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Laurel (Laurus nobilis L.)

Synonyms

pharmaceuticalFolia Lauri (leaves), Fructus Lauri (fruits)
AlbanianDafinë, Dafina, Dhafne, Larë
Arabicورق غار, رند, ورق اللوري
وَرَق غَار, رَنْد, وَرَق الْلَوْرِي
Waraq ghaar, Rand, Waraq al-lauri
Aramaicܕܘܦܢܝܣ, ܐܘܪܢ, ܕܗܡܣܬ, ܕܦ݂ܢܐ, ܕܦܢܝ, ܕܦܢܝܕܝܢ, ܫܐܓ
Dupanis, Avaran, Dahamast, Dafne, Dapne, Dapnidin, Shag
ArmenianԴաբնի-ի Տերեւ, Դափնի
Tapni Derev, Dabni-i Terew, Dapni
AzeriDəfnə yarpağı
Дәфнә јарпағы
BasqueEreinotz, Ereinuntza, Ereñotz, Erramu, Erramua
BelarusianЛаўровы ліст, Лаўр
Laurovy ĺist, Laur
BretonLore
BulgarianДафинов лист, Лаврово дърво
Dafinov list, Lavrovo durvo
CatalanLlor, Llorer
Chinese
(Cantonese)
月桂 [yuht gwai]
Yuht gwai
Chinese
(Mandarin)
月桂 [yuè guì], 月桂葉 [yuè guì yè]
Yue gui, Yueh kuei, Yue gui ye
Copticⲣⲓⲧⲁ
Rita
CroatianLovor
CzechVavřín ušlechtilý, Bobkový list, Vavřín, Vavřín obecný
DanishLaurbær
DutchLaurier
EnglishSweet laurel, (Sweet) Bay leaf
EsperantoLaŭro, Laŭrofolio
EstonianHarilik loorberipuu
Farsiبرگ بو
Barg-e-bu
FinnishLaakeripuu, Laakerinlehti, Laakerilehti
FrenchLaurier (noble)
GaelicCran laoibhreil, Labhras
GalicianLoureiro
Georgianდაფნა, დაფნის ხე
Dapna, Dapnis khe, Daphna, Daphnis xe
GermanLorbeer
GreekΔάφνη
Dafni
Greek (Old)Δάφνη
Daphne
Hebrewעלי דפנה, ער אציל
עֱלֵי דַּפנָה, עָר אָצִיל
Aley dafna, Ar-atsil
HungarianBabér, Babérlevél, Albertlevél, Bürbérfa, Illatfa
IcelandicLárviðarlauf
IrishDuilleog labhrais, Labhras
ItalianAlloro, Lauro
Japanese月桂樹
げっけいじゅ
ローレル, ゲッケイジュ
Gekkeiju, Roreru
Korean베이, 베이 로렐, 로렐베이, 월계수
Pei, Pei rorel, Rorel-bei, Weolgyesu, Wolgyesu
LatinBaca lauri, Folium, Laurus
LatvianLauru lapas
LithuanianLaurai; Laurų lapeliai (bay leaves)
MacedonianЛавор, Лаворов лист, Ловорово дрво, Дафиново дрво
Lavor; Lavorov list (leaf); Lavorovo drvo, Dafinovo drvo (tree)
MalteseRanda, Siġra tar-Rand
MongolianЛаврын навч
Lavryn navch
NorwegianLaurbærblad
PolishLiść laurowy (leaf); Wawrzyn szlachetny (tree)
PortugueseLoureiro (tree), Louro (leaves)
ProvençalLaurié, Lausié
RomanianDafin, Foaie de dafin, Frunze de dafin (leaves)
RussianЛавр, Лавровый лист
Lavr, Lavrovyj list
SerbianЛоворов лист, Ловор
Lovorov list, Lovor
Sinhalaබේ
Be
SlovakBobkový list, Vavrín pravý
SlovenianLovor
SpanishLaurel
SwedishLager, Lagerbärsblad
Thaiใบกระวาน, ใบเบย์
Bai krawan, Bai beyet
TurkishDefne ağacı, Habb ül-gar†, Tefne ağacı†, Tehnel; Defne yaprağı (bay leaves); Defne meyvası (laurel berries)
UkrainianЛавр
Lavr
UzbekLavr barg
Лавр барг
VietnameseLá nguyệt quế
La nguyet que
WelshArel, Llawryf, Llawryfoedd
Yiddishלאָרבער, לאָרבערבלאַט, לאָבער, אָבער
Lorber, Lorberblat, Lober, Ober
Laurus nobilis: Laurel leaves
Bay leaves: lower side, upper side, old (discoloured) leaf
Note

