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Bay laurel


Synonyms: bay, bay leaf, sweet bay, true laurel, Roman laurel, noble laurel

botanical name: Laurus nobilis



The bay laurel tree is presumably native to Asia Minor, but it has been cultivated in the Mediterranean area as well since ancient times. Bay laurel was highly valued by the Greeks and Romans.


The countries of the Mediterranean still count as the main producers: Bay laurel is grown on large plantations, but it also grows wild.


Turkey supplies the largest harvest. In addition, considerable amounts of bay laurel are cultivated in Central and South America and in the region of the Black Sea. This herb even thrives in certain areas of Ireland and Scotland.



Bay laurel can even be grown in Germany, but it must be protected from temperatures below -5°C. It is convenient to grow the plant in a bucket that can be moved to a warmer place in the winter. The leaves can be harvested all year round. They are sold in Germany chiefly dried.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The bay laurel tree can attain a height of 15 m. To simplify the harvest it is cut back to a bush on the plantations. Bay laurel is an evergreen; its leaves are leathery, tough, curved downward and usually slightly wavy. They are oval to lanceolate, with a short stem, and are ca. 10 cm long and 3-5 cm wide. The upper surface of the dark-green leaves is shiny.


The freshly picked leaves taste bitter at first, but this disappears after 1-2 days. If the leaves are dried, the bitter substances evaporate and the typical bay-leaf aroma, which resembles nutmeg and camphor, appears. When fresh leaves are rubbed the scent is spicy-sweet.


From March to May the tree bears white-green or light-yellow blossoms, from which the violet-black, berry-like fruits develop. The dried berries are occasionally also added to seasoning mixtures.



Bay leaves contain about 1-4% essential oil, with cineole one of its chief components. Other components are variable and depend on the area of cultivation, the sort, and the time when the leaves are harvested.


Flavonoids and tannins are also contained in bay leaves.


Harmful substances

Cross-reactivity between bay leaf and crucifers has been observed in allergy sufferers. Therefore, persons who react to crucifers should also be careful with bay leaves.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Freshly picked bay leaves are less bitter after 1-2 days. The leaves will keep for several days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.


The dried leaves should be stored dry and dark in an airtight container; in this way they will remain aromatic for 1-2 years.


Broken and ground leaves give off a characteristic scent and lose their aroma more quickly. Stemless, green, dry and undamaged leaves are indicative of good quality.


Presumed effect on health

Owing to their aromatic flavour, bay leaves are considered to stimulate the appetite and to aid digestion. In folk medicine the leaves are recommended to alleviate flatulence, and their mucolytic and expectorant action is used to treat bronchial disorders.


In addition, bay leaves are used as a diuretic and sweat-inducing remedy.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Bay leaves are usually sold dried and either whole, cut or ground, but they can also be used fresh. Here we plan on about one half to one leaf per person when we cook, but in the Mediterranean countries much more is used.


The leaves are used to season broths, soups, stews, pickles and marinades. They are exceptional with tomato and béchamel sauces, but also with rice, potatoes, legumes / pulses and vegetables such as sauerkraut and red cabbage.


Bay leaf is popular for seasoning meat dishes such as sauerbraten, corned beef, aspic, lamb and mutton, beef pot roast, poultry and game. The leaves can be laid on the charcoal for barbecuing, and ground leaves are often contained in mixed seasonings for sausage.


Also fish, steamed or fried, shrimps, mussels and prawns can be seasoned with bay leaves. Or try rounding off a sweet dish such as fruit compote or pudding with the light aroma of bay leaves.

Ripe, dried laurel berries are the fruit of the bay laurel tree. An aromatic oil is extracted from them that is used to make liqueurs, salves and insect repellents.


Seasoning tip

Bay laurel should be used sparingly, as it tends to dominate. It the leaves are slightly torn, their aroma develops better; they are removed from food before it is served.


Bay leaves go well with savory, oregano, allspice, garlic and sage. They also combine well with parsley, pepper, cloves, tarragon, marjoram, thyme and juniper berries.



In ancient Greece, the bay laurel tree was sacred and dedicated to the god Apollo. Generals, heroes and victors were crowned with a laurel wreath. Even today, this wreath is a symbol of victory and glory.


In southern countries liquorice plants and fig trees are protected from insect pests with bay leaves.





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