"Laurel Tree" by Constance de LaRose.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
(This is the documentation that Constance submitted for one of her entries
in the Artemisian A&S Contest in May 2000).
by Constance de LaRose
The Noble Bay or Laurel Tree
Bay -- also known as sweet bay and laurel -- is related to camphor and sassafras trees. ItÕs botanical name, Laurus nobilis, means noble bay.()
Bay trees -- evergreens which range from small, bush size plants to 40-foot specimens -- are native to Asia Minor and the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The tree has an olive green or reddish bark and produces dark purple, grape-sized berries. The two to three-inch dried leaves are stiff and brittle with dark green, shiny tops and lighter undersides. Noble bay smells balsamic and sweet, and tastes spicy and bitter.
Cultivation and Harvest
In many warm parts of the world, bay is cultivated both as a spice and ornamental. Bay leaves are picked early in the day throughout the year. They are dried in a warm area, for about 15 days, protected from sunlight. A light weight is used to keep the leaves flat during drying.
Included in the display are two examples, the first, leaves which were dried 10 months ago and are taking on the gray coloring and the second leaves which were dried 15 days ago. Both of these samples are leaves from the tree on display.
To preserve their color and flavor, store bay leaves in airtight containers, away from light. Up to 60% of the chlorophyll can be lost after one year of storage, giving the leaf a gray color.
[Note: Since this is just the written documentation for this competition entry, these display items are not available.]
Though the bay tree is traditionally and most frequently cultivated in the outdoors in warm Mediterranean countries, records from monasteries() as far north as England, in the 15th century, list small bay trees cultivated in pots in the herbarium.
A Glance at the Past
Bay has long been linked with nobility, and has long signified success and renown. The champions of the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. were awarded bay garlands, and wreaths of bay were used to crown kings, priests, poets, prophets, heroes and victors of athletic and scholarly contests in Greece and Rome. Graduates of medieval universities were decorated with fruiting sprigs of laurel – they were bacca laurea coronati or rather bacca laureati – hence the modern baccalaureate and laureate.() The distinction "poet laureate" comes from the reference to Apollo, patron of the fine arts who had a special affinity for the laurel tree.
As the story goes, Apollo loved the nymph Daphne and pursued her relentlessly. Cupid shot Daphne with an arrow, which caused her to hate Apollo; finally the gods turned her into a bay laurel tree. Apollo declared the tree sacred and thereafter wore a wreath of bay leaves on his head in remembrance of Daphne.() The Greeks came to believe that the tree would protect them from natural disasters, especially lightning. Bay trees in Greece are still sometimes called Daphne trees.
Bay perks up tomato sauces, meats, fish, and bean and grain dishes. One or two leaves is adequate flavoring for most dishes of six servings -- add to water when stewing chicken or poaching fish, or while cooking soups or stews. Bay leaf should be added early on, because it takes a while for its flavor to permeate the food. Be sure to remove the leaves before serving; they are sharp and can be dangerous if accidentally swallowed. French cuisine and cuisine of the Mediterranean region depend heavily upon bay leaf. Bay leaf is an ingredient in French bouillabaisse and bouillon, bouquet garni and many pickling blends.
However, care should be taken in using bay leaves in cooking where the dish will be served to pregnant women. Bay leaf infusion was used in period to "bring down a womanÕs courses"() which means that they can cause a miscarriage.
From the days of ancient Rome to modern times many households would add several bay leaves to containers of stored grains and beans to repel grain beetles, and add them to boxes of stored clothing to repel moths.
History of this Project
I started growing this tree about 6 years ago from a seed. There are no pictures of the early development of this tree as I was not a member of the SCA at that time and was growing it for my own enjoyment rather than with an eye towards an A&S project.
Traditionally, laurel or bay trees are started from root cuttings. However, it is possible to start one from a seed if care is taken in the early stages. A friend who was visiting the Mediterranean regions knew of my interest in horticulture and brought some seeds back for me.
I started the seed in a small greenhouse planter with a bare covering (no more than 1/8 inch) of potting soil. When the seeds sprouted I had a small celebration.
I misted the sprouts with lukewarm water every other day, to simulate its natural environment, until they attained a height of 1 inch. I then thinned them down to the three strongest sprouts.
I continued with the misting and a weekly watering (again with lukewarm water) for approximately 2 months. By that time one of the sprouts was taking over the pot so I pulled the other two sprouts and transplanted the strong one to a larger pot.
Since it was winter at that time, I placed the pot in the bathroom to approximate the warm and humid conditions of its native land. I gave the plant a deep watering of lukewarm water once a week and misted it every third day. By the end of that first winter it had grown to five inches tall and had 4 leaves growing.
During the summers I place it in the living room near the window, for the benefits of sunlight, and give it a deep watering every fourth day rather than once a week. In the winter it goes back into the bathroom.
I have transplanted this tree into larger pots four times since the original. Each time I transplant it when it stops growing. It usually droops for a few weeks after each transplant then wakes up and begins another growth spurt.
From what I have been able to learn, it is at approximately the same stage as it would be if it were growing outside in the Mediterranean. The next growth spurt should see it developing a lower bark area, which will become its trunk, as well as its first crop of berries. I have pulled and used a few of the leaves since it started growing. It is still too young to use any more without damage to the tree. Next year should also see a bit more fullness in the upper area and I will be able to judiciously use a few more of the leaves.
As you can see, this tree has already begun to develop the early bark for the trunk at its base as well as its first two branches.
Since this is a living plant and can be expected to live upwards of 100 years growing to a height of 40 feet, this will always be a work in progress. However, it will soon grow to a size that is not easily transported for display.
Deviations from Period Practice:
In my planting and transplanting, I have used modern potting soil, however I have supplemented this with biannual additions of wood ash, dried bone marrow, and dried ground bone (all of which I processed myself) as was used as fertilizer in period. I have found that, since adopting these period fertilization techniques, the tree grows faster and appears to be more healthy.
According to the US Department of Agriculture the Bay or laurel Tree has not changed appreciably since the days of ancient Rome though there are modern descendants which have been cross cultivated into various subspecies such as the spotted laurel and the bayberry bush. This particular plant was checked by local horticulturists and declared to be a true bay or laurel tree.
(1) Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University. London
(2) Greene, J. Patrick. "Medieval Monasteries", Oxbow Books, Leicester
1995 pp. 187-189
(3) Bonar, Ann. "The Macmillan Treasury of Herbs", Nicholas Enterprises Ltd.
Belgium 1985. ISBN #0-02513470-1 pg. 48
(4) Dowden, Ken. "The Use of Greek Mythology", Routledge Publishing, London
1992 pp. 58-60
(5) Gerard, John. "The Herbal or General History of Plants", Dover Publications New York. 1975 & 1633 pp 1407-1409
(6) Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair. "The Old English Herbals", Dover Publications.
New York. 1971 ISBN #0-486-26193-X pg. 51
(7) Dyer, Christopher. "Everyday Life in Medieval England", Hambledon Ltd.
London. 1994 pp. 247-254
Bonar, Ann. "The Macmillan Treasury of Herbs", Nicholas Enterprises Ltd.,
Dowden, Ken. "The Use of Greek Mythology", Routledge Publishing, London 1992
Dyer, Christopher. "Everyday Life in Medieval England", Hambledon Ltd., London 1994
Gerard, John. "The Herbal or General History of Plants", Dover Publications, New York. 1975 & 1633
Greene, J Patrick. "Medieval Monasteries", Oxbow Books, Leicester 1995
Oxford English Department. "Oxford English Dictionary", Oxford University Press, London 1998
Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair. "The Old English Herbals", Dover Publications, New York 1971
Copyright 2000 by Debbie Snyder, 4744 W. Crestmoor Ct, West Jordan, Ut 84088.
<LadyPDC at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related
publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.