The Herb of the Month for February 2022 is Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis
Bay Laurels are known by many names, such as bay leaf tree, sweet bay, Grecian laurel, and true laurel. These plants are hardy up to zone 8 but are most often cultivated in containers that can be brought inside if needed. In the Mediterranean climate the Laurel will grow into a 60 ft. tree, but will stay 3 ft. or more in a pot and will respond to pruning and shaping.
The Laurel is frequently referred to in Greco-Roman mythology. Wreaths of leaves were used to honor the winners of athletic contests, poets, and heroes. Statuary depicting winners of events often display laurel leaves as a sign of honor. The leaf was also used to embellish ancient pottery and floor mosaics. During the middle ages, the bay tree was believed to keep witches and demons away. Even in our own vernacular and times, one could be accused as ”resting on their laurels”. Today’s Grand Prix winners are awarded a wreath of bay leaves, reflecting their once ancient use.
The Bay Laurel leaf was not only a symbol of honor and defense against sorcery, but it was also a culinary and medicinal plant throughout the ages. The Laurel has spread all over the globe and has become integral to a wide variety of cuisines. This herb will be found in Mediterranean, American, French, Thai, Indian, Pakistani, and many more ethnic dishes.
The Laurel has also had traditional medicinal uses, some of those uses were: an expectorant in a vapor, regulating menstrual cycles, easing menstrual cramps, relieving rashes, aches, and pains.
BAY LAUREL TIPS AND RECIPES
- Dried leaves are more aromatic than the fresh leaves.
- Most recipes refer to the dried leaf.
- Dried leaves have a floral flavor with hints of thyme and oregano.
- Bay leaves may be used whole as in soups, crushed, or ground.
- When used whole, remove the leaves before serving.
- Ground leaves will be found in many specialty herbal blends.
- Bay leaves are best used to season long-cooking dishes.
- Extend the life of this dried herb by keeping it cool.
- Do not overcook. Remove the whole leaf when you have the desired flavor, which should not be overpowering. It should be a background flavor.
Soups, stews, gravies, grains, or legumes can be improved through the use of Bouquet Garni, which will add a depth of flavor to your dishes. Bouquet Garni will be the herbal addition of choice if you would like your stock to be clear, without chopped herbs floating in the broth. Your creation can use either fresh or dried herbs. Fresh herbs are picked and tied together with a white cotton thread or string. Dried herbs are chosen and placed into cheesecloth which is then secured. In each case the herbs are removed and discarded before serving.
Traditionally the herbal combination is parsley (could use the stems), thyme and bay leaf. Other combinations may include rosemary, oregano, and basil.
The combinations for this culinary technique are endless! Have fun!
WEST INDIAN BAY LEAF TEA
6+ mature bay laurel leaves –fresh or dried
2 c. filtered water
1T Local Honey or Agave (to taste)
1 T orange Juice or cream
Bring the leaves to a simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Cover and allow to steep. The tea will continue to darken and flavor will intensify.