Art Journal

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica, in Bloom (HIking Edgewood)

California Bay Laurel
Umbellularia californica
 is in bloom now at Edgewood Nature Preserve
I was surprised to find that California Bay Laurel already in bloom at Edgewood on a New Years Day hike at that preserve. I could have sworn it didn't bloom that early last year.

Below are some historical human uses I gleaned about this noble plant, when I prepared a field trip report for the California Native Plants class at Cañada College last year.
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I’ve met several people who substitute California Bay Laurel leaves for the Mediterranean Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) . Kozloff (p. 248)  agrees with this practice saying “They (the leaves) can be used for seasoning but have a stronger flavor than L.Nobilis.”
However, in 1976 then UCSC Environmental Studies professor Ray Collett[1]told his students, of which I was then one, that the leaves of the California Bay Laurel were poisonous and should not be used to flavor food. Toni Corelli[2]takes a middle ground saying that “Leaf oils may be toxic to some people.”
Corelli also says that native people used the leaves “medicinally to cure headache and as a tea for stomach ailments. Oils from the leaves were rubbed on the body to ease rheumatism. Leaves were also spread on floors to repel fleas; boughs were buned to fumigate lodgings and to fight colds. The nuts were roasted, cracked and eaten.”
The Ohlone weren’t the last people to use the leaves against bugs. At UCSC in the mid 1970’s my college roommate used the leaves to attempt to rid our room of fleas.  Ray Collett also suggested that students who suffered from bedbugs try the leaves.
Modern use, other than firewood, includes woodworking. Woodworkers, include environmentally contentious landscape refuse salvagers, use the wood for a variety of wood craft, including these lovely little Dryad flutes.[3] The makers of the Dryad Flute says, “It is valued by woodworkers for its beauty and the variety of figure and coloring in its wood.  It is considered a tonewood by luthiers (luthiers make guitars as well as other lute-related instruments) for its ability to reflect the sound wave without deadening the tone. “

[2]Toni Corelli  Flowering Plants of Edgewood Natural Preserve Second Edition 2004 Monocot Press, Half Moon Bay CA

1 comment:

  1. Great info, Laurel. I enjoyed reading it. Yes, I also have this bush (over 10 feet tall) just outside my kitchen window. I have read about the poisonous aspect of the bush and am quite respectful of that information. -J


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