Bay Laurel

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Bay Laurel
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) flowers and leaves
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) flowers and leaves
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Laurales
Family: Lauraceae
Genus: Laurus
Species: L. nobilis
Binomial name
Laurus nobilis
L.

The Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae), also known as True Laurel, Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel, Laurel, or Bay Tree, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub reaching 10–18 m tall, native to the Mediterranean region.

The leaves are 6–12 cm long and 2–4 cm broad, with a characteristic finely serrated and wrinkled margin. It is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants; each flower is pale yellow-green, about 1 cm diameter, borne in pairs together beside a leaf. The fruit is a small black berry about 1 cm long, containing a single seed.

Uses and symbolism

Bay Laurel is the source of the bay leaves which are used for their flavour in cooking. It was also the source of the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, and therefore the expression of "resting on one's laurels". A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo and the laurel was one of his symbols ever since his unsuccessful pursuit of Daphne. In the Bible, the sweet-bay is often an emblem of prosperity and fame. In Christianity it is said to symbolize the Resurrection of Christ and the triumph of Humanity thereby. It is also the source of the word baccalaureate (laurel berry), and of poet laureate. Some evidence from the medical literature supports Bay Laurel having these uses:

In Chinese folklore there is a great laurel tree on the moon, and the Chinese name for the laurel, 月桂, literally translates to "moon-laurel". This is the subject of a story of Wu Gang, a man who aspired to immortality and neglected his work. When the deities discovered this they sentenced Wu Gang to fell the laurel tree, whereupon he could join the ranks of the deities; however, since the laurel regenerated immediately when cut, it could never be felled. The phrase 吴刚伐木 ("Wu Gang felling the tree") is sometimes used to refer to endless toil, analogous to Sisyphus in Greek mythology.

It is also widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in regions with mediterranean or oceanic climates, and as an indoor plant in colder regions.

Bay leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, for example the Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Trivia

  • In Greek mythology, the tree was first formed when the nymph Daphne changed into it to escape the lustful pursuit of the Olympian god Apollo; see Apollo and Daphne. Daphne is the Greek name for the tree.

External links

  • MeSH: Laurus - Laurus nobilis (Bay Laurel)
  • MeSH: Umbellularia - Umbellularia californica (California Bay Laurel)
  • MeSH: 3-oxo-eudesma-1,4(15),11(13)triene-12,6alpha-olide [Substance Name]
  • MeSH: anhydroperoxycostunolide [Substance Name]
  • MeSH: magnolialide [Substance Name]
  • PubMed search: "Laurus"[MAJR]
  • PubMed search: "anhydroperoxycostunolide" OR "magnolialide" OR "3-oxo-eudesma-1,4(15),11(13)triene-12,6alpha-olide"
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