My acquaintance with bay leaves began by way of cooking. My mother introduced us when I was young by seasoning her vermouth broth with the savory leaves when serving Dungeness crab, a delicious winter dinner when the season peaks for those living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t connect the herbal leaves to gardening until I was older; working at a florist, I met my first bay leaf wreath. Adding to holiday festivity, wreaths and swags made from the pretty, pungent greenery deck the halls of kitchen and dining, and then dry gently through the winter months, providing bay leaves for stocks and soups – a continual harvest all year. The home economist in me has been delighted by these decorations ever since first sight, pleasing in their practicality.
When it came to writing the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, my affection for bay laurel, together with an infusion of prayer support from Laurelwood Baptist Church in Vancouver, WA, helped me overcome its status as a controversial Bible plant to include it among the book’s featured flora. “Controversial” designated the species with vague or elusive reference in God’s Word; I thought, as Kim Hagan and I began to research the plants, better to avoid the ones whose identity, or even their existence in Scripture, was riddled with conflict among scholars who knew better than we did. Avoiding confrontation is my general pattern, my husband has noted over the years! A green bay tree has only one mention in verse (Psalm 37:35), and some translations don’t recognize it at all.
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. King James Version (KJV)
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. English Standard Version (ESV)
I have seen a wicked man wielding great power, flourishing like a shade tree in its native soil. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, New International Version (NIV)
Yet had I steered clear of this evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean, I would have missed hidden horticultural genius in God’s Word. Bay laurel has become one of my favorite Bible plants (except that they are ALL my favorites!), a signpost for the Scriptures that teach about the green and the dry (Ezekiel 20:45-21:10 , Luke 23:31), firmly planted among ponderings of evil appearing to flourish.
Now I must confess, I became so devoted to the bay laurel after writing its devotion that I harbored a few grumbles towards the NIV translators for replacing the name of the plant with “luxuriant native tree”—until this week, when I spied a sweet bay at the nursery, growing in a one gallon pot. This was the first time I have ever seen a live tree, vivid in its springtime flourish of growth. It is, in a word:
The dense, verdant leaves are eye-catching and captivating, standing out against surrounding plants in the most dazzling way. Their luster is like no other plant in our garden—yes, I was compelled to buy the plant immediately, in that gardener-frenzy that overtakes me…if you are reading this, you know this craze! Ironically, I decided the best place to plant my new purchase was near a tree trunk salvaged as a fence post. Without even realizing, this luxuriant green tree rests next to a dry one, a vignette of “both green and dry (Ezekiel 20:47).” How amazingly God’s Words come to life in the garden! If the bay leaves are truly luxuriant, how much more I am convinced that all of God’s Words are true.
Monrovia growers promise that “the Sweet Bay leaves you buy dried in the store can’t hold a candle to living, Laurus nobilis, sprigs from the garden.” I look forward to tasting and seeing their goodness for myself.
Charlotte’s Crab Vermouth
(delicious broth for any fish until Dungeness Crab season returns)
In a 12-14” skillet or 5 qt. kettle,
½ C. butter
1 C. dry vermouth
14 oz. chicken stock or clam juice
2 T. diced parsley
4 cloves pressed garlic
3-4 bay leaves
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. sugar
bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes
2 medium sized (about 2 lbs. each) cooked, cleaned & cracked Dungeness Crabs
Cover and simmer until crab is heated through, 10 minutes or so
Provide plenty of bread for dunking!
A daily devotion on the bay laurel tree is found on page 633 of the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible as part of a week-long study of “Jesus—The Seed, the Root, the Branch and Firstfruit”
Photo Credits:© 2014 Shelley S. Cramm