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Umbellularia californica - (Hook.&Arn.)Nutt.

Common Name California Laurel, California Bay
Family Lauraceae
USDA hardiness 7-10
Known Hazards The foliage can cause skin irritations[1, 11]. A volatile oil in the leaves can cause sneezing and headaches if inhaled[11].
Habitats Lower mountain slopes, flatlands, hillsides etc, on various soils and often in shade[62, 94]. The best specimens are found in deep rich soils of valley bottoms[229].
Range South-western N. America - California to Oregon.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full sun
Umbellularia californica California Laurel, California Bay

Umbellularia californica California Laurel, California Bay


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Bloom Color: Yellow. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Early winter, Late winter, Mid spring, Mid winter. Form: Rounded, Vase.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Umbellularia californica is an evergreen Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower in April, and the seeds ripen from October to November. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Laurus regalis. L. regia. Oreodaphne californica. Tetranthera californica.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Canopy;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Seed
Edible Uses: Coffee  Condiment

Seed - cooked[257]. It can be roasted and eaten or can be ground into a powder that is used with cereal flours in making bread[62, 105, 177, 183]. A bitter quality in the seed is dispensed by roasting or parching the seed[92, 161]. Fruit - raw or cooked[257]. The leaves are used as a condiment in cooked foods. They are a bayleaf substitute but with a much stronger flavour[2, 94, 238]. Used for flavouring soups, stews etc[183]. A tea is obtained from the leaves[2]. A coffee substitute is obtained from the root bark[161, 183].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Analgesic  Antirheumatic  Nervine  Poultice  Salve  Stimulant  Stomachic

California laurel was employed medicinally by some native North American Indian tribes who used it particularly as an analgesic to treat a variety of complaints[257]. It is still occasionally used in modern herbalism, being valued for its beneficial effect upon the digestive system. The leaves are analgesic, antirheumatic, nervine and stomachic[92, 94, 95, 238, 257]. Although the aroma of the leaves is known to cause headaches, they have also been used as an infusion and a poultice to treat this affliction[92, 94, 95, 238, 257]. The leaves are also used internally to treat neuralgia, intestinal cramps and gastro-enteritis[238]. An infusion has been used by women to ease the pains of afterbirth[257]. Externally, an infusion has been used as a bath in the treatment of rheumatism[257]. A decoction of the leaves has been used as a wash on sores and to remove vermin from the head[257]. They are harvested as required and can be used fresh or dried[238]. A poultice of the ground seeds has been used to treat sores[257]. The seeds have been eaten as a stimulant[257].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Essential  Incense  Repellent  Wood

The leaves are used as an insect repellent, they are especially effective against fleas[62, 92, 94, 95, 169]. They have disinfectant properties and contain small quantities of camphor[95, 169]. The leaves are burnt as a fumigant to get rid of fleas[257]. The leaves have been hung in bunches to freshen the air[257]. The aroma of the leaves gives some people headaches[K]. An essential oil is obtained from the leaves by steam distillation[11, 46, 61, 82]. Beige and green dyes are obtained from the fruits (used without the seeds). Very aromatic, the dye retains its fragrance for many years[168]. Wood - hard, close grained, heavy, strong, takes a high polish. A beautifully textured wood, it is used for high quality cabinet making, panelling etc[61, 82, 94, 229].

Special Uses

Scented Plants

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Hedge, Aggressive surface roots possible, Screen, Specimen, Street tree, Woodland garden. Requires a well-drained moisture retentive lime-free soil in a sunny position[200]. Prefers an abundant supply of moisture in the growing season[82]. Older plants are hardy to about -15°c when growing in a position that is sheltered from cold drying winds, but young plants require some frost protection[200]. Even mature plants can be damaged in severe winters[1]. The leaves are harvested commercially in California and sold as a bay-leaf substitute[183]. The leaves emit a powerful camphor-like scent when bruised[245]. So strong is the aroma that it can cause headaches and dizziness[245]. A very large and beautiful tree fruited regularly at Kew, producing viable seed, until it was blown down in the severe storms of October 1987[K]. Special Features:Attracts birds, North American native, Fragrant foliage, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - it has a limited viability and is best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a greenhouse[200]. Stored seed should be sown as early in the year as possible in the greenhouse. In the wild the seed germinates as soon as it falls to the ground in the autumn[82]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 - 10cm with a heel, July/August in a shaded frame. Pot up in spring. Good percentage[78, 200]. Layering.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

Kevin Feinstein   Mon Sep 3 2007

This is one of my favorite plants with so many uses in my area (its native range) that I'm stunned this plant is not more widely known. I'm glad to see it given a 4 out of 5 for usefulness in a site based out of the UK. In my area, it is one of the most common wild trees, and I enjoy sitting under their shade on hot dry days. The nuts are such a unique and amazing food, that I can only think bad cultural and political thoughts when I think about why it is not a traded commodity (like chocolate or coffee.) There is a strong bias against foods that are native to California, demonstrating a pathological denial of the terrible genocide and ecocide that happened here. Another great use of this tree is for climbing, something that is rarely considered in landscaping.

feralkevin video and commentary from the emerging sustainable culture

A blog on the edible and medicinal valuer of plants.   Nov 26 2010 12:00AM

A tasty beverage may be made by roasting the seeds and then grinding them in a coffee grinder. Take the resulting powder and put it in a frnech press, fill with hot water and wait five to ten minutes. I find the beverage is even better with some milk and sugar added.
medicinal and edible plants

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