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Laurel, Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic plant widespread in nature in the whole Mediterranean area, where in ancient times it expanded into real forests; today there are still signs of this diffusion of the plant in the less arid and warm areas of the Mediterranean, where the Mediterranean scrub gives way to Lauretum, a consociation of plants that need a little more moisture than myrtle, cistus, broom. The laurels are evergreen trees, which can reach ten meters in height, although they typically tend to produce large stumps, which give rise to large shrubs, which do not exceed 4-6 meters. In Italy they are widespread in all regions, especially in central and southern Italy; in the remaining regions they are cultivated in the garden, because they are very rustic and easy to cultivate, and become part of the group of aromatic plants most used in cooking, together with sage and rosemary. The laurel produces a dense and dense vegetation, it has a stem with dark bark, very branched, often also in the lower part, to give rise to a large round or elongated shrub; the foliage is evergreen, oval, and dark green, coriaceous, very aromatic. The laurels are dioecious plants, that is the female and male flowers are carried by different plants; the flowers are small, brought to the leaf axil on the wood of the previous year; in the female specimens, the flowers are followed by the fruits, small berries that become black when ripe.
|Family and gender|
Fam. Lauraceae, Species Laurus nobilis
|Type of plant and growth habit||Shrub or tree, evergreen|
|Rusticitа||Yes, avoid mountain climates|
|Ground||Normal, not dry|
|colors||The leaves are glossy dark green|
|Flowering||Spring, bunches of white flowers|
|Height||Up to 10 meters|
|Propagation||Natural offshoot, cutting, sowing|
|uses||Masts, hedges, vase, topiary art.|
The laurus nobilis It is a species of evergreen shrubs or trees belonging to the Lauraceae family. It is native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean basin and, although quite rustic, is more widespread in the more temperate areas, up to 800 meters of altitude. In Italy, therefore, in its spontaneous state it can be found throughout southern Italy and is particularly widespread in Sicily where there are completely colonized areas.
The laurus nobilis It is a plant of easy cultivation, rustic, which generally does not require great care; it develops preferably in a sunny, or partially shady, but with at least a few hours of direct sunlight a day; the soil in which the roots sink should be well drained, not particularly deep, but the laurels tend to adapt to any type of soil, even gravelly or clayey, as long as it is not a heavy soil, with frequent water stagnation. An adult specimen, abiding for some time, is generally satisfied with the water supplied by the rains; however, if we plant a young laurel, we should favor the production of roots by watering the soil when it is completely dry, from April to September. The laurels do not fear the cold, and can stand minimum temperatures close to -15 ° C; therefore they can be grown in the middle of the earth almost in the whole territory of our peninsula. Over the years they tend to become invasive, as they produce a very deep tap-rooting apparatus, and from the base of the stem, suckers are constantly produced, which tend to make each individual shrub a dense stump. If we have a small garden, it is generally advisable to keep the laurel in a large vase, so that over the years it does not prove too large.
The laurel is a shrub or tree that can go from 2 to 15 meters high. The trunk is straight and gray in the lower part while upwards it becomes green. The leaves have a lanceolate shape and are alternate and leathery. The edge is wavy. They are dark green and shiny on the upper face. The other one is light gray and opaque green. They are strongly aromatic. The scent is freed more when rubbed. In spring it produces white flowers in umbrellas of 4 or 5 specimens. It is a dioecious plant. This means that male and female flowers are carried by different plants. In summer-autumn they produce ovoid fruits, in purplish black bunches. These contain a single seed.
Propagate the laurel
Although it is a dioecious plant, anyone who has a female laurel knows that the vengo, the insects, the birds, are able to easily pollinate the laurel flowers, which therefore tends to produce numerous fruits, which contain n single large fertile seed; freed from the pulp, the seed must be sown in autumn, in a good fresh and damp soil, and left in the open, in a sheltered place, until spring, when the young plant is to be planted. The laurels quickly produce the taproot that will have to support them, therefore it is advisable to prepare the young plants in pots, so that it is easy enough to remove them from the pot and put them home; we also avoid placing two or more seeds in a single pot, or it will be difficult enough to disentangle the root systems of the different plants. The laurels spread easily even by cuttings, just take the tips of the branches in the spring, and root them in a good soil, after removing the leaves in the lower part. This plant is very vigorous, so much so that it is often very easy to propagate it even simply by burying the pruning waste directly in the house. From the base of the stem the laurel produces numerous suckers, which can be detached and planted individually.
