In ancient times, the laurel was dedicated to Apollo, the God of song, music and poetry. In France, the laurel is also known as the laurier d'Apollon, or Apollo's laurel.
Laurel wreaths were worn to celebrate both poets and victors of a battle, including winners of the Olympic Games. The laurel wreath is still one of the symbols of the Olympics today.
It was also the origin of the phrase: "don't rest on your laurels".
In the Middle Ages, laurel wreaths, made of small branches of leaves and their berries, were placed on the heads of scholars and medical students. Hence the French qualification baccalauréat, which comes from bacca laurea, meaning laurel berry.
Like the olive branch, the laurel is also a symbol of peace.
Bay leaves should be firm and green, with no brown spots. They should not be too brittle when dry.
Both fresh and dried bay leaves can be found at any greengrocer.
It is also sold dried and powdered, in a small pot.
An essential oil is also available.
Bay leaves are used to flavor court-bouillon and cooking water for rice or pasta, and adds essential flavor to marinades, fish, poultry, and many vegetable dishes, including ratatouille. It should always be used cautiously, as it has a strong flavor.
It is an essential component of a bouquet garni.
A pinch of powdered bay equals one leaf.
Fresh bay leaves should be stored in a cool place, preferably wrapped in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.
Dried leaves must be stored in a dry place.
Bay is rich in minerals of all kinds, B vitamins and carotenes. However, as the leaves are not actually consumed, the nutritional value is irrelevant.
Bay laurel essential oil has many virtues that are used in herbal medicine: it is used as an antispasmodic, antiseptic, painkiller, and so on. However, it can irritate the skin and so must be used with care.
There is only one variety of the bay tree.
It grows in the countryside throughout the Mediterranean region. As it is sensitive to frost, it is also cultivated in greenhouses or pots.
The leaves are sold all year round, in fresh and dried form.