BAY (Laurus nobilis)
Other names: Sweet Bay, Sweet Laurel
Bay has anti-septic properties and contains volatile oils such as geraniol, cineol, eugenol, terpenes and tannic acid. It also contains glyceryl laurate. Bay is also a stimulant, stomachic, and a weak insecticide, and is used to stimulate digestion.
It’s botanical name emphasises the respect with which the ancients held the plant – ‘laurus’ from the Latin meaning ‘to praise’ and ‘nobilis’ meaning ‘renowned’ or ‘famous’.
The ancients venerated this sacred herb which was used in many Pagan rites and ceremonies. The ancient Greeks held festivals to celebrate peace and victory, called the ‘Feast of the Laurel-bearing’. During the procession, Theban maidens crowned with Bay sang hymns of praise to Apollo.
People believed that this magical herb allowed prophets to foretell coming events, and the oracles of Delphi chewed Bay leaves and shook Bay trees prior to going into trance to be inspired with the gift of prophecy.
Ancient people believed that Bay offered protection due to its connection with Apollo, and Bay has always been associated with witchcraft and good luck charms as it was believed to banish evil spirit. Branches of Bay were hung in churches in medieval times to welcome good elves and fairies.
Country folk believed that Bay was a favorite wood for witch’s broomsticks. It was also believed that if Bay wood burned on the hearth with a loud crack, it was considered to be a sign of good luck. However, if the bay only smoldered on the fire, the signs were less favorable.
In ancient times it was thought that the aromatic odor of Bay helped to drive away infections.
In Roman times, Bay leaves were used in hot baths to ease aching limbs and to relieve rheumatic pain.
In modern times, Bay is a symbol of excellence in literature and the arts. The phrase ‘to look to one’s laurels’ means that success in any field has to be maintained, and to ‘rest on one’s laurels’ implies satisfaction with what has already been achieved. Bay is associated with success and honor.
Symbolically, the Bay tree represents ‘glory’ and the leaf stands for ‘unchanging affection’. The Bay is a tree of the Sun and is under the influence of the sun sign of Leo.