A staple across the mediterranean, Europe and the Americas, Bay leaves are tough, shiny leaves that are added to slow cooked dishes to give a sweet and spicy note similar to eucalyptus.
Bay leaves were prized by the Greeks and Romans. The crown of leaves often portrayed on the heads of Greek and Roman scholars was a crown of bay leaves. In fact, the word Baccalaureate means berries of laurel, which refers to the berries grown on the bay leaf tree.
There are many varieties of bay, but the only one used for culinary purposes is laurus nobles. California bay laurel can be used as a substitute, but other laurels are extremely poisonous, so care should be taken when collecting bay leaves. Bay leaves are grown on an evergreen tree that can reach 40' tall. It does best in warm, sunny areas, but can also thrive in a container indoors. Leaves can be harvested as needed.
Bay leaves are most commonly used to infuse flavor into soups, stocks and slow cooking recipes. They are an integral part of the french bouquet garni. Bay leaves pair well with all kinds of meat and are even sometimes used in the preparation of sweet dishes. Usually bay leaves are left whole and removed after cooking, but they can also be ground.
Herbs and Spices by Jill Norman
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart