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Where to find/buy fresh bay leaves in San Francisco?

I have searched a few farmers markets, as well as some stores near my house, and no luck. Anyone know where to find bay leaves that aren't brittle, dry, and flavorless? I'd be willing to buy, or even forage if need be. Thanks!!

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  1. The California Bay is slightly different than the Laurus nobilis. The California Bay is edible, but has a stronger and different taste. Are you good with that?

    California Bays are found in most parks with a stand of redwood trees, but between the Light Brown Apple Moth and park-non-foraging rules, it wouldn't be prudent to tell one's secret stash. City parks tend to have less strict "removal" rules (not a federal offense, at least), and some, at least in the berkeley and oakland hills, have bays.

    Finally, Penzys is a very reputable spice vendor that has local stores. Haven't checked out their bay leaves.

    3 Replies
    1. re: bbulkow

      A little known fact:

      The California Bay trees in the hills between Oakland and Orinda have been commercially harvested for years and the leaves that are sold are in much demand around the world.

      I believe even Spice Island® uses them.

      1. re: Mission

        Fascinating! Are they labeled as "california bay", or might a random package of Bay Leaves be either California Bay or Bay Laurel?

      2. re: bbulkow

        Penzey's bay leaves are really good. You could probably get relatively fresh ones at Rainbow, Berkeley Bowl, or Lhasa Karnak--anywhere that has high turnover.

        I've tried California bay leaves and to me the flavor's not right. Spice Islands should specify on the jar that they're California bay leaves, since it's not the same tree, not even in the same genus.

        Berkeley Bowl
        2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

        Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
        1938 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

        Lhasa Karnak Herb Company
        2482 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

        Rainbow Grocery
        1745 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        Penzeys Spices
        771 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park, CA 94025

      3. I have a huge bay leaf tree in my yard in Oregon. It is trimmed into a very nice looking tree. You could plant on I am sure in SF if you have the room.

        1. I have seen them in Berkeley Bowl, in their herb section.

          Berkeley Bowl
          2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

          1 Reply
          1. re: artisan02

            I find them stronger and usually use half what called for. That being said I could probably supply Rainbow with a years worth from my sonoma property. I had to cut some own this year because they are also considered a fire hazard .

          2. Your replies are all so helpful. I will be checking Rainbow, since it's closest to me. Thanks again!
            PS. Robert, I look forward to checking out your new restaurant. :)

            1 Reply
            1. re: t.susannah.chen

              Just beware, as posters have noted, about the difference between California bay and true bay leaves. Every time I've been to Berkeley Bowl they've been California bay and they are SO not the same thing. I personally can't stand 'em, even if I use just a bit of a leaf. I find the taste superstrong, not just piney and mentholish but searingly so, with a flavor I'm tempted to call "dirty pine bark", except that I've no idea what dirty pine bark actually tastes like.....

              Berkeley Bowl
              2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

            2. The Morton and Bassett brand of bottled spices has bay leaves of a very high quality -- the difference is even visual. I think there was an article on this a few years ago. This spice line is getting harder to find, but I've recently seen it at Andronicos and Berkeley Bowl. Don't know about Rainbow Foods.

              Berkeley Bowl
              2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

              1. California bay is very spicy and not really suited for cooking, although some people do use it. Years ago, I purchased a couple of Laurus nobilis from a local nursery and planted them in pots. They respond well to pruning, so if you have a small space, purchase a plant or two, and keep it in an outdoor location, and use some of the leaves off the ends, as needed. It may take a year or so, but you will have a constant source of bay leaves.
                Also, Whole Spice, located at the Oxbow Market in Napa, does list bay leaves on its web site.

                1. it seems many people love the local California bay leaves,


                  In Orinda residents Tamara and Paul Attard set out to expand their family-owned and operated organic spice business, the Bayseng Spice Company (see sidebar). Their bay leaf dehydration plant at 21 Old Tunnel Road had exhausted its usefulness and needed to be rebuilt. Demand for their product, California bay leaves, far exceeded their production capacity, so they wanted to add a second drying facility across the street at 1000 Fish Ranch Road to double capacity. And, they wanted to build a family home at the site, what they call the farmhouse, to enable them to be close to the operations and enjoy the picturesque views of the Oakland hills beyond the Caldecott Tunnel.
                  The Attards' process for wholesale bay leaf production is quite linear: pick the leaves, clean the leaves, dry the leaves, and package the leaves for worldwide wholesale distribution

                  the Lewis family was distributing bay leaves wholesale by 1981. In 1991, Tamara’s husband Paul Attard joined the business, adding his experience in technology and finance to the growing family business.

                  Now the largest producer of California bay leaves in the world, Bayseng Spice Company has acquired over 1,000 acres of land in Napa, Solano, and Lake Counties on which they cultivate bay trees. With over twenty employees, Bayseng harvests the prolific leaf year round. According to Paul Attard, the demand for the product far exceeds their current production capacity, and he believes they could double their number of employees once able to expand.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Mission

                    That article also says they might be going bankrupt .

                  2. Bay laurel are everywhere around here. But, there is a little known fact that the Bay tree is the Typhoid Mary of something called Sudden Oak Death syndrome. It is a disease for native oak trees that kills them suddenly.. hence the name.

                    So if you see any bay laurel trees that have browning discolored pointed tips of the leaves of the tree please do not touch, move or transport.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: GregSJ

                      Are you referring to the California Bay (Umbellularia Californica) or the European (Laurus Nobilis) as a SOD vector? I hadn't heard that about the European, that I remember.
                      European bay does grow quite well in this area, either potted or in the ground: I compost bushels of bay leaves every year. You should be able to find one among your friends, or if desperate perhaps by going through a local garden society- maybe SLUG in SF.

                      1. re: GregSJ

                        You are very right. I had to remove 5 oak trees in last year before they fell on my house....also in last 3 years 4 neighbors had trees fall on their roofs. I have removed at least a dozen small bays because they are a problem. I watch them very carefully as do my neighbors. Actually the whole leaf can be almost black.