On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a genuine California Bay Leaf!
Bay Leaves have kind of taken the rep of being put towards the back of the spice cabinet, only to be pulled out for soups or roast chickens. But I hope that this opens your mind up to some more uses that you might enjoy!
Bay laurel has long been a symbol of strength dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Laur is the Celtic word for green & the origin for the word laurel. It was once used to crown the victors at the Greek Olympic games. It has such a rich history of fascinating folklore that I find beautiful. Many cultures felt that Bay trees and leaves offered protection. They were planted in cemeteries and outside of homes to ward off evil spirits & wreaths were even hung above beds & doorways.
“Neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightening, will hurt a man in the place where a bay-tree is.”
The essential oil from bay leaves has been used in love magic and is said to be a woman magnet for men who wear it. Writing intentions, aspirations and even questions on the leaves themselves & tossing them into the fire was professed to indicate the future. They are used to invite love & protection and scatter negativity & ill intent. The leaves were used to bind scrolls to ensure safe delivery. In ancient Rome they were believed to ensure a happy marriage and so wedding cakes were baked over a bed of bay leaves. These are just some of the claims of many cultures during several different time periods. It has been widely used in spells & magical herbalism. People have gone so far as to add them to the water while they do their laundry or sweep with them as they sweep the negativity out of their homes.
In the culinary world, they are a bit bitter & pungent while having elements of sweet & savory. They can help to stimulate the appetite & aid in digestion. Though we may keep it at the back of the spice cabinet at times, it is known as and applauded for being a background herb. A much as we love our strong flavor forward aromatics, spices and herbs, they do leave a lot of space to be filled. The subtle whisps of flavor that float through a warm dish are often thanks to a simple, magical bay leaf.
One of the reasons that you most often will see a bay leaf in a recipe for soups, stews, cream sauces, is because they slowly release their flavor. They generally do come to us dried, so that is a factor as well. If you are interested in trying them out in more of your dishes, think items that take a little more time on the stovetop. But don’t stop at just main dishes…Many desserts, drinks & sides dishes are beautiful with the addition of a bay leaf.
I like to make my own loose leaf tea blends and add a little bit of bay leaf to some of them. It adds an earthy tone as well as some medicinal qualities. I could go on and on about the ways that they have been used all over the world & I may come back to it, but for now here are a few recipes to try out with your California Bay Leaf, Enjoy!!