Plant of the Month - California Bay



BAY, CALIFORNIA | Laurel Family

Umbellularia californica

OTHER NAMES Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood, California Bay Laurel

NISENAN sowdasim c’a, Bay nut sojba; KONKOW sojba

HABITAT & ELEVATION Hillsides, near streams, upper foothill and mixed conifer belts, and moist canyons below 5,000'

COLLECTION Leaf: all seasons; Fruit: fall (purplish-brown in color when ripe)


In the wild, California Bay will grow into a dense shrub in dry settings or a 75' - 100' tall and wide tree when growing along creeks or in moist forests. In the garden, it grows slowly to 25'. It bears leathery, deep yellow-green, 2" - 5" long leaves that are pointed at both ends. The leaves are highly aromatic when crushed. Clusters of tiny pale-yellow flowers emerge in the early spring and become 1" olive-like fruits in the fall.


Traditionally, Bay nuts were cooked in the ashes and enjoyed as a food. Leaves were used as an external foot bath and as incense to cleanse the bark house and keep insects away.

To use as an insect repellant, make a tea for external use with 5 leaves per cup of boiling water. Let soak overnight. Strain into a spray bottle and apply as needed. The spray can also keep insects away from the house. When hiking, just rub a bay leaf directly on the skin to discourage mosquito bites.

Enjoy the leaves as a seasoning in winter soups or make your own native ice cream. If you would rather taste it than make it, visit Treats in Nevada City. They developed the recipe in the Living Wild book and serve it in their ice cream shop.


BAY LEAF SEASONING Collect leaves in all seasons.

Add California Bay leaves to soups as a flavoring, using 1⁄2 the amount recommended in recipes that call for non-native Bay leaves. Commercial Bay leaves are from the Bay Laurel tree, Laurus nobilis, native to Asia Minor and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region.


11⁄2 cups organic heavy cream

1 cup organic whole milk

10 large fresh, native California Bay leaves

3 egg yolks

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1 pinch of salt

2 tsp organic cornstarch

1+ pinch of nutmeg

1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract


– Using the back of a spoon, lightly scrape the top and bottom of each California Bay leaf, on both sides of the leaf. Repeat twice. This allows more flavor to infuse the milk and cream.

            –  Warm the milk, cream, salt and California Bay leaves in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the steam begins to rise. Continue warming for about two minutes while stirring thoroughly.

            –  Cover and remove from heat. Let steep for 25 minutes then strain through a mesh strainer and discard the spent leaves.

            –  Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the infused milk.

            –  Return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (approximately 85o). Do not boil.

            –  Immediately pour the custard back into the mixing bowl and cool quickly by placing the bowl in the refrigerator or an ice bath (a large bowl of ice and water into which the mixing bowl can sit and cool), for approximately15 minutes.

            –  Whisk in the vanilla and nutmeg. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 3 hours to overnight.

             Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.

            –  Transfer the ice cream to a covered container and freeze until it is firm enough to scoop.

            –  Makes about 1 quart.

California Bay Ice Cream, Douglas Fir Sorbet & Oak Nut Marzipan

California Bay Ice Cream, Douglas Fir Sorbet & Oak Nut Marzipan

Manzanita Muffins

1½ cups flour (wheat, Oak nut, or gluten-free substitute)
1½ cups Manzanita sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 cup soy, rice, oat, dairy or other milk
1 egg
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1½ cups fresh or frozen wild or local seasonal fruits
– Preheat oven to 400.
– Line muffin pan with paper cups or grease with
vegetable oil.
– Mash bananas in a mixing bowl and stir in milk,
egg, oil and lemon juice.
– In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients—
flour, Manzanita sugar, baking powder, salt.
– Add wet ingredients to the dry and then gently
stir in fruit.
– Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

Manzanita Muffins with Elderberries

Manzanita Muffins with Elderberries

Manzanita Granola

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds or other nuts
¾ cup coconut
¼ cup maple syrup or Manzanita sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ tsp salt
½ cup prepared Oak nut flour
¼ cup dried and ground wild berries (Madrone,
Manzanita, Toyon)
½ cup fresh berries if available
– Preheat oven to 300o.
– Combine the oats, nuts and coconut.
– Add syrup or Manzanita sugar, Oak nut flour,
oil and salt.
– Combine and pour onto 2 sheet pans.
– Cook for approximately 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
– Add ground wild berries.
– Top with fresh berries just before serving.


Add To Cart
Add To Cart

Manzanita Crackers

2 cups Manzanita berries or 1 cup prepared Manzanita
2 cups flour (wheat, Oak nut, or gluten-free substitute)
½ cup oil
2/3 - 1 cup water
½ tsp salt
– If using whole berries, prepare Manzanita sugar by
grinding berries roughly in a coffee grinder.
– Push the ground berries through a strainer to remove
the seeds.
– Preheat oven to 375o.
– Mix 1 cup berry powder with flour, salt and oil until
mix is crumbly.
– Gradually add water to form dough.
– Roll or press dough onto baking sheet in a thin layer,
or roll on a floured surface and use a cookie cutter to
make desired shapes.
– Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown. Watch
closely as cooking times may vary.

Oak Nut Manzanita Crackers, topped with Chevre and Elderberry Syrup, Garnished with Redbud Blossoms

Oak Nut Manzanita Crackers, topped with Chevre and Elderberry Syrup, Garnished with Redbud Blossoms

Manzanita Berry Vinaigrette

¼ cup prepared Manzanita sugar
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tbsp sea salt
¼ tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp minced garlic clove
½ cup caramelized onions
½ cup golden balsamic vinegar
½ cup orange juice or Manzanita cider
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup sunflower or safflower oil
– Mix spices together in a small bowl.
– Mix liquid ingredients together in a large bowl.
– Combine in a blender and shake well before serving.

Manzanita Vinaigrette

Manzanita Vinaigrette

Manzanita Hard Cider

1-gallon jug
4-quart pot
1 packet dry wine yeast
Fliptop bottles
Iodine (for sterilizing)
4 quarts Manzanita Cider
2½ cups raw cane sugar or 1 cup honey
Makes 1 gallon. Ready to drink in 2 months.
– Pour cider into pot, add 2 pounds of sugar or honey
and allow to simmer until sugar dissolves.
– Let cider cool and use a small amount of iodine to
sterilize jug.
– Pour into sterilized gallon jug and add yeast.
– Seal airlock and store in a cool location, 65 - 75o.
– Let the cider bubble for approximately a month. After
the bubbling subsides, allow to sit for another week.
– Siphon the cider into sanitized bottles, avoiding the
yeast that has settled on the bottom of the jug.
– Seal bottles and allow cider to sit for another 2 weeks for
 added flavor.

Manzanita Berries

Manzanita Berries