The bay tree is indigenous to Asia Minor, from where it spread to the Mediterranean and then to other countries with similar climates. According to legend the Delphi oracle chewed bay leaves, or sniffed the smoke of burning leaves to promote her visionary trances. Bay, or laurel, was famed in ancient Greece and Rome. Emperors, heroes and poets wore wreaths of laurel leaves.
The Greek word for laurel is dhafni, named for the myth of the nymph Daphne, who was changed into a laurel tree by Gaea, who transformed her to help her escape Apollo’s attempted rape. Apollo made the tree sacred and thus it became a symbol of honour. The association with honour and glory continue today; we have poet laureates (Apollo was the God of poets), and bacca-laureate means “laurel berries” which signifies the completion of a bachelor degree. Doctors were also crowned with laurel, which was considered a cure-all. Triumphant athletes of ancient Greece were awarded laurel garlands and was given to winners at Olympic games since 776 BC Today, grand prix winners are bedecked with laurel wreaths. It was also believed that the laurel provided safety from the deities responsible for thunder and lightning. The Emperor Tiberius always wore a laurel wreath during thunderstorms.
What is Bay Leaf?
The bay leaf is oval, pointed and smooth, 2.5 – 8 cm (1 to 3 in) long. When fresh, the leaves are shiny and dark green on top with lighter undersides. When dried the bay leaf is a matte olive green.
Bouquet: Warm and quite pungent when broken and the aromatic oils are released.
Flavour: Slightly bitter and strongly aromatic.
Hotness Scale: 2
Preparation and Storage
Dried leaves should be whole and olive green. Brown leaves will have lost their flavour. Whole leaves are often used in cooking and crushed or ground leaves can be used for extra strength. Kept out of light in airtight containers the whole leave will retain flavour for over two years.
Cooking with Bay Leaf
Bay leaves are widely used throughout the world. It may be best known in bouquets garnis or used similarly in soups, sauces, stews, daubes and courts-bouillon’s, an appropriate seasoning for fish, meat and poultry. Bay leaf is often included as a pickling spice.
Health Benefits of Bay Leaf
In the Middle Ages it was believed to induce abortions and to have many magical qualities. It was once used to keep moths away, owing to the leafs lauric acid content which gives it insecticidal properties. Bay leaf has many properties which make it useful for treating high blood sugar, migraine headaches, bacterial and fungal infections, and gastric ulcers. Bay leaves and berries have been used for their astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emetic and stomachic properties. Bay Oil, or Oil of Bays (Oleum Lauri) is used in liniments for bruising and sprains. Bay leaf has been used as an herbal remedy for headaches. It contains compounds called parthenolides, which have proven useful in the treatment of migraines. Bay leaf has also been shown to help the body process insulin more efficiently, which leads to lower blood sugar levels.It has also been used to reduce the effects of stomach ulcers. Bay Leaf contains eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Bay leaf is also an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Bay Leaf has also been used to treat rheumatism, amenorrhea, and colic.
Plant Description and Cultivation
Grown successfully in Mediterranean-like climates, the Bay is a hardy evergreen shrub that grows wild or cultivated. In warm areas it can grow as high as 18 m (60 ft). Inconspicuous white flowers arrive in clusters, in May. The fruits are small, red-blue single-seeded berries that later turn black about 12 mm (1/2 in) in size. Propagation is best accomplished with the cuttings from shoots. Leaves can be harvested at any time.
Apollo’s Bay Leaf, Bay, Bay Laurel, Grecian Laurel, Indian Bay, Laurel, Nobel Laurel, Poet’s Laurel, Roman Laurel, RoyalLaurel, Sweet Bay, Sweet Laurel, Wreath Laurel
French: feuille de laurier, laurier franc
Italian: foglia di alloro, lauro
Spanish: hoja de laurel
Laurus nobilis Fam: Lauraceae
Photo by Spider.Dog from United Kingdom / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)