The Bay Laurel, also known as Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel or Bay Tree, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub native to the Mediterranean region.
Bay Laurel is the source of the bay leaves which are used in cooking. It was also the source of the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, and therefore the expression of resting on one’s laurels. A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo and the laurel was one of his symbols ever since his unsuccessful pursuit of the nymph Daphne, who changed into a laurel to escape his lustful stalking.
In the Bible, the sweet bay is often an emblem of prosperity and fame. In Christianity it is said to symbolize the Resurrection of Christ and the triumph of Humanity. It is also the source of the word baccalaureate and of poet laureate. Some evidence from the medical literature supports Bay Laurel having these uses as an antioxidative, analgesic and anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant.
In Chinese folklore there is a great laurel tree on the moon, and the Chinese name for the laurel literally translates to moon laurel. This is the subject of a story of Wu Gang, a man who aspired to immortality and neglected his work. When the deities discovered this they sentenced Wu Gang to fell the laurel tree, whereupon he could join the ranks of the deities. However, since the laurel regenerated immediately when cut, it could never be felled. The phrase “Wu Gang felling the tree” is sometimes used to refer to endless toil, analogous to Sisyphus in Greek mythology.
It is also widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in regions with mediterranean or oceanic climates, and as an indoor plant in colder regions. Bay leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera, for example the Eastern tiger swallowtail.
In the fruit there are essential oils and fatty oils present. The fruit is pressed and water extracted to obtain these products. The fruit contains the essential oils terpene, sesquiterpene, alcohos and ketone. The leaves contain eucalyptol and similar terpenes.
Bay laurel leaves are used in the design of the 10 yen coin in Japan. The National Emblem of Greece consists of a blue escutcheon with a white cross totally surrounded by two laurel branches.