California Laurel by Gary Snyder

The botanist told us

“over by Davis Lumber, between house furnishings and plumbing, there’s a Grecian laurel growing – not much smell, but that’s the one that poets wore.  Now California laurel’s not a laurel  It can drive off bugs or season a sauce, and it really clears your sinus if you take a way deep breath -”

Crushed leaves, the smell

reminds me of Annie – by the Big Sur river

she camped under laurel trees – all one summer

eating brown rice – naked – doing yoga –

her chanting, her way deep breath

Gary Snyder 2004 “danger on peaks”


This post written by Anneliese Agren

4 thoughts on “California Laurel by Gary Snyder

  1. My mom used to collect bay laurel leaves each year on our summer vacations at Big Sur state park. But they had to be used judiciously. I will always associate the smell of damp bay leaves with summer at Big Sur…

    (yes, I am a survivor of the retail nursery industry. Chalk it up to my years of writing descriptive signs for the nursery plants, and verbally describing growth habits to prospective buyers)

  2. Wow Sue. Are you a Bay Laurel expert and just wrote that out from memory? Very nice: “whorls” and “candleabra-like.” I laos very much appreciated “…along California’s misty coastline, deep in damp canyons, along streams, mixed into oak forests.”

    I use the leaves for cooking. They make for excellent seasoning when boiling beans.

  3. Laurus nobilis is the Grecian Laurel of culinary arts, with very compact growth to 20 or so feet, with thick, deep green, semi-glossy leaves in tight whorls along upright, candelabra-ilke branches. Leaves dried and used in cooking.

    Umbellaria californica is the “bay” that grows so well along California’s misty coastline, deep in the damp canyons, along streams, mixed into oak forests. The leaves are roughly the same shape, but lighter green, and not as thick. The tree will grow to a towering 60 feet with branches spreading and forming a symmetrical but semi loose crown in maturity. Aphids can be a problem on the native bay, with an organism called “sooty mold” growing on the sticky honeydew left behind by the aphids; sometimes giving the tree a smokey-black coloration.
    Has an insect-repellant reputation.Old timers along the coast used branches as roosts in chicken coops to deter lice on the hens. Can be used in flour or whole grains in storage to deter insect infestations. Too strongly camphor in flavor for cooking.

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