When to harvest bay leaves

The Bay leaf tree is also called the Bay laurel or Sweet bay leaf (Laurus nobilis) is a Mediterranean tree whose leaves are used as a herb in cooking. 

So, the question arises...when should Bay leaves be harvested for best flavor?

There are differences of opinion on the response to this question but in general Bay leaves can be harvested year round (as an evergreen tree it has leaves 12 months of the year).  The flavor that the leaves can produce however grows gradually more intense with time as the leaf matures until they begin to dry up prior to falling off the tree.

There are some that hold that Bay leaves have a more intense fragrance just before the tree flowers.  I´m not aware of there being any relationship between the leaf fragrance and the flowering period of the tree.

The leaves are best used in cooking after having been properly dried for at least a few days.  One way to dry the leaves is to hang a branch upside down in a dry location for a week or so.  The leaves can then by removed from the branch and placed in a container or can be left hanging until needed.  The flavor of the leaves left out in the open will gradually fade over time.

Another key fact in the use of Bay leaves is that although they give a nice flavor to a dish the leaf itself is not eaten.  This is why the leaves are often left whole...it is easier to remove them.  A crushed leaf will give more taste but is very difficult to remove.

Bushman´s poison - Acokanthera oblongifolia

The "Bushman´s poison" or "Wintersweet" as it is also known is a shrub or small tree native to Southern Africa.  It is the source of a poison that is used on bushmen´s arrow tips and is highly toxic to both animals and humans.  The fruits of this dangerous plant contain estrofantina-G and can be fatal is ingested (especially when they are green).  When I first saw this bush I thought that it might be some sort of olive by the looks of the fruits. 

Greek Strawberry tree - Arbutus andrachne

 The Greek Strawberry tree (species name: Arbutus andrachne) is a small tree in the Arbutus genus that is native to Greece.  This tree is known to hybridize naturally with the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) which results in the hybrid Strawberry tree Arbutus x andrachnoides. Like the Strawberry tree the fruits of this tree (shrub) species are edible.

 bee pollinating cluster of flowers
 small tree

Spanish Olive Oil

Spain is the world´s top producer and exporter of Olive Oil with about 45% of the global market.  This comes to about 1,400 Metric tonnes of Olive Oil per year, a figure that has increased quite a bit in the last ten years.  Among the countries that Spain exports to is Italy which is a bit strange considering that it is also an Olive Oil producing and exporting country.  The reason, I believe, is that Italy does not produce enough to meet its exportation demand and has to import Spanish Olive Oil which is then packaged in Italy and exported.  Italy produces about half the quantity of Olive Oil as Spain but in many areas of the United States at least is more well known.

"Interprofesional del aceite de oliva"  is a non-profit org. that is focused on promoting the use of Spanish olive oil.

The following is a list of Spanish Olive oil varieties, where they are grown and their characteristics..
  • ARBEQUINA - originally from Arbeca, Lérida but now is grown in Cataluña, Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca. This variety makes a high quality grade of oil.
  • CORNICABRA - grown in Castilla.  This variety is very resistant to cold weather and to droughts. Its oil is known for a fruity, aromatic flavor and low bitterness.
  • FARGA - grown in Tarragona, Valencia, Castellón and Teruel.  This variety is known for high level of oil production, a good quality oil although with a difficult extraction.
  • MORRUT - grown in Tarragona and Castellón. This variety is not very high quality and is not known for regular or high levels of oil production.
  • PICUAL - grown in the province of Jaén, this is the most important variety of Olive in Spain.  It accounts for about 50% of all Olive trees in Spain. Known for high level of oil production with a good quality product.
  • PICUDO - grown in Cordoba, Jaén, Granada and Málaga.  This variety is emblematic of Cordoba.  Its production is varied from year to year but tends to have a high productivity.  It is prized for its unique characteristics.
  • VERDIAL DE BADAJOZ - grown in Badajoz, Extremadura.  A medium production level that is variable from year to year.  The oil is quite fruity with a fairly strong bitter taste.
  • CORNEZUELO - grown in the middle of the Iberian peninsula, most notably in the region of Toledo.  Constant level of production but not too high.  Known as quality, light oil. This variety is also used to produce table olives.
  • HOJIBLANCA - grown in the Andalucian provinces of Sevilla, Córdoba and Málaga.  Accounts for 16% of the Olive trees in Andalucia.  The olives of this variety weigh from 1.5-4 grams and have about  22% production rate. This variety is also used to produce table olives.
  • NEGRAL - grown in Aragón, Navarra and Jaén.  Along the banks of the Ebro river this olive variety occupies 50% of the fertile land.  Has a high level of production of high quality oil.  This variety is also used to produce table olives.

Caucasian Zelkova - Zelkova carpinifolia

The Caucasian Zelkova (species name: Zelcova carpinifolia) is a fairly large deciduous tree native to the Caucasus region of southeastern Europe.  The Zelcove genus is a family of six tree species in the Elm family.  The tree featured in this post is located in the Madrid botanical garden.

The Caucasian zelkova has a unique shape that consists of multiple branches branching off near the base and that are almost vertical and grow very close together.  The images above shows how these branches give the tree an almost bottle shape.


Trunk base with fairly smooth gray bark

Another view of the way the main branches grow almost vertical

Processionary moth pine tree pest - Thaumetopoea pityocampa

The Precessionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is a little bug but a rather major pest to pine forests in southern Europe.  This little critter builds nests (called "tents") in pine trees.  When the larvae are ready that march out of the "tents" in single file to feed on the pine needles.  If there are several tents in a single tree the caterpillars can literally eat very last green needle right off the tree (see images below).  They are called Processionary due to their single file "procession" that can often be found along the ground under the trees.  One curious thing about these processions is that if you injure any of the caterpillars in the line they will instantly all disconnect and go in different directions as if in a panic.  They do this even if you only pick on the very last on in the line and out of sight of those at the front of the line.  If you give them a few minutes however they will get in a new line again.  Whatever you do don´t touch these with your hands as they can cause irritation to the skin.

A "tent" ready for the caterpillars to march out (below).  Sometimes these get so heavy that they fall out of the trees.

The image below is of an emptied tent where they have already gone out and cleaned the green needles of f of the branches.

The image below is of a newly built tent nest.

The next image shows a young pine tree that has been totally cleaned of all green needles.  This can kill the tree but most often just stunts the growth severally.

Here is a close up of how the branches look after the critters have eaten their full.

This is a picture of hope.  A new growth the next year after a tree has been affected.

Some forests are so afflicted by the Thaumetopoea pityocampa moth that they whole forest looses its green color and turns a grew-brown color.

Cherry plum - Prunus cerasifera

The Cherry plum tree (species name: Prunus cerasifera) is a small tree in the plum family native to Europe and Asia.  It is also planted outside of its native range as an ornamental tree that is prized for its brightly colored blossoms in spring and its purple-reddish leaves.  The fruit is a 2-3cm drupe that it edible.

The size and color of the "cherry plums" makes them easily confusable with cherries (thus the name).  The dark leaf color is a very good clue however to indicate that it is not a cherry tree.  A close examination of the drupe will also set it apart from the shape of a cherry.

The Cherry plum is one of those trees that is highly ornamental in both its spring flowering period and its spring to fall period.

I happened across one of these in bloom recently and observed several Monk parakeets feasting on the flower bulbs. (Image below)

The leaves of the Cherry plum are alternate on the branch.  They have a simple ovate shape and a crenate margin (rounded teeth).  One of the distinctive´s of this tree species is the color of its leaves that range from a dark purple-green to a purple-red color.

The image below shows the bark on both young (lower) and mature (upper) trees.