Bay Leaves: The famed ingredient of Ancient Greece

Some things make Winter evenings magical, like serving up a slow cooked stew after a long chilly day. One of the stars of a good winter stew is the humble Bay Leaf.

The history

The pleasantly aromatic Bay Leaf or Bay-laurel is one of the most well-recognised culinary leaf-spices that has been in use since the earliest times.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek God of Medicine Asclepios, Bay was used to protect against illness, especially the plague with its antibacterial properties. The Greeks used Bay as a symbol of protection; it was also associated with victory – only the God of Healing, Apollo and victors in the Delphic Games were permitted to wear crowns of Bay. The Romans believed that Bay brought luck and prevented evil spirits from entering the home.

The plant

Bay is an aromatic, evergreen, dioecious tree or shrub, native to the Mediterranean and can grow to a height of 20 metres. The Leaves are rigid, lance shaped, leathery and glossy dark green in colour on the upper Leaves, with a paler green underside, finely serrated, with a wavy edge and 26-12cm in length. The male and female flowers are delicate creamy white to greeny white in colour, 1cm in diameter and appear in spring; in good summers they form black berries which are inedible. Many other Leaves have a similar appearance and aroma to true Bay Leaves, but not the same nutrient content.

Using Bay Leaves in the kitchen

Bay can be used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes; the best flavour for cooking however is obtained from dried leaves rather than fresh. Add to pates, soups, stews and casseroles, Bay works well with meat, fish and poultry. Try adding a few leaves to delicately scent custards for serving with poached peaches or apricots. Tip: Always remove Bay Leaves from a dish prior to freezing it, Bay Leaf goes very bitter on freezing and will impart that bitterness to your dish when reheated.

Using Bay Leaves around the house

In manufacturing, Bay Leaf Oil is used in cosmetics, soaps, and detergents. Dried Leaves can be used to make winter wreaths and decorations, and make excellent additions to pot pourri. The lauric acid in the Bay laurel Leaves have insect repellent properties, so perfect to hang in your kitchen or near windows and doors.

One to watch…

There is increasing interest in the medicinal uses of Bay Leaves. There’s talk of benefits for digestive health, respiratory health, cancer prevention, anxiety and stress, diabetes management and joint and muscle pain. While the research is all in its early days, the Bay Leaf is definitely one to watch!

There is even research into the benefits of Bay Leaves on skin health, particularly aiding in the elimination of dandruff. You can steep Bay Leaves in water and then rub that on your scalp after shampooing. The chemicals and volatile ingredients in Bay Leaves may help to eliminate dry skin and dandruff. We advise caution however – We advise that you test the product on a small area of skin before use. In the case of any adverse reaction, wash skin and hair with warm water and seek medical advice immediately.


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About the Author


As an animal lover and baking enthusiast, Georgia can often be found experimenting with plant-based recipes in her kitchen.

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