Not to be confused with two other spices often termed bay leaves: Indian bay-leaves and Indonesian bay-leaves. See also allspice on the so-called Caribbean or West-Indian bay-leaves.

Used plant part

Leaves. Industrially, laurel oil is prepared from the fruits, which may also be used as a spice with great success.

Plant family

Lauraceae (laurel family).

Sensory quality

Aromatic, pine-like and slightly bitter (see also zedoary on bitter spices).

Main constituents

The essential oil from the leaves (0.8 to 3%) contains mostly 1,8 cineol (50%); furthermore, eugenol, acetyl eugenol, methyl eugenol, α‑ and β‑pinene, phellandrene, linalool, geraniol and terpineol are found.

Laurus nobilis: Immature Laurel berries
Unripe bay fruits
Laurus nobilis: Dried laurel fruits
Dried laurel fruits

The dried fruits con­tain 0.6 to 10% of es­sential oil, de­pending on pro­venance and storage con­ditions. Like the leaves, the aroma is mostly due to terpenes (cineol, terpineol, α‑ and β‑pinene, citral), but also cinnamic acid and its methyl ester are reported.

From laurel fruits, a green semi­solid oil (melting point about 30 °C) can be ex­tracted, which con­tains several percent of es­sen­tial oil (main com­ponents are two sesqui­terpenoids, costunol and dehydro­costus­lacton), but is mainly composed of fatty oil: Tri­glycerides of lauric acid (dodecanoic acid), myristic acid (tetra­decanoic acid) and oleic acid (Z‑octadec-9‑enoic acid).

Origin

Probably Asia Minor. Today, the laurel tree grows all over the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the main exporters.

Because of its poor resistance to freezes, laurel cannot be grown outdoors in more Northern regions (except some fortunate parts of Britain, I have been told). Contrary to some other originally Mediterranean plants, the common cultivation in medieval monasteries has not lead to more hardy breeds (see also lovage).

Laurus nobilis: Laurel shrub
Bay leaf shrub
Laurus nobilis: Bay leaf twig
Branch of Bay Leaves
Etymology

English laurel is derived from the Latin name of the tree, laurus. Almost all languages of Western, Central or Northern Europe have related names, e. g., German Lorbeer, Danish laurbær, Swedish lager, Finnish laakeri, Italian alloro, Catalan llor, Portuguese louro, Slovenian lovor and Russian lavr [лавр].

The origin of Latin laurus is not known with certainty; it is not related to Latin laus praise. Since Latin L often corresponds to Greek (and Proto-Indo–European) D, there is the faint possibility of a connection to Greek daphne (see below). A more promising theory claims a hypothetical daurus as the original form, which would then be related to the Indo–European root DERU tree, in particular oak (see juniper for its affiliation). It is interesting to observe that in oldest Greece, oak (drys [δρῦς]) was the tree sacred to the god Zeus, while laurel took over this place in the classical period.

Laurus nobilis: Laurel tree
Laurel (bay leaf) tree
Laurus nobilis: Laurel twig
Bay twig

In the ancient Greek tongue, bay was named daphne [δάφνη] after the nymph Daphne, who was turned to a laurel shrub to escape Apollon’s per­secution. The god Apollo, then, deve­loped the habit to wear bay twigs in memory of his un­returned love (it may seem note­worthy that the ancients con­sidered this incident a tragedy — for Apollo, who lost the girl he was after). The hapless nymph is still remembered in some languages of Eastern Europe and West Asia: Bay leaves are called dafin in Romanian, dafni [δάφνη] in Modern Greek, dapna [დაფნა] in Georgian, defne in Turkish and dafinë in Albanian. There are also names meaning leaves of Daphne: Hebrew aley daphna [עלי דפנה], Bulgarian dafinov list [дафинов лист] and Armenian tapni derev [դաբնի-ի տերեւ].

