Laurel (Bay) Leaves

The bay leaf originated in Asia Minor and spread to the Mediterranean and other countries with suitable climates. Turkey is one of the main exporters of bay leaves. If eaten whole, bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. As with many spices and flavorings, the fragrance of the laurel leave is more noticeable in cooked foods than the taste. When dried, the fragrance is herbal, slightly floral, and similar to oregano and thyme. Myrcene, which is a componet of many essential oils used in perfumery, can be extracted from the laurel leave.

Ancient Greeks crowned Olympic winners, scholars and poets with bay(the Latin meaning to praise the famous). The bay was sacred to Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy, poetry and healing. The fumes that the priestesses at Delphi breathed inspire prophetic visions were probably burning laurel leaves. The roof of the temple was made entirely of bay leaves for protection against disease, witchcaft and lightning. In Greek the word for laurel is dafni from the myth of the mymph, Daphe, who changed by Gaea into a laurel tree to escape Apollo’s advances. The Ancient Romans made extensive use for the laurel leave in medicine, they also used it as spice and even a decorative garland was made from it for use in the festivities associated with the Saturnalia festival that was celebrated each December.

Description and Cultivation

Bay is a hardy evergreen shrub that grows wild or cultivated, it can be grown as a single-trunked tree or a multi-trunked shrub. In warm areas it can as high as 18 m. The smooth bark may be olive-green or of a reddish hue. The luxurious, evergreen leaves are alternate, with short stalks, lanceolate, 8 to 10 cm long, the margin smooth and wavy. They are thick, smooth, and of a shining, dark green colour. The flowers are small, yellow and unisexual, and grow in small clusters. The fruits are small, red-blue single-seeded berries that later turn black about 12 mm in size. The laurel leave is native plant of the Mediterranean region and can be propagated in three basic methods by layering, sowing seeds or by taking cuttings from individual plants, trees are self-infertile, so a male tree is needed to set seed. Leaves can be harvested at any time.

Scientific Classification
Kingdom : Plantea
Division : Magnoliophyta
Class : Magnoliopsida
Order : Laurales
Family : Lauraceae
Genius : Laurus
Species : Laurus nobilis