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Bay: An Herb Worth Enjoying

A staple in most kitchens, bay (Laurus nobilis) is a familiar herb popular for flavoring soups, stews, stuffing and marinades. But how much do you know about this savory seasoning?

History of Bay

Originally from Asia Minor including Turkey and Armenia, this fragrant plant is a broadleaf evergreen also known as sweet bay, bay tree or bay laurel. Because of its popularity and multiple uses, it quickly spread around the Mediterranean and beyond. Bay, along with true laurel, was worn in Greece and Rome as wreaths on the head for protection, as well as an honor for being victorious in sports and battle. Accomplished scholars, diplomats and statesmen could also be crowned with bay wreaths. 

Unique Uses for Bay

Bay leaves have long been used in flour and grain to keep pantry moths away. Medicinally, it has been used for treating high blood sugar, migraines and bacterial and fungal infections. The oil has been used in bruise and sprain liniments and salves. These evergreen plants can be attractive in the landscape, and have been used as topiaries, hedges and even houseplants.

The leaves of bay have the flavoring properties, and may be used fresh, though dried by is most familiar and common. Fresh leaves are less flavorful and milder, but after drying the flavor strengthens. Whole leaves are most commonly used to flavor recipes, but should be removed before serving because the sharp edges of the dried leaves can cause internal cuts if ingested.

Growing Bay

Bay is easy to grow in pots on the patio or indoors. Give the plant full sun for at least half the day, or keep it indoors in a sunny window. Pick the leaves as needed. Keep the plant pruned to size as it wants to become a tree. To dry bay for future use or to strengthen its flavor, leaves can be dried in a thin layer in the oven or sprigs may be hung upside down in a cool, dark, dry area such as a closet for several weeks until they are completely dry. Dried leaves can retain their flavor for a year or longer if properly stored.

Try a New Bay Recipe

Bay is popular to flavor stews, soups, roasts, stuffing, marinades and other savory dishes, and can even be used in teas. But what about a sweet dessert using this versatile leaf? Enjoy a new dish with bay and discover even more about its unique flavor and usefulness today!

Bay & Warm Bananas with Vanilla Ice Cream (from the Food Network)

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen orange juice
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 not quite ripe bananas, peeled and into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the bay leaves and turn in the liquid, then add the lemon & orange juices, brown sugar, bourbon and salt. Simmer the liquid until it has reduced by half and has reached a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bananas and black pepper. Stir to coat the bananas evenly. Serve still hot over ice cream.

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Don’t Miss Out on Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Are you trying to add drama and beauty to your shady spots but keep finding only bland, lackluster plants? You won’t want to overlook Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ with its stunning appearance and easy care.

Introducing Brunnera macrophylla

Also called Brunnera-Heartleaf and Siberian bugloss, this plant is a stunner for its delicate foliage. The broad, heart-shaped leaves of ‘Jack Frost’ are dark green with a heavily frosted metallic silver overlay. This allows only the green veining to peep through, giving the plant a crackle-like finish with a thin green border. Sprays of tiny bright blue forget-me-not like flowers burst forth in mid- to late spring, growing well above the foliage on delicate stems.

Using Jack Frost in the Landscape

Excellent in a woodland garden, the genus Brunnera is a group of classic perennials valued as a shade tolerant ground cover. The variegated forms are slower to spread than most other species, making this cultivar ideal for smaller spaces where crowding may be a concern, such as around younger trees, in smaller beds or in borders along a shady fence, deck or pathway. This plant is fabulous as a specimen plant or may be massed to show off its phenomenal floral display. ‘Jack Frost’ would also make a wonderful addition to a shady container garden on a deep porch or covered deck. The flowers are long lasting when cut and can be lovely, delicate additions to arrangements. Because this plant is resistant to deer and rabbits, it can also be a favorite in wildlife-friendly areas.

Proper Care is Key

Brunnera is a woodland plant, and that must be kept in mind if it will be able to show off its full potential in your landscape. ‘Jack Frost’ should be grown in full shade and consistently moist soil in southern regions to mimic the thicket-like conditions it naturally favors. In the north, morning sun is acceptable as long as the soil remains moist and the temperatures in the sun do not rise too high. Although tolerant of many soil types, this plant will grow best rich soil. If needed, amend soil with lush compost to improve its condition and provide proper nourishment. Little care is needed once Brunnera is established. Cut back the old foliage in the spring rather than in the fall; it will help to protect the crown during the winter. A winter mulch is also recommended to help keep the soil moist and warmer to protect the roots.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ may not be widely known, but once you meet it, you’ll want to invite it to every shady part of your landscape!

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Feeding the Birds

When a bird’s natural plant food has waned or withered away in late winter, a few well-placed feeders can entice a feathered friend to stay nearby. There are four basic types of feeders, but the type of feeder and food it’s filled with will determine which birds will visit. Which do you want in your yard?

Feeder Types and the Birds They Attract

While birds will visit a variety of different feeders, the best options for winter birds are…

  • Tray / Platform Feeders
    A tray or platform feeder with low sides and a wide, open base placed one to three feet above the ground will lure ground-feeding birds like juncos, towhees and mourning doves. Grouse and quail may also visit this type of feeder, and these feeders are ideal for offering food to large flocks of birds.
  • House Hopper Feeders
    Hung from a tree or hook or mounted on a pole, “house” style feeders with seed hoppers and perches on the side will usually entice grosbeaks, cardinals and jays, as well as sparrows and finches. These feeders help keep seed dry and can hold a larger quantity of seed so refills are not as frequent.
  • Tube Feeders
    Long, cylindrical tube feeders suspended in air will bring in an array of small birds, including finches, titmice, nuthatches, siskins, redpolls and chickadees. These feeders may have either mesh-like sides where birds can easily cling, or they may have multiple perches to accommodate more birds. Sock-style feeders are also popular.
  • Suet Feeders
    A cage-like feeder that holds a cake of rich, fatty suet is a bird magnet for woodpeckers, wrens, titmice, nuthatches, titmice, mockingbirds and jays. A standard suet cage can hold just one cake and can be hung from a pole or branch. Larger suet feeders may hold multiple cakes, and some suet feeders are even designed as logs or other shapes to hold suet plugs or balls.

Best Winter Bird Foods

Birds will seldom drop or pick out unwanted seeds if you fill your feeder with only one type of seed rather than a generic mix. Black oil sunflower seeds are the most widely preferred, though white millet is popular for smaller finches, sparrows and ground-feeding birds. A tube feeder containing Nyjer (thistle) seeds will whet the appetite of goldfinches, siskins or redpolls. Jays, chickadees and juncos love peanuts or cracked corn as a treat in a tray feeder. Suet is another fine treat that offers great calories to keep winter birds healthy.

No matter which type of bird feeder you offer or how you fill it, you are sure to enjoy the company of a hungry winter flock. Keep the feeder filled and clean, and the birds will continue to visit all winter long.