Laurel as an aromatic plant
Bay leaves are very aromatic, as they contain an essential perfumed oil; the aroma is very intense when the leaves are broken or broken. Bay leaves are used fresh or dried in a large quantity of recipes, in fact even if dried they maintain a good content of essential oils, even for many months. In Italy there are many recipes that see laurel as an ingredient; typically used for marinating stewed meats and accompanying chestnuts in boiling. But the laurel is also used in a thousand other ways, whether whole (it must then be eliminated from the dish), or minced, such as inside the Provencal herbs. The scent of laurel is decidedly very intense, so usually a single leaf is enough to flavor a dish for 6-8 diners. Bay leaves are also used in other European countries, and throughout the western world. In addition to the use in the kitchen, the laurel is also useful in herbal medicine, where the leaves are used, for digestive infusions, or the essential oil, which is usually extracted from pressed seeds. The active ingredients contained in the leaves and seeds of laurus nobilis have digestive and emollient properties, which make it even more interesting in combination with dishes with long digestion. With bay leaves, a traditional liqueur is prepared, used as a digestive.
Pests and diseases
The laurus nobilis is a very resistant plant, which generally does not suffer serious damage due to attacks by parasites; the most typical parasite of laurel is the cochineal, cottony or half grain of pepper. Unfortunately it is a widespread parasite on the laurel, which also spreads very quickly; even if its presence does not seem to cause any damage to the plant, if not some ruined leaves, large amounts of cochineal, especially on young shrubs, can lead to a stunted development of the plant and certainly the presence of insects is not pleasant if they intend to use the leaves in the kitchen.
The best remedy for cochineal is white oil, to be used at the end of winter, activating it with pyrethrum-based insecticide products. Clear that the treated leaves will be used in the kitchen only after at least a couple of weeks after the treatment, and in any case it is always advisable to wash them thoroughly. The laurel can also be attacked by mites, which cause the leaves to turn yellow and thin webs between the stems. Another cause of great suffering for the laurel is often the excess of water in the soil, due to poor drainage.
The laurel in the kitchen
The laurel plant possesses particularly rich leaves of vitamin C: in every 100 grams there is 77.5% of the daily allowance allowed for each adult.
Also present in a strong and consistent way is vitamin A and a good dose of folic acid, a valid ally for metabolism stimulation. The elongated laurel leaves also contain other precious minerals for the good functioning of the organism, such as: copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. The use of this famous aromatic plant is also optimal through the preparation of infusions to drink against fever and seasonal ailments. Also ideal for flavoring soups, stews and slow cooking dishes, or simply to combine with beans, game, lentils, potatoes, risotto, shellfish, soups and stews.
There are mainly two varieties: the laurus nobilis "Aurea": it has paler and more pointed leaves. It is a more delicate variety because it can be damaged by wind, cold or even too much sun.
The laurus nobilis "angustifolia", on the other hand, has narrower leaves than the laurel which is normally found in the spontaneous state. It is certainly more rustic and less sensitive than the Aurea and therefore it is easier to cultivate.
Laurel is usually sold in pots and can be very small or already large.
In any case, if we want to plant it in the ground, we should dig a hole twice the size of the earth bread. On the bottom we will put a good quantity of organic fertilizer (mature manure). We will cover with a layer of earth and insert our plant, burying the base slightly more than it was in the container. We cover with earth and compress well.
The laurel is not very demanding in terms of land. Replace it only if it is very stony, arid or sandy. On the other hand, it is very important to create a good draining layer based on gravel, expanded clay or earthenware on the bottom. Then we will put a layer of soil on the bottom of the organic fertilizer and insert the plant adding earth and pressing well. In both cases we will proceed to regularly water the plant for several weeks.
Laurel is generally a very resistant plant. As we have said, however, there are some varieties, such as the aurea, sensitive and delicate. If we live in the North or in the Apennines it is therefore better to dedicate ourselves to the classical variety. Both this and the angustifolia could also suffer from winter frost (especially in the alpine areas or in Northern Europe).
A complete desiccation of the aerial part could therefore occur. In this case you don't need to worry about it much because they usually tend to grow new branches from the collar and being rather vigorous plants in a few time they will recover the damage. The only case in which it is necessary to have some foresight is when it is grown in pots: it could happen that the frost arrives to kill even the roots. It is therefore advisable to withdraw the specimens in a cold greenhouse (if available). Otherwise we will be able to cover the vase well with insulating material (straw, polystyrene, non-woven fabric) and place it against a wall or place it in a sheltered area and maybe hit by the sun during the day.
Use in the garden
Laurel, as we have said, can be cultivated in different ways and for different purposes.
We can decide to make it grow like a big tree and therefore intervene very little with pruning. It will therefore develop freely and in a short time we will obtain a large and very decorative specimen, since it keeps the foliage even during the most rigid periods of the year.
If we want to keep it more contained we can intervene several times reducing its size. This will stimulate the emission of new branches from below and we will get a nice bush.
It is a plant that tolerates pruning well, therefore it can be cut to make it take the most varied forms. It can also be considered for the creation of beautiful, shiny and aromatic hedges. However, we keep in mind that if the foliage in the center is too thick, the plant could suffer from contracting diseases such as powdery mildew or being attacked more easily by various insects. We therefore choose to use it as a hedge only if we live in a well-ventilated area without too much humidity. As we have said, the laurel can also be kept in a vase. Usually we recommend containers with a diameter of at least 30 centimeters and quite deep. In this case it will be advisable to intervene often with pruning. It is a very vigorous plant and without careful monitoring we may find ourselves with a specimen too large for our needs.
In this case you can also choose to grow it as a tree. It should be carefully monitored for the first two or three years by systematically cutting the branches from the lower part of the trunk and giving the crown a rounded shape. It can be an excellent solution to have two to put on either side of an entrance door. They will make it more elegant and fragrant.
The laurel in the open ground does not require much attention in this respect. It will be necessary to water it frequently only after planting. In that case it is good to intervene for a few months at least twice a week. In a short time, however, he will be able to free himself and we will be able to intervene only in the middle of summer if the season is particularly dry.
The argument is different if we cultivate our laurel in a container. In this case the general recommendations apply. It is always preferable to water a little rather than water too much.
Before intervening, make sure that the earth is really dry. Only in this case we will intervene. Otherwise we could favor the appearance of radical rots which are the main cause of death for container plants.
The laurel can be multiplied in different ways: through sowing, semi-woody cutting or picking of suckers. Certainly the fastest method is the latter. It also gives the possibility to maintain all the characteristics of the variety (as well as the cutting).
It can be operated both in spring and in autumn. It is sufficient to dig with a spade near the scion freeing it with a portion of earthen bread. It will then be necessary to cut the part that connects it to the mother plant. It can then be placed in a vase or directly in the ground.
It should be done in the fall. The seeds need to be scarified. We must therefore engrave them with a small knife so that the first radicle can easily come out. You can also make the rind softer by leaving it all night in warm water or rubbing it on fine sandpaper. The seeds must then be placed in an alveolar tray with a mixture of peat and covered with vermiculite.
The substrate must be immediately moistened and covered with a plastic film so that evaporation is hindered. The plastic must be removed every two or three days and the tray briefly ventilated. As soon as the seedlings appear they will have to remove the cloth and expose them to the light to avoid them growing spun and with little chlorophyll. They must be kept at around 18 ° and continue cultivation until they can be transplanted into larger containers.
Bay leaves contain from 1 to 3% of their weight of essential oil. In this there are more components, some purely aromatic, others true alkaloids, in some cases also cytotoxic. The essential oil is also contained in other parts of the plant such as flowers and roots and fruits.
Laurel is commonly used in cooking, both fresh and dry. It can be used to flavor meats (especially roasts and boiled meats) and fish. However, fruits that have a much more intense flavor, similar to that of juniper, can also be used. To dry the leaves it is necessary to put them in the summer for a long time in the shade. The berries, on the other hand, are dried by placing a low temperature in the oven for a long time. Both must then be stored in the dark in sealed airtight cans to keep their aroma at best.
At the end of summer, semi-woody branches about 10-12 cm long should be removed, cutting as clean as possible at the height of a knot. Dust the part with rooting hormones and, after eliminating the basal leaves, insert the twigs in a mixture of sand and perlite to keep constantly moist. Cover with a plastic film. Keep in the shade at around 15 °. When the twig begins to vegetate, remove the plastic and place it in a brighter area until the rooting is completed. It must then be moved to a more suitable final substrate.
Laurus nobilis - laurel: Is laurel poisonous?
We are often asked this question: is laurel poisonous? We therefore answer once and for all that the laurel is not poisonous and in fact it is widely used in the kitchen to flavor meat, vegetable purée, minestrone and many other types of dish.
The laurel should not be confused with the oleander, which many people do perhaps for a certain assonance of the two names. It is in fact two completely different plants, both in appearance, in shape, in flowering and in characteristics. The oleander is slightly poisonous while the laurel is not.
So be calm if you have a laurel in the garden or in a pot and your children, rather than your pets, go around it, play with it and touch its leaves. Laurel is not dangerous and there is no danger even if you use it as a flavoring for your recipes.
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