The bay leaf that we use in cooking is actually the dried leaf of the Bay Laurel tree (Laurus Nobililis). This is why bay leaves can also be known as sweet bay, sweet laurel, laurel leaf or bay laurel.
The bay laurel tree is native to Asia Minor but is now grown all over the Mediterranean, as it is suited to warm climates. There are two main types of bay leaf - the Mediterranean bay leaf and the Californian bay leaf. The Californian bay leaf is much stronger in flavour and the Mediterranean bay leaf is widely used in Mediterranean-style cooking.
The bay leaf is one of the herbs and ingredients that make up a "bouquet garni". A bouquet garni is a bunch of herbs that is tied together with string and placed into a stock, sauce or stew whilst cooking. It is used to add flavour to the dish and the bundle is removed before serving and discarded.
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In ancient times bay leaves were used medicinally for a number of things. They were used for ailments of the liver, kidney and stomach and were also thought to alleviate wasp and bee stings.
Nowadays, bay leaves are still used by herbalists to treat even more illnesses and complaints than ever. Below is a list of how bay leaves are used curatively today:
A cloth soaked in boiled bay leaves in water, which is placed on the chest can relieve chest infections, flu, coughs and bronchitis.
Massage bay leaf essential oil onto affected areas to relieve sprains, swellings, backache and arthritic and rheumatic pains.
An infusion of bay leaves will promote sweating, which will help clear up flu and feverish symptoms.
Bay leaves settle the stomach and help to treat digestive disorders.
They are useful for proper digestion and can reduce flatulence.
They can help to breakdown and digest certain food types such as proteins.
A bay leaf rinse can help to treat dandruff.
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