Noble laurel – all about the mythological plant
From ancient times to the present day, laurel is a precious commodity. Useful for treating seasonal ailments and much more, today we talk about the history, uses and properties of the laurel plant.
Prominent member of the Lauraceae family, Laurus nobilis, commonly known as laurel or bay tree,is a perennial aromatic evergreen plant. Originally from Anatolia, the laurel plant soon found fertile soil and climate in the Mediterranean region where it has been known since ancient times. Beautiful to look at, fragrant to the nose, but also very useful for body and spirit, laurel is an excellent natural remedy that has found its place in the kitchen or to embellish gardens, hedges and flower beds.
What is laurel?
Many think of it as an unobtrusive plant, but laurel can actually reach 8-10 meters in height. The oval-shaped leaves, which most know dried, actually have a double color: bright green on one side, opaque on the other.
If, on the other hand, we asked you what color laurel flowers are, what would you say? Exactly, it is difficult to know, because often a plant is imprinted in our mind only through the use and consumption we make of it. Don’t worry though, we’ll tell you. Laurel flowers are yellow and small; they bloom between March and April, while the fruits, small oval-shaped berries, have a beautiful black color reminiscent of that of smaller mature olives.
The leaves can be harvested and used all year round, but it is especially during the winter time that bay leaves are rich in beneficial principles and aromatic essences.
Where does laurel come from?
Laurel is a plant that is still strongly associated with Greek and Latin classicism today. It was a symbol of victory and peace in the military and on sports fields: the branches were intertwined like a crown, placed on the winner’s head and to pay homage to the most esteemed personalities.
In ancient Greece, there were four Panhellenic sports games: the Pythian, the most famous Olympics, the Nemean and the Isthmian dedicated to poets and writers who competed like real athletes. The winners of these games were honored with a laurel wreath from Thessaly. The poets in particular would be then called “graduate poets”, hence the adjective nobilis to qualify the laurus. Over time, this plant has not ceased to sanction successes in the broadest sense. Don’t believe it? Pay attention the next time you run into recent graduates who have just discussed their thesis. What are they wearing on their head? That’s right, a laurel wreath!
But the best known story about laurel is that of the myth of Apollo and Daphne. The god fell in love with the nymph after a spiteful Cupid hit him with one of his infamous arrows to punish him.Daphne, however, chose not to give herself to Apollo and invoked the clemency of Gaea, the Goddess-Earth who transformed her into a laurel plant. A very suggestive representation of this myth was recreated by the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini who between 1622 and 1625 gave shape to a sculptural group that still fascinates visitors at the Borghese Gallery in Rome, where it is still preserved today.
L’alloro fa bene?
It is so good indeed. Laurel is a plant that offers numerous benefits. First of all, it has digestive properties: laurel helps relieve colic and reduce abdominal swelling. Secondly it is an expectorant: in fact, laurel can eliminate phlegm and relieve cough. But it also has anti-inflammatory properties useful in case of arthritis and rheumatism. Finally it is also said that athletes used a laurel-based foot bath to reduce swelling of the feet after a sweaty race!
And that is why this miraculous plant is one of the main ingredients of our Remedium n.2 – Boost, a herbal tea designed to strengthen the immune system and protect against seasonal ills. Find out more about our herbal tea here. And discover how to prepare a Boost cold herbal tea here.
How is laurel used?
Decoctions, poultices, essential oils and herbal teas, but also dips and delicacies… bay leaves are so versatile that they will find their place anywhere. In the kitchen, bay leaves are immediately recognized by their aroma; they will bring out the flavour and exalt fish, legumes or meat dishes; they are particularly suitable for the preparation of soups, stews and baked fish.
We should also mention that the famous Aleppo soap, typical of Aleppo, a city in Syria, is prepared with laurel oil. It is a very delicate soap, recommended for those suffering from allergies and intolerances to dermatological products and perfumes, because it leaves the skin soft and hydrated.
– Aleppo soap is the oldest detergent in the world; already known in 2500 BC, it is prepared by mixing olive oil and bay leaves in variable percentages. More bay leaf oil will equate to more cosmetic benefits.
– Laurino, a digestive liqueur, is prepared with the infusion of bay leaves.
– Much loved in Sicilian cuisine, laurel was introduced in the list of Traditional Italian Agri-food Products (PAT) by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (MiPAAF) as a typical Sicilian product. Not bad, right?