A couple of years back I’d commented that I had this tree growing from seed in the middle of my back yard garden and I didn’t know what it was. Long enough ago that I can’t find the article… I’d thought maybe it was from some cloves as I’d tossed a tin of old cloves (including some large lozenge shaped bits that are their seed case) into the yard a year or two before and wondered if some had sprouted? It had a vaguely cloves like smell to the leaves when crushed, and the flowers looked similar to cloves.
Well, time passes. Eventually they mature. It made fruit.
The fruit look like miniature avocados about the size of a small woman’s thumb or my little finger tip… A BIG seed with a thin coating of what passes for fruit flesh and then a rind like a mini-avocado. Note the quarter in the picture:
Well, that’s the California Bay Laurel. It has LOTS of uses, so I’m letting it run. I will need to take out the other 4 that have grown in the back yard too (mostly much smaller) as I don’t have room, or use, for them. I suspect the squirrels have been busy with the seeds…
After a bit of a wait, it has a pop-up, but I like the picture… and hitting reload seems to have cleared the pop-up.
Distinctive Characteristics: This evergreen, shade-tolerant tree has a single or multiple trunks with an open, dome-shaped crown. The shiny, dark-green leaves are narrow, long pointed ovals with smooth edges; leaves can reach 4 in. (10 cm) long and 1.2 in. (3 cm) wide. Small yellowish-green flowers are held in an “umbel,” a number of short flower stalks, equal in length and spreading from a common point, somewhat like umbrella ribs. The tree’s fruit, the bay nut, is a round to olive-shaped green berry about 1 in. (2.5 cm) long; it matures to a purple color with a cap that resembles a golf tee. Under the thin, leathery skin is a bit of green flesh coating a hard, thin-shelled edible pit, in whole resembling a miniature avocado (the trees belong to the same Lauraceae Family).
The tree is similar to its Mediterranean cousin, the culinary Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), which is smaller in size, with generally narrower leaves containing sweeter oils. All parts of the California Bay Laurel, especially the leaves, contain a distinctively aromatic camphor-like volatile oil that has cooling, irritating, germicidal, and insecticidal qualities. The fragrance is much more aromatic than that of its Mediterranean relative, and it can easily cause headaches that last for days, and can send over-zealously inhaling hikers to the emergency room.
I’ve not had any issue from inhaling the “camphor-like” aroma, so I think some of this is a bit of hype (or don’t sniff it when on M.J. and not knowing when to stop…). It has a reputation for both causing, and curing, headaches. The Native Americans Indians of the area used it as food and as medicinal.
Maximum Age: Approximately 500 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 108 ft. (33 m) in height; 31 ft. (9.4 m) in circumference.
Oh Dear… in a couple of hundred years, someone is going to have a problem in my back yard….
( Images from rom the wiki article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbellularia )
Traditional Uses: California Bay Laurel has long been valued for its many edible, medicinal, insecticidal, and ceremonial uses throughout its range by native cultures including the Cahuilla, Chumash, Pomo, Kashaya Pomo, Miwok, Yujki, Coos, Concow, Maidu, Costanoan, Yukok, Tongva, Tolowa, Ohlone, Karuk, Karok, Mendocino Indians, and Salinan people.
Medicinal: Crushed fresh leaves were inhaled as pain relief for headaches and nasal congestion, though the volatile oils in the leaves may also cause headaches (Cahuilla, Coast Miwok). A poultice was also applied to the head for headaches (Miwok, Yuki, Mendocino Indian). Fresh leaves were placed in water and boiled to make aromatic steam to treat colds and sinus infections (Karok). The light-green tips of new growth were used as a poultice to treat toothache (Lake Miwok). A leaf poultice was used for shingles. A tea was used for sore throats and colds. Leaf oil was used to treat earaches and sores and to prevent allergies in the spring; it was also used to relieve colitis and ulcers. Women used an infusion of the plant for pain after childbirth (Karok). A decoction of the plant was used as a wash for head lice (Mendocino Indian). An infusion of leaves was used as a bath (Mendocino Indian) and a poultice was applied for rheumatism (Pomo, Kashaya Pomo). The leaves were taken as a decoction or poultice for stomachaches (Mendocino Indian, Coast Miwok). Kashaya Pomo doctors would sometimes hit a patient with little branches while singing as a treatment for pain, headache, or colds. A decoction of the leaves was used for menstrual cramps (Kashaya Pomo). A poultice made from flowers was used to reduce swelling. The burning leaf smoke and vapor was used to treat many diseases and to fumigate the house after sicknesses. Leaves were made into an infusion for cramps from diarrhea, food poisoning, or gastroenteritis; a diluted tincture or strong tea can be used as an antimicrobial or antifungal on skin; and a bath may be taken with the leaves for arthritis and joint pain. A repellant tea was made of the root bark, and smoke from burning leaves was used to keep insects out of acorn granaries and houses. Feather-work and baskets were stored with leaves to repel insects. Used also as a flea repellent (Costanoan, Kashaya Pomo, Mendocino Indians).
Food: Both the fruity flesh under the skin and the nut itself are edible. The fruit is palatable raw for only a brief time when ripe; if too ripe, the flesh quickly becomes bruised, like an overripe avocado, and the volatile aromatic oils are so strong that the fruit is inedible. The shelled nuts, which look like the pit of an avocado, are roasted (to remove pungency) in hot ashes and eaten whole, or pounded and sun-dried to make flat cakes that can be eaten right away or stored for winter’s use. Roasted nuts or cakes are eaten with greens, buckeye meal, acorn meal, mush, or seaweed. They were also ground into a powder and roasted to make a beverage with the taste of unsweetened coffee or burnt cocoa. While the leaf can be used in cooking, it is spicier and stronger than the Mediterranean seasoning and used in smaller quantity.
Tools and Objects: The wood was used to make bows (Western Mono).
There’s more at the link, go there if interested…
So now I’ve got a bit of a “project”. I’ve let it grow big enough to be interesting, and the squirrels seem to like it, and, well, I find the range of uses intriguing. So it’s going to be there as long as I’m here. May even try a “bath may be taken with the leaves for arthritis and joint pain” just to see if it does anything.
For another posting ‘some day’, two of these sprouted at the same time about 4 feet from each other. One south west of the other. Their difference in growth is surprising. This has important implications for tree rings as thermometers… so once nice weather returns, I’m hoping to get a photo of it and make a posting on that point. It isn’t often you have a personal history with two trees in just the right orientation…
So there you have it. A mystery solved. Disappointment at NOT having a cloves tree. Fascination at having a native medicinal and food tree. Interest in observing how tree rings depend on location, location, location.