In modern botanical terminology, Daphne denotes the genus of the toxic plant spurge laurel (Daphne mezereum, Thymelaeaceae/Thymeleanales/Dilleniidae).

The English term bay leaf (Middle English baye, Old French baie) derives from Latin bacca berry, meaning originally the fruits.

Selected Links

Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Lorbeer (rezkonv.de via archive.org) A Pinch of Bay Leaves (www.apinchof.com) The Epicentre: Bay Leaf Transport Information Service: Bay Leaves Herbs by Linda Gilbert: Bay Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Bay Dreampharm.com: Bay (via archive.org)


Laurus nobilis: Laurel forest in Daphne (Harbiye), Turkey
Bay forest in Harbiye (ancient Daphne) near Antakya, Turkey
Laurus nobilis: Turkish bay plantation
Bay garden in Turkey

www.ardorg.com

Bay leaves were considered holy and associated with Apollo [Ἀπόλλων] in the classic Greek era (see poppy about preclassic Greece). Although the winners of the famous Olympic Games, held every four years beginning in 776 in Olympia in honour of Zeus [Ζεύς], were originally decorated with a wreath of olive twigs, the later use of laurel wreaths is more known today. The change from olive to laurel was due to the influence of the Pythian Games, which were conducted in honour of Apollo in Delphi (Southern Greece), starting 582. Within a decade after opening the Pythian Games to all Greeks, two more festivals arose which were, in contrast, held every second year (see celery).

Much later, the Roman Emperors made use of the laurel wreath as a symbol of the god Apollo; furthermore, bay leaves were a popular spice in Roman cookery (see silphion for details).

Today, bay leaves are a rather common flavouring in all Western countries; they are used for soups, stews, sauces, pickles (see dill for herbal vinegar) and sausages; several fish dishes profit greatly from bay leaves. In contrast to the majority of leave spices, bay leaves can be cooked for prolonged time without much loss of aroma. Fresh or dried bay leaves frequently show up in bouquet garni (see parsley).

Laurus nobilis: Bay (sterile twig)
Sterile twig of bay

Fresh bay leaves are very strongly aromatic, but also quite bitter; by an appro­priate drying pro­cedure, bitterness is signi­ficantly reduced, and the flavour can even improve (cf. gale leaves, which resemble bay leaves in several aspects). After manual plucking and sorting, the leaves are quickly dried without exposure to sunlight. High-quality bay leaves are easily recognized not only by their strong aroma, but also by their bright green colour. A rule of thumb holds: The greener the colour, the better the quality. Bay leaves cannot, however, be stored as long as their tough texture might suggest, but should not be kept more than one year after plucking. Overaged leaves have lost their fragrance, show a brownish hue and taste mostly bitter.

The laurel fruits are less known, although they appear as part of commercial spice mixtures. Because of their robust taste, they fit best to tasty sauces and gravies; I like them most for potatoes. They are very good for venison (together with juniper).

Laurus azorica: Sterile Azoric Bay
A close laurel relative from the Azores, L. azorica

Because of the popu­larity of bay leaves in the West, many exotic leaf spices are commonly known as bay leaves, though not botanically nor culinarily related. In Asia, the Indian bay leaf comes from a relative of cinnamon native to the Himalayas, and Indonesian bay leaves stem from a tree of the myrtle family. There are more bay leaves in the Western hemisphere: The highly aromatic Californian bay leaves (Umbellularia californica) native to the Western USA are rarely traded because of potential health hazard. Also the so-called Mexican bay leaves (Litsea glaucescens) have little commercial value. The case is different with the West Indian bay leaves which stem from a close relative of allspice (Pimenta racemosa, also known as bay rum) and yield the West-Indian bay oil. According to some sources, the leaves of the allspice tree are also named West-Indian bay leaves when used culinarily.

Some more spices have similar culinary value than bay leaves, and adventurous cooks might want to try them. Boldo leaves, distantly related to laurel, have a strong flavour resembling regular bay leaves, but significantly stronger. Lastly, gale leaves are an old-fashioned European spice that can be used as an unusual alternative to bay leaves in many dishes, although it has no botanic relation to laurel.



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