Bay tree, Sweet bay, Bay laurel - Laurus nobilis
The bay tree is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with rough, firm leaves and is native to the Mediterranean region. The plant is a widespread relic of the laurel forests that originally covered much of the region during the Pliocene, around 5m years ago, when damper conditions pertained. Relic laurel forest can still be seen in parts of Turkey, Madeira, southern Spain and northern Morocco.
The Bay tree, like Holly, is dioecious, that is, male and female trees are separate individuals. The fruit (black berries) is therefore borne by the female trees.
Although the leaves are used in cooking, bay belongs to the poisonous Lauraceae family.
Bay as food
Whole bay leaves are used almost exclusively as flavouring agents in food preparation and are normally removed at the end of cooking being brittle and inedible.
Many Mediterranean, North African and Indian dishes call for the addition of bay leaves which have a deep clove-like flavour. Bay is an essential ingredient of bouquet garni used in French meat-based casseroles.
Bay as medicine
In Greek and Roman history bay laurel has been used to ward against diseases such as the plague. Hippocrates used the plant for a range of ailments, internal and external and medieval monks used it for stomach problems, colic and renal ailments.
In modern herbalism, the plant is used for ailments of the digestive tract, to stimulate appetite, to stimulate hair growth and for respiratory problems.