The bay tree, native to the Mediterranean, is a small, shrublike evergreen with aromatic leaves. Dried bay is available whole to flavor soups and stews) or ground for stocks and marinades). Bay leaves are used primarily to flavor soups and stews, especially fish stews and gumbo. The flavor of bay is subtle, but helps blend other herb/spice flavors. In cooking, add the the leaves at the beginning, as heat and moisture increase the flavor, as cutting does also.