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Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions

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BRIEF: Need more information about Umbellularia californica?


QUESTION:
I am in the Oakland hills. I understand that the laurel here is: Umbellularia californica.
QUESTION:
Do you know how toxic it is?

ANSWER:

Sustained smelling of fresh crushed leaves give most people a headache, and some people get a rash as well from touching it or the oil. Mean kids put broken leaves in "friends'" sleeping bags to give them headaches.
QUESTION:
I understand that there is a ketone in it.

ANSWER:

Yes, Umbellulone.
QUESTION:
Many of us use in place of laurus nobilis.

ANSWER:

Yes, I do when I can because I like the flavor better. Just be sure to use a lot less and fish the leaf out before serving! Also, because of the way landscaping is done in the Bay Area (no pun intended), make damned sure you really have a California Bay leaf and not an oleander leaf. Don't laugh, it has been done...
QUESTION:
I am distilling plants as a hobby and am interested in any harm that I may encounter doing this as well as cooking with the leaves.

ANSWER:

There is no need I can see for the concentrated oil and it won't do you any good to breathe this stuff either. Enjoy the trees, spice you stew with a half-leaf and leave it at that.