BAY (Laurus nobilis): Origin: native to the Mediterranean region. Bay, leaf of the laurel, is symbolic of glory and resurrection of Christ, and also represents luck and pride. Laurel was associated with Apollo and Greek mythology reported that the nymph Daphne was changed into a laurel tree when Apollo pursued her. The ancient Greeks held that consumers of bay leaves would have prophetic visions. Laurel leaves were used to crown victors in the Pythian Games at Delphi, and subsequently represented special distinction for outstanding athletic and artistic performance or victory elsewhere. The ancient Greeks decorated their statues of Aesculapius (god of medicine) with laurel leaves. The ancient Greeks also attached wreaths of laurel above the entrance door to their households in the belief that doing so would avert lightning. It is said that the Pythoness [the priestess oracle at Delphi] chewed laurel leaves before inhaling the fumes and providing her prophetic answers. According to some accounts Roman generals sent military dispatches to their Emperors inside packages encased by laurel leaves. In Roman times branches of laurel were thought to protect against evil spirits. Traditional herbalists write that laurel speeds birth during difficult labors, and resists witchcraft. Long standing traditions in Europe suggested that if leaves of laurel were placed under the pillow of male students, they would become poets. The extension of this tradition goes further and reveals that when such a boy read his verses at his university, he was crowned with leaves and berries of laurel (the combined terms laurel and berry = laurel celebration, or baccalaureate). The story continues: such a boy so honored would have to study so diligently that he could give no thought of getting married, so he would remain baccalaureate, hence, the English word bachelor, and thus a BA or BS degrees are identified today as baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree. During the Middle Ages, bay leaves were thought capable of inducing abortion. In addition laurel leaf preparations were recommended for use against snakebite, wasp and bee stings, and for pain in the ears. It was widely believed that standing under a bay tree would keep away wizards. Traditionalists during the Middle Ages believed that if wives burned bay leaves the result would be that husbands would stop their extra-marital affairs and return to the home and hearth. Bay leaves also were used on St. Valentine’s Day to induce prophetic dreams: two bay leaves sprinkled with rose-water were placed on a girl’s pillow and she chanted: “Good Valentine, be kind to me, in dreams let me my true love see.” Leaves and seeds of laurel then were chewed to divine the identity of her future mate. Garlands of bay leaves have been used for centuries to decorate Christian weddings and funerals. The withering of bay trees was considered an ill omen and foretold death. This tradition is linked to the year 1629 when at Padua, Italy, a great plague broke out and all the bay trees adjacent to the university withered and died. Thereafter throughout much of Europe, the withering of bay trees was considered an ill omen that signified impending death. Other English traditions hold that bay trees protected nearby homes from lightning and therefore served as symbols of joy and triumph. In traditional English homes a special celebration took place on the night of St. Valentine’s Day (February 14th): girls who wish to know the future and who they would marry would take two laurel leaves, sprinkled them with rose-water, and then placed the leaves under their pillows and before sleep they repeated:
Good Valentine, be kind to me,
In dream let me my true love see.
And traditionalists hold that this practice would hasten sleep and the man to marry will appear in the dream. An old English tradition held that if a bay leaf was held in the mouth all day, the person will not experience bad luck. Laurel berries are believed by traditionalists to improve appetite.
(Summarized from: Thiselton-Dyer, 1889, pp. 112-113, 314; Skinner, 1911, pp. 147-148; Colin, 1962, p. 9; Northcote, 1971, pp. 141-144; (Powell, 1977, p. 89; Rätsch, 1992, p. 55; Grivetti, 2004, p. 94).