Green, glossy bay leaves grow on the sweet bay tree. Native to Asia, the aromatic bay tree is now found in the UK and throughout Europe. Bay leaves are a popular staple in busy kitchens, lending their pungent flavour to soups, stews, sauces, pasta dishes and vegetables. Dried bay leaves are marvellous when used in potpourri, decorative wreaths and sachets. Properly dried, the strong, earthy aroma of bay leaves will scent your home beautifully.
Harvest your bay leaves when they are free of morning dew and not heated by the midday sun, either mid-morning or early in the evening.
Cut large stems from the plant with garden shears. Shake them gently to remove insects.
Remove all dead, diseased or bruised leaves. Pull off any excess debris.
Rinse the stems in cool water and shake them gently to toss off excess water. Gently pat them dry with soft dish cloths. Wet bay leaves may develop mould and spoil.
Snip away leaves at the bottom of the stems, leaving approximately 1.25 to 2.5 cm (1/2 to 1 inch) of bare stem.
Divide the stems into small bunches (four to six stems). Tie one end of a string around the stems of each bunch and tie the other end of the string around the base of a wire coat hanger, so that the bay leaves hang upside down.
Hang the coat hangers with the bay leaves in a dry, warm -- 24 to 27 degrees C (75F to 80F) -- area that has good air circulation. Complete dehydration typically takes two to four weeks.
Store dried bay leaves in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Check them every day for two to three days. If moisture develops, remove them and dry them further.
Check the hanging bay leaves regularly for mould. If mould develops, toss out the entire bunch.
If bay leaves are completely dry, their stems will snap off easily and cleanly. Store dried bay leaves whole, not crushed or ground, to retain the best colour and flavour.