About Umbellularia Californica
Hikers may smell the intense aromatic fragrance of the Oregon Myrtle before they even see the tree itself!
Depending on habitat conditions, California Bay Laurels grow as small shrubs or large trees. The largest specimens reach over 100 feet tall, but a more typical height is 40 to 80 feet. They are18 to 30 in. in diameter, and may live at least 200 years.
Habitat: Growing conditions range from the cool, humid climate of coastal forests to the hot, dry climates of the chaparral or interior woodlands.
Identification: Evergreen tree or large shrub, depending on environment
Leaves: Alternate, simple, elliptical to lanceolate, 3 to 5 inches long, very aromatic when crushed, dark green and shiny above and paler and smooth below, smooth margins. When crushed they may irritate the eyes and nose.
Flowers: 1/2 inch wide, yellow-green blossoms occur in fragrant clusters of 4 to 9 flowers in late winter. Fruits that follow resemble an olive, up to 1 inch long, green turning yellowish-green or purplish-green at maturity, containing a single, large seed. Fruit is attached by a yellow stem that resembles a golf tee.
Harvest and Preparation: Parts of California Bay Laurels have been used by American Indian tribes for hundreds of years as food seasoning. Pick young, unblemished leaves and dry them in the sun. Store in cool, dry place. Use as you would Bay Leaves, except these are more potent, so cut recipe amount be 1/3 or gradually add more to taste. Take care as some people are severely allergic to the spicy oils in the leaves! Roast seeds in campfire, split open, and eat or grind into flour for bread or other recipes.
Medicinal Uses: Leaves of the California Bay Laurel have been used by people to get rid of head lice and to discourage fleas. Leaves have also been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat headaches and sinus congestion. Use too much however, and you can increase instead of cure you headache!
Poisonous Look-Alikes: None
Credit For Content:
Edible Wild Plants - A North American Field Guide To Over 200 Natural Foods
Oregon State University - Oregon Wood Innovation Center
Virginia Tech - Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
National Wildlife Federation
Golden West College - Huntington Beach, California