From being used in wreaths centuries ago, to its variety of uses today, the laurel leaf has certainly come a long way. It has a strong cultural background and is one of the key garnishing items preferred by chefs today. Mysticurious tells you more about the symbolism and significance of laurel leaves in this article.
Did You Know?
The Laurel tree is also known as the Bay tree, Bay Laurel, Sweet Laurel, etc. However, it should not be confused with the California Bay Laurel or California Bay as the two belong to different plant families and have different characteristics.
The Laurus nobilis, commonly known as the laurel tree, is an evergreen plant with large, shiny, green leaves, native to the Mediterranean region. The laurel tree can grow up to 30 feet tall. Being dioecious in nature, laurels produce yellow male and female flowers on separate plants, along with small berry-like fruit. Besides being popular as a garnishing ingredient, laurel leaves also have interesting symbolic meanings.
Symbolism and Significance of Laurel Leaves
✦ Laurel leaves have a special place in ancient Greek and Roman cultures. One of the stories about the laurel tree in Greek mythology tells us about Apollo, one of the most powerful gods, and his love for the beautiful nymph Daphne. Apollo once ridiculed Eros, the God of Love, for carrying a bow and arrow, saying that they were meant to be carried only by those who were worthy of them. In a state of anger, Eros shot Daphne, the nymph, with an arrow that provoked hatred and dislike, and shot Apollo with an arrow that triggered intense love within him. Apollo was filled with love for Daphne, who spurned his advances for a long time. As Apollo followed her and almost caught up with her thanks to Eros, she pleaded with her father to help her so that she could escape Apollo. Her father then turned her into a tree so that Apollo could no longer want to marry her. The heartbroken Apollo vowed to take care of her forever, and to keep her safe from all danger. He also declared that her leaves would be used in crowns, and granted her eternal youth and immortality, which is why the laurel tree is an evergreen one. The Greek name for the laurus nobilis is Daphne.
✦ Laurel leaves were used to fashion wreaths that were crowned to those with the highest status in ancient Greece and Rome. The Pythian Games held in Apollo’s honor awarded laurel wreaths to the winners, as they were very important to Apollo. Today, winners of the Grand Prix are awarded laurel wreaths. Ironically, today, laurel leaves symbolize victory, despite the story that connects them to Apollo’s loss of love.
✦ Apart from being a symbol of victory, laurel leaves are also believed to be a sign of fame, success, and prosperity, according to the Bible. They are also considered to be an emblem of the resurrection of Christ. Additionally, laurel leaves are believed to keep one away from evil influences, and are supposed to protect against lightning.
✦ Laurel leaves were believed to inspire creativity, and hence, they were placed under the pillow at night for creative inspiration through symbolic dreams. At the spiritual level, laurel leaves were believed to help one awaken spiritually and become more aware of everything.
✦ Some colleges around the world crown a graduate with a laurel wreath as a sign of his achievements. The words ‘laureate’ and ‘baccalaureate’ have originated from the significance of laurel leaves, each signifying a special victory.
What Laurel Leaves Look Like.
Uses of Laurel Leaves
✦ Laurel leaves have a special aroma which is popular in potpourri and aromatherapy. It can easily be dried and crushed to make fragrant household additions.
✦ Some cultures believe that laurel leaves are excellent for curing hair dandruff and hair fall, and that they can be used as a substitute for artificial and chemical hair care products.
✦ Laurel leaves are said to repel moths and can be placed in closets for protection of cloth items.
✦ A poultice made from laurel leaves is traditionally known to treat nettle stings or poison ivy.
✦ Laurel leaves are also a popular culinary ingredient. It is either added to soups, stews, and other gravy items and removed before serving, or is used as a simple garnish on food items. However, it is not supposed to be eaten or swallowed whole, as it may cause choking or cut the mouth because of its relatively sharp edges.
✦ Oil extracted from the laurel tree is used as an ingredient while making aromatic soaps.
✦ Laurel leaves also act as an astringent.
Are Laurel Leaves Poisonous?
✦ There are many beliefs that surround laurel leaves, and it is also claimed that these leaves are poisonous. Frankly, there is no medical evidence for this, but some people suggest that laurel leaves might cause an abortion. Hence, pregnant women are strongly advised to consume them in moderation, and to consume them only after consulting a doctor.
✦ It should also be kept away from small children who may swallow it whole, as this leaf is very tough, and can cut the mouth as well as choke the children. Laurel leaves are also believed to contain some narcotic substances, which is why they should never be consumed excessively. Excessive consumption of these leaves through any sources may cause severe health problems.
From being a symbol of Apollo’s lost love to a sign of victory, from an emblem of peace to signifying creativity, laurel leaves certainly have a variety of meanings, don’t they?