Bay leaves are harvested from a medium sized tree with the leathery aromatic, dark evergreen leaves. The flowers are creamy-yellow and sperical in shape. L. nobilis is native to the mediterranean region. There is only one other species in the genus, L. azorica which is native to the Canary Islands and the Azores.
Bay trees are now grown commercially world-wide in areas with a mediterrean climate. It may also be grown indoors as a potted plant.
Used in soups and stews for its aromatic qualities. Also commonly used as an ingredient in seafood boils, and in making meat stocks. The characteristic constituent is a liquid phenol called eugenol which has been found to have narcotic and sedative affects in mice and may repel insects. Bay leaves lose flavor after lenghty storage.
History and Lore
Symbol of glory, honor, victory and reward, this is the plant used to make the laurel wreaths worn by winning athletes in the original Olympic games--these are the laurels one rests upon. This custom was based upon the bay wreath worn by Apollo, sun god and god of reason of Greek myth.
Apollo loved the nymph Daphne and pursued he relentlessly. She wanted nothing to do with him. Her father, Peneus, changed her into a bay tree to protect her. When Apollo learned of this, he fell before the bay tree and declared it would be forever sacred.
Death of a bay tree was said to be a bad omen, as was the case in Paduda, Italy in 1629. "Tis thought the King is dead; we will not stay. The bay trees in our country are all withered." Shakespeare, Richard II.