Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, December 21, 2015

25 Days of Herbs and Celebrations - December 21

Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

Me with my bay in front of orange tree

Day 21

Herb:  Laurel (Bay Leaf),  Psalm 37:35 “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.  Isaiah 44:14  He plants a laurel, and the rain makes it grow.” There are several different translations of these passages some referring to Laurel, Bay,  or luxuriant tree, Cedar, Fir, or even Ash.

Since Bay is native to the Biblical lands, I will focus on Bay for this post.


Light The Yule Log!

Winter Solstice - The Shortest Day of the Year

Yule - Lighting of The Yule Long to welcome back the sun as the days grow longer.

Pancha Ganapati is a modern five-day Hindu festival celebrated from December 21 through 25 in honor of Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture.

Dongzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dongzhi solar term (winter solstice) on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos.

About The Herb:
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis L.) sometimes called sweet bay or Grecian Laurel, native to the Mediterranean area, is a shrubby tree. Used by the Greeks to honor their Olympic winners in a wreath, the herb is also associated with Apollo and the nymph Daphne.

Transplant Bay into a sunny, well draining spot in your garden.  It grows slowly the first couple of years and then really starts to take off.  As a shrub, Bay can be harvested at will once your plant has good size growth on it.  Leaves can be picked as needed or whole branches can be harvested and dried.  Don’t toss the stems, they can also be used to flavor food or used as kabob skewers.

I did grow one of my plants from seed and I do not recommend it.  I planted 13 seeds and one!! came up 8 months later!!  Go with a transplant for happier success.

If Bay reminds you of some of your other favorite herbs such as Basil, Oregano and Marjoram it is because it shares some similar essential oils, cineol and eugenol.

Like many of the highly aromatic herbs, bay has long been used as a digestive aid and to help eliminate gas —bay leaf teas have also been used to treat colic (ask your pediatrician first!!).

CAUTION NOTE: Some recipes call for crumbling the bay leaf —do NOT do this. The leaf is so tough it does not break down in cooking and there have been a few cases where the leaf actual cut the throat or esophagus of the diner. To release flavor, crack the leaf in half or quarters, but leave together if possible. Always remove bay leaves before serving the dish.

There are few long-simmering soups, sauces or stews that will not be enhanced by a couple of Bay Leaves added during the simmering time.

Try substituting Bay for oregano or marjoram.

Store some leaves with your rice or beans in glass jars and pre-flavor them slightly.
Bay leaves discourage pantry pests, leave several exposed on shelves-makes the pantry smell great too!

Make an infusion to use in place of the whole leaf by steeping 4 leaves in cup of just boiled water. The finished color should be deep green.


Wizards In Winter
Trans Siberian Orchestra
(This musical piece is now a favorite audio for Christmas House Light Displays.)

The Holly & The Ivy


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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David Oberpriller said...

Nice write-up!

One minor technicality -- the Ancient Greeks did not use a Laurel Wreath as the prize at the Ancient Olympic Games. The prize for the winners of the Ancient Olympic Games was a Wild-olive Wreath. The Pythian Games awarded the Laurel Wreath. (The Ancient Olympics were held, as today, every 4 years. The Pythian Games were also every 4 years, but were two years after the Olympic Games. So every two years, there were alternating games.) The Pythian Games were also the ones associated with Apollo and, thus, the Laurel (Olympic Games were associated with Zeus).

I remembered this from reading an old book by Michael Rostovtzeff titled "Greece", but, alas couldn't find the reference in my copy (has a poor index). Wikipedia came through for me, though. See

An interesting side note: wreaths with laurel berries, as well as leaves, on them were considered the highest honors. Today's educational honor is called a "baccalaureate" which comes from the Greek for "laurel berries".

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

Thank you David for the reference on laurel vs. wild olive and other notes.