The Laurel plant – Laurus nobilis

Bay Laurel Leaves
Bay Laurel Leaves

The Bay Laurel is a Christmas plant where the pagan and Christian meanings are similar. The Bay Laurel is the true Laurel of Greek and Roman use and mythology. Daphne was transformed, by her father, into a Laurel tree to avoid Apollo’s advances. After that Apollo always wore a Laurel wreath on his head to symbolize his love of Daphne!

Laurel has also been credited by the Romans with magical properties (in ancient times) of keeping away witches, the devil, and repelling lightening. Later the Italians thought Bay Laurel guarded against evil and brought good luck.

Early Christians adopted the laurel leaf altering the meaning slightly to mean the triumph of man through the birth of Christ, the Savior. Both ivy and laurel leaves continue to be used in Christmas decorations, especially wreaths and garlands.

The leaves and berries contain essential oils that produce the spicy aroma of which they are noted. The essential oil is still used in the making of perfume, candles and soaps. Infusions of the plant are thought to sooth the stomach and relieve gas. The berry oil was a liniment for arthritis, and sore muscles.

Laurel is a good treatment for all respiratory ailment, is healing to wounds topically), relieves pain, aids in digestion, and helps increase liver function.

Bay leaves are used whole (removing them before serving) in soups, stew, meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes. The whole leaf is never eaten, as it can cause cuts in the mouth. If the leaf is crushed it can be used in cooking also, it then imparts more of the aromatic fragrance to the dish.

Other uses include keeping weevils out of flour, oatmeal, grains, and even dried fruits. A single leaf added into the storage container helps with this. Or conversely, a few leaves on the shelves of the pantry will do the trick. Bay leaves are also a nice addition to pot pourri, adding a strong spicy scent!

For some interesting recipes using Bay leaves for the Holidays, check out the Herb Companions article from December 17, 2009.  http://www.herbcompanion.com/herbs-in-the-kitchen/holiday-cooking-recipes-with-bay-laurel-and-sage.aspx

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