Whether you’re looking for victory in the kitchen or for your health, you’ll want a few recipes using Laurus nobilis in your repertoire. More commonly known as sweet bay, Roman generals wore crowns of its leaves to signify they had been victorious in battle, and in ancient Greece, Olympic champions were also granted this honor. The Greeks associated this tree with Apollo, which is why poets and statesmen wore the wreaths as well, and because ancients thought lightning would never strike Laurus nobilis, branches were set on windowsills to protect the home from nature’s (or possibly Zeus’) wrath. Today, the herb is commonly used in both cooking and herbal remedies as well as a few homemade beauty treatments.
Bay leaf tea is said to have a calming effect and to aid in good digestion. Put two bay leaves in one cup of boiling water, then let steep for ten minutes or so before removing them, and sweeten to taste. A poultice soaked in boiled bay leaves can be applied to a clean cloth and rubbed on your chest to relieve bad coughs Applying bay-infused oil to achy joints or muscles can help soothe the pain. To make, add several leaves to a cup of olive oil, place in a pot over very low heat for 20 minutes, then remove and allow cooling. Strain and massage into sore area.
The astringent qualities of Laurus nobilis make it a good treatment for dandruff. Bring a quart of water to a boil, then add three tablespoons of crushed bay leaves. Cover and let steep for 25 minutes, then strain the mixture and allow it to cool. After washing and rinsing your hair, pour a cup of the bay mixture over your head and massage into scalp. Leave on for an hour, then rinse with warm water. Boiling bay leaves with chamomile, rosemary, and rose petals makes an excellent cleansing steam bath for skin.
Chicken soup has long been considered a cure-all for any number of ailments, but why not make it even more effective by adding bay leaf to your stock? In a large stockpot, combine 10 cups of water, 2 pounds of chicken, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 peeled carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 leek, 1 bay leaf, and 1 onion studded with cloves and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for 1 1/2 hours, cool, and strain. Add chicken, vegetables, and your favorite pasta!
Still don’t feel better? Follow up with bay-infused chocolate pudding! Heat 2 cups of half-and-half and 3 fresh bay leaves over medium heat until half-and-half begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 2/3 cup sugar, 2 pinches salt, and 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, then whisk in 1/2 cup milk. Pour into warm cream and place over medium-low heat, whisking until it thickens. Bring to a low boil and let stand for one minute, then remove from heat and whisk in 3 ounces of finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Remove bay leaves and chill until set, about an hour.
Always consult a doctor before using herbal remedies. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using Laurus nobilis as herbal treatments entirely, as should those anticipating surgery. Handling leaves may cause an allergic reaction. Some medications may interact with sweet bay. The plant itself, including the leaves, is not meant for consumption.