Once upon a time in Rome, bay leaves—which grow on the sweet bay or laurel tree—were used to make laurel wreaths (like the one you see Apollo wearing when depicted in illustrations).
Besides headwear, bay leaves have been used throughout history as a medicinal herb.
At one time, bay leaves were used as a diuretic to remove excess water from the body, treating many different ailments.
Bay leaves also have qualities that reduce excess sweating brought on by fever, and bay leaf poultices have long been used by traditional herbalists to heal wounds.
We don’t see laurel wreaths much anymore, and most of us don’t have bay leaves in our first aid kits, but, if you make a lot of soups or stews, you probably have a package of bay leaves in your cupboard. Interestingly, modern scientists are learning that those herbalists may have been right. Studies show that bay leaves can actually accelerate wound healing, and they can also fight several different pathogens.
Bay leaves have also been proven to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel.
In addition to these medicinal properties, bay leaves are an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Vitamin B-6, magnesium, and potassium.
Bay leaves have a subtle savory flavor. For best results, add a bay leaf to your soup or sauce when it has at least 30 minutes of simmering time. That’s because it will gradually release its flavor. Bay leaves are especially good in tomato sauce, chili, and braised meats.
If you have access to fresh bay leaves, get lots while they’re fresh and store them in zipper-style plastic bags in the freezer. They’ll keep for several months that way.
What do you like using bay leaves for?
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fyi – this warning is on the Livestrong website regarding bay leave poultices:
There are several types of plants that are called bay leaves, but the only true bay leaf is Laurus nobilis. Leaves from any other plant cannot be said to have the same health benefits, and some can be toxic. According to the Herb Society of America, the Kalmia latifolia is poisonous, even though it is related to and looks similar to the bay leaf. Leaves of the California laurel, or Umbellularia californica are sometimes sold as “California bay leaves,” but they can damage the central nervous system and cause respiratory distress when inhaled.
Hmmm! I used CA. bay leaves gathered from a local park in a spaghetti sauce once, and my guest couldn’t eat it due to the strong flavor. (I did and was fine). Maybe it was deleterious! Thanks so much for this info.