Bay Leaf, Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
The bay leaf, from the plant known scientifically as Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic leaf commonly used as a herb in cooking. Originating from the Mediterranean region, the bay tree is an evergreen that can grow up to 10-30 feet in height in the right conditions. Its leaves are glossy and oval with a pointed tip, usually measuring 2 to 4 inches in length. The leathery leaves have a dark green hue and are highly fragrant, releasing a woodsy, floral, and slightly minty aroma when crushed or cooked.
Aside from culinary uses, the bay leaf has a storied history, often associated with triumph and honor; in ancient Greece and Rome, bay leaves were woven into wreaths to crown the victors of games and heroes of battle. In the kitchen, bay leaves are used to flavor soups, stews, braises, and pâtés in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves are typically removed from the dish before serving, as they can be sharp and difficult to digest if left whole.
The bay tree also produces small yellow flowers in the spring, followed by berries in the fall. The plant prefers full sun or partial shade and thrives in well-drained soils. It is often grown in kitchen gardens and can be cultivated in pots for those who wish to keep it indoors or in climates less like its native warm and humid Mediterranean environment.