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.
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.
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.
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.
Bay-leaf tea has an aromatic and slightly sweet flavor that can soothe and calm an upset stomach due to nervous tension. Pour a cup of boiling water 0ver 2 tsp. of dried bay leaf that has just been crushed. Cover and let steep for 10- 15min. Strain. Drink 1/2 cup of warm tea, up to 3 cups daily.
The major active substance in bay leaf is essential oil, with cineole as its primary component. It acts as a mild skin irritant and promotes circulation. The leaves contain tannins and bitter principles, which stimulate digestion; the bio?avonoid rutin,which is essential for proper absorption of vitamin C, starch and sugar.
Around The House
The compound cineole in bay leaf helps repel insects. Try putting several crushed leaves in your kitchen cupboards to keep bugs away. You can also place the leaves in storage trunks to keep moths from damaging linens, woolens and silks.