"Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?"

--George Herbert, English poet (1593-1633)

"I have seen the wicked...spreading himself like a green bay tree."
--Psalms 35 (150 BCE)

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Bay leaf

(Laurus nobilis)

This evergreen shrub, native to the Mediterranean region, symbolized victory and merit to the ancients. Romans named it lauris, from laudere, to praise; accordingly it was sacred to Apollo and its leaves were used to crown the brows of poets.

Its name "bay"--from the Anglo-Saxon--also means "crown," and Nicholas Culpepper testified in 1653 to its curative powers in his Herbal, "Neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightning will hurt a man where a bay tree is."

Today these shiny oblate leaves flavor soups and sauces. They are rarely marketed fresh; in dried form, the flavor of short, oval Turkish bays are considered more subtle than their long, narrow brethren from California.