I use them fresh all the time. I have two huge bay "bushes" which were supposed to be "dwarf" and not grow taller than 8 feet.
Ha! I have had then trimmed when they reached 20' and again near that.
The aroma and flavor is exceptional. One is a true Laurus Nobilis and the other is a Canary Island Laurus variant but has similar flavor and aroma. Both were given to me by a friend who worked at the Huntington Gardens when I first moved up here in 1988.
I pick leaves and put them in a wire colander on my kitchen counter until they are completely dry and then I vac seal them and send them to friends.
They are evergreen so I have a supply of fresh leaves all year although the aroma and flavor is strongest in the late spring.
I lightly crush two or three leaves to simmer in milk or cream for a custard base - or when I want to make a cream sauce for vegetables. The flavor is exquisite.
I also save the straight stems when I prune the bushes and use them for skewers and they too impart flavor to meats, chicken, vegetables, etc.
The original "trunk" is behind the oldest scions. it is more than 8 inches in diameter just above the ground.
When first planted it was barely an inch in diameter.
This one has again reached 20' in height and is in the branches of the shade tree.
This is the Canary Island variant - which was not supposed to survive our winters at this altitude (2800 ft) and the hard freezes but it has survived temps down to 5°F. Although I protected both the first few years.
You can see that the leaves are slightly lighter, a bit more yellow in the green and they have "hairy" flower clusters.
They also produce a lot of very large leaves.