Laurus nobilis

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Common name   True Laurel, Sweet Bay
Hebrew name   ער אציל
أللّغة آلعربيّة   غار
Family Lauraceae
Petals 4
Leaf form Simple
Leaf margin Entire
Habitat Maquis
צורת הגבעול Round
Life form Tree
Distribution in Israel Hermon, Gallilee, Upper Jordan valley, Carmel, Samarian mountains, Judean mountains,
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Flowering months
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Herbal Medicinal

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True Laurel, Sweet Bay
© Photo: Sara Gold  
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Additional information

Laurel (Sweet Bay) is an evergreen tree, which grows in a humid Mediterranean Maqui. The tree is usually short, but may reach a height of 8 meters or more. It is often grown in ornamental gardens, and is well known mainly due to the special scent emitted by its leaves. The tree needs humidity but is sensitive to frost. Its leaves are simple, leathery, elliptical, with an entire margin and usually undulate. They are bright green and emit a sharp odor when rubbed – an odor that reminds you of pickled fish and other foods that are seasoned with bay leaves. The leaf arrangement on the stem is alternate.
Laurus nobilis blooms in the spring, between March and May. The tree is dioecious, the flowers are fragrant, gathered in inflorescences that develop in leaf axils or at the tips of branches. The flowers are yellow-white, with 4 tepals. The female inflorescence has few flowers. The ovary is superior with one loculus. The male inflorescence has numerous flowers, numerous stamens which are attached to the corolla.
The fruit is an ovate drupe that resembles an olive. It is up to 17 mm in length, green and turns black upon ripening. The fruits contain oil which is extracted from them. The plant is reproduced by seeds and by cuttings. True laurel grows in Israel on Mount Carmel, in the Western Galilee, the Peki’in mount, the Upper Galilee, Mount Hermon as well as in Samaria and the Judean Hills. Its global distribution encompasses the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
In folk medicine, the oil extracted from the fruits and leaves is used for various purposes: for calming rheumatic pain and earaches. The oil is used for anointing the body and as cosmetic oil, and as an additive of fragrance in the soap industry. It is also used for treatment of diarrhea, stomach poisoning and colds.
The leaves are also known as “bay leaves” and are used as flavoring for meat and fish dishes and for curing olives and vegetables. The leaves are used for wrapping figs in the process of turning them into dried figs, and for preserving the freshness of tobacco.

Written by Erga Aloni


Heritage

The origin of the Hebrew name is Tamudic: “Tarfa D’ara” in Aramaic, “ar” (bay) leaves. The leaves are mentioned in Tractate Gittin as medicine against intestinal worms. This is familiar and known among the Arabs to date. There is some disagreement among the Talmudic scholars between the pine and the laurel tree.
Laurel is considered noble because of its uses. The Greeks and Romans attributed the tree with attributes of magic and dedicated the tree to Apollo. The legend says that Apollo, god of the sun, mocked Eros, the god of love, on his failing attempts with his bow and arrow. In response, Eros shot an arrow at Apollo which caused him to fall in love with Daphne, the nymph of the forest. However, Daphne tired of his courtship, and when she saw that he was coming towards her at a run, she prayed to the god of the river to help her. The god of the river turned her into a laurel tree. Disappointed Apollo wore a laurel wreath on his head so that he would not forget his love.
The victorious Greeks in the city of Delphi used to decorate people with a laurel wreath for achievements in the fields of music, poetry, painting, sculpting, athletics and horse races.

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