Native to the Mediterranean region, Bay Leaf is derived from the Laurus nobilis, or “Bay Laurel,” an aromatic evergreen tree. The tree is slow-growing, and at maturity can reach a stately 60 feet in height in its native environment. In the U.S., it is most frequently grown in containers and as a shrub-sized houseplant, where it also happily thrives.
The Bay Laurel has been renowned throughout history, including in Ancient Greece