Greek name and pronunciation: Daphni, pronounced THAHF-nee (hard th sound)
At the market: Dried bay leaves, either crushed or whole, are readily available in disposable containers. It is also sold at herb farms for a kitchen herb garden.
Physical characterisitcs: Usually encountered in dried form, bay leaves are 1 1/2 - 3 inches long and are elliptical or lance shaped. Leaves are greenish-tan, and look leathery and slightly waxy, with a natural wave pattern around the edges. Leaves have a central fibrous channel (stem extension) with pronounced branching channels.
Usage: In cooking, bay leaves are used to flavor soups, stews, meat and fish dishes. They are excellent used in tomato-rich recipes. Olive oil and apple cider vinegar seasoned with bay leaves may be used to further enrich a fresh garden salad.
Bay leaves are used to add a woodsy taste during cooking, and are generally removed from the dish before serving.
Substitutes: Indian bay leaves, boldo leaves (use less, this has a stronger flavor), juniper berries (for meats)
Origin, History, and Mythology: Bay laurel trees are indigenous to the Mediterranean and parts of
It has been cultivated as a shrub and tree since the time of Homer, the ancient Greek writer and philosopher. Homer's "Odyssey" mentions bay laurel as an herb and medicine used by Ulysses.
Greeks of antiquity considered the bay laurel a sacred tree because of folklore associating the tree with both Apollo and Zeus. Pythia, Apollo's priestess and Oracle of Delphi, is said to have chewed bay leaves as part of the oracular process. In an earlier era at Delphi, Apollo is said to have made a wreath or crown from laurel to signify his victory over, slaying of, the dragon Python - the original "crown of victory," which was later (in history) bestowed upon winning atheletes at the Pythian games (at Delphi) and at the Olympian games of Greek antiquity.
Greek mythology also gave the herb its Greek name. Daphne, a beautiful nymph and daughter of the river god Peneios (Lathonas) and earth goddes Ge, was transformed by her parents into a bay laurel tree in order to retain her virginity and to escape Apollo's lustful pursuit. Hence, bay laurel is associated with purity and acts of purification.