In Greek and Roman mythology, bay leaf was considered a sacred plant and symbol of wisdom and glory: a bay leaf crown was given to Pythian and Delphic game winners and represented the greatest honour for poets who became then crowned poets. Here’s the reason why bay leaf is the symbol of victory, prestige, triumph and honour. Believed to be Apollo’s tree, it was also considered a sacred tree.
THE PLANT - Bay leaf (Laurus nobils) is an evergreen aromatic plant belonging to the Laureaceae family which is quite common in temperate climate areas; its stem is upright with a green bark and it can have a bush shape or the conic shape of a tree (reaching also about 15 m in height). Leaves are oval-shaped, bright on top and matt on the underside, with a dark bright green colour; if cut, the leaf releases a very pleasant smell. At springtime yellow-green inflorescences fill up the plant. Fruits are black berries with an oval shape. Bay leaf is often used as an ornamental plant to fence gardens and fields. The word Laurus includes different species but the most known and appreciated is, in fact, the nobilis Aurea: its leaves are golden and spiky and it is used as the normal bay leaf even if it results to be slightly harder. The growing of golden bay leaf requires more protection form wind, frost and full sun also which can also cause burnings. Laurus Nobilis Augustifolia presents narrower leaves compared to Lauro; this variety is also known as willow leaf Lauro and is more resistant than Laurus nobilis Aurea.
PROPERTIES – Bay leaf owns aromatic, digestive, antiseptic and stimulating virtues, thus it is suitable to treat difficult digestion, lack of appetite, colic and aerophagy. With its leaves it is possible to obtain a bay leaf tea which, can help and prevent the evolution of cold or flu if drunk hot before going to sleep. If taken after meals, it is able to easy the digestion and to eliminate the annoying intestinal gas; beside, it makes the stomach stronger and it is an excellent anti-mucus. Bay leaf berries (small fruits looking like very small black cherries with very big seeds) are even more active than leaves because they contain an oil very rich in medicinal substances; if you dry berries and you take one or two teaspoon of their powder, you get a good remedy against flu, cold, nervous diseases, paralysis, stomach problems and intestinal gas. If you mix berry powder to oil, you can obtain bay leaf oil which, if massaged on the interested part, it is useful to relieve rheumatic spasms or to facilitate the recovery of articulations after plaster cast or traumas.
CULINARY USE – Bay leaf is used worldwide to flavour stews, soups, broths and marinades, to aromatize meat and fish, to perfume gravies and to spice game. It is also very used to flavour salamis but also some drinks and sweets (rice pudding). With its powerful antiseptic properties, bay leaf is especially used in Mediterranean and European cuisine. If treated with alcohol you can also obtain an aromatic and perfumed liqueur with digestive properties.