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This is the second in the series of posts on herbs and spices used in Greek cooking.
Bay laurel leaves are called Daphni (soft d) in Greek and has been cultivated since the time of the ancient Greek writer and philosopher Homer. In his Odyssey he mentions bay laurel as a herb and medicine used by Ulysses.
It is usually the dried bay leaves that are used, though fresh leaves can also be used, and are common as a herb in Greek cooking - especially in dishes with plenty of tomato. The leaves are removed before serving.
The origin of the name and the history are particularly interesting. The Greek name Daphni comes from the eponymous nymph, who was daughter of the river god Peneios (Lathonas) and earth goddes Gi. Her parents transformed her into a bay laurel tree (daphni) so as to escape the god Apollo and keep her virginity.
It was used for laurel wreaths - a symbol of high status - in ancient Greece, and was also given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honour of Apollo - the laurel was one of his symbols.When he slayed the dragon Python at Delphi he is said to have made a crown of victory from laurel, hence the presenting of 'crowns of victory' at the Pythian and Olympian games. The Oracle of Delphi and priestess of Apollo, Pythia, is also said to have chewed bay leaves before making her proclamations.
As well as its use in cooking, the bay laurel is also said to have healing properties. Its essential oil is said to alleviate arthritis and rheumatism with massage, and is used to treat earaches and high blood pressure in aromatherapy. Additionally, a poultice soaked in boiled bay leaves is a folk remedy for rashes caused by poison ivy, poison oak, and stinging nettle.