurel growing on the sides of the road in ditches. I take those plants were a cousin of what I have? Or can mine be left outside to grow as perennials as theirs are? Two of my plants seem to be sensitive to cool breezes (drafts) in the house in the winter but my 2 plants in another room are not bothered by the cold air from the door opening and closing. Any information would be appreciated.

The true bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, is the source of the bay leaves used in cooking. It is a native of the Mediterranean region, and is rated hardy in zones 8-10 which means it is not hardy in most areas of Canada, including Prince Edward Island. It can be grown as a tub plant that is moved outdoors during the spring, summar and fall months, and brought indoors during the coldest months of winter.

There are other plants that are called "bay". The California bay laurel, Umbellaria californica, is aromatic like the true bay but is stronger, and is used like true bay but only only half as much leaf material is used in place of true bay.

As far as I can determine from the native flora of Prince Edward Island, what is called "bay" must be bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica. Bayberry is hardier than true bay, being rated hardy in zones 5-9 whch includes much of temperate Canada, including Prince Eedward Island. Superficially, bayberry shares some characteristics with the true bay: it is a small tree or shrub with aromatic, leathery leaves. Some published references indicate that the leaves can be dried and used as a seasoning in soups and stews. But I did not see an abundance of literature on the edible use of bayberry leaves, which leads me to wonder if the herb is as suitable for edible use as true bay. We do know that bayberry is a medicinal herb with astringent and tonic effects. But herbs that are safe for occasional medicinal use are not always appropriate for everyday food use. Probably the occasional use of the leaves while foraging in the wild is safe, but in the absence of more data on their safety I would caution against the frequent use of bayberry leaves in food.

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