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Umbellularia californica

Umbellularia californica

California Bay Umbellularia californica
Other Names Oregon Myrtle, Pepperwood, California Bay Laurel
Habitat & Elevation Hillsides, near streams, upper foothill and mixed conifer belts, and moist canyons below 5,000′
Collection Leaf: all seasons; Fruit: fall (purplish-brown in color when ripe)
Indigenous Names Nisenan sowdasim c’a, Bay nut sojba, Konkow sojba

Garden Section

California Bay Umbellularia californica
Plant type Evergreen tree or shrub
Size 25’x25′
Light Full sun to partial shade
Water Drought tolerant to moderate
Zone 7 to 10

In the wild, California Bay will grow into a dense shrub in dry settings or a 75′ – 100′ tall and wide tree when growing along creeks or in moist forests. In the garden, it grows slowly to 25′.[16, 23] It bears leathery, deep yellow-green, 2″ – 5″ long leaves that are pointed at both ends. The leaves are highly aromatic when crushed. Clusters of tiny pale-yellow flowers emerge in the early spring and give way to 1″ fruits that look like olives.

Plant in full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soil and give moderate water until established. California Bay works well as a screen, background planting or clipped hedge. It can also grow into a specimen tree. It is highly adaptable with few pest or disease problems.[18]

Food Section

Bay Nut Chocolate Clusters

  • Collect California Bay nuts in fall
  • 1 cup Bay nuts
  • 1 bar organic dark chocolate


  • Preheat oven to 350o.
  • Place unshelled nuts on a cookie sheet and bake for approximately 35 minutes.
  • Shell and chop nuts.
  • Melt chocolate in a double boiler.
  • Add chopped nuts and mix well.
  • Place spoonfuls of the chocolate nut mixture on a dish lined with wax paper.
  • Set in freezer for about 15 minutes.[30]

TIP When nut-like fruit is ripe, it appears purplish-brown in color, feels hard, and appears smaller than in previous months. Remove and discard the outer “olive” portion of the nut. Nuts can also be eaten raw.[48]

VARIATIONS After roasting nuts, grind with sugar and cocoa powder to create a delicious chocolate-like dessert.

Medicine Section

Inhale crushed leaves, fresh or dried, according to the Chippewa Indians.[5, 2]

Household Cleaner and Disinfectant
For a disinfectant and surface cleaning spray, cover leaves
with hot water and let steep for 2 hours to overnight. When cool, strain and transfer liquid to a spray bottle and use for up to 3 months. Maidu Indians dried and burned the leaves to keep bugs away.[48]

Poison Oak
Make a tea for external use with 5 leaves per cup of water. Rinse infected areas immediately and apply as needed.

Purification and Ceremony
The Maidu Indians hung a flag of Bay, Cedar, Willow and Mugwort in each of the four directions prior to the start of a ceremony.[48]

Rheumatism, Sore Muscles, Joint Inflammation
Make a tea for external use, with 5 leaves per cup of water. Strain and add to bath.

Cultural and Functional Art Section

The Maidu Indians used Umbellularia californica as a preferred wood for furniture.[48] Local artists also use Cedar, Fir, Madrone, Manzanita, Maple, Oak and Ponderosa Pine for hand-crafted wood pieces.[75, 76]

Gather nuts of Umbellularia californica. Remove husks and set nuts aside for food uses. Mash husks, cover with water, and bring to a light boil. To waterproof, dip entire item quickly in and out of the hot water. To keep for future use, scoop off the foamy oil with 2 flat sticks and roll it into a ball. Let cool. Break off pieces as needed and use for waterproofing, according to Maidu Indian tradition.[48]