The Olympics always make me think of the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). In the early years of the game, bay was either given to the victors as a crown or a branch to be held in ceremony. You can read more about bay laurel and the Greeks below … but first on to its modern uses.
All About Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis)
Bay Laurel in Cooking
My first encounter with bay was seeing my mom add a leaf to a pot of vegetable soup. It was a hard leaf that never softened even after hours of cooking. When mom fished it out just before we ate she cautioned me that you should never eat the leaf. Neither of us could really make sense of the prevalent idea that you could soak a bay leaf in your food, but it was toxic to eat.
Of course, this isn’t true. There are several plants called “bay” with similar leaves and some of them are toxic. If you are sure of the identification of your bay (Laurus nobilis), then there is no cause for concern. It is admittedly difficult to eat the leaf and can cause digestive upset simply because bay leaves tend to remain tough, but they don’t contain any dangerous compounds. If you want to eat your bay leaf, be sure to puree it with your soup. Even then it will add a bit of texture.
Bay laurel is used in cooking because of the high levels of volatile oils it contains. This flavor is reminiscent of oregano or thyme, but a bit more floral. You will find it in traditional recipes all around the world. Here in America it is often used for soups, stews, seafood, and meat dishes.
Bay Laurel in Medicine
Bay can be made into tea and used for its digestive abilities. It can fight bloating and gas. The leaves contain compounds that are anti-inflammatory and pain relieving. They can also be used as part of a formula to help break up congestion during a cold.
Recently you may have seen the benefits of burning bay leaves for aromatherapy. It has been suggested that you can burn them to combat anxiety.
Topically, they are often infused into oil and effective against inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Bay is the featured ingredient in the famous Aleppo soap and in homemade bay rum aftershave.
You can easily source dried bay leaves from the grocery store or get good quality leaves here. I prefer to grow my own and use the leaves fresh. If you would like to do the same, keep in mind that this is a Mediterranean herb. It will not overwinter in cold climates, so you may need to bring it in for half the year.
Bay Laurel in Greek Mythology
The bay was used in the Olympics because it was considered sacred to the Greeks. There are many stories in Greek mythology that involve a nymph who doesn’t like the advances of one guy or another. Usually she runs off and instead of being forced into a relationship, becomes a plant. Bay is one of the plants whose origin is rooted in unrequited love. The guy in this case, was Apollo. Reportedly he took the change in his love rather hard and from that day on took to wearing a bay crown to keep her near him.
How do you use bay leaves in your house? Share with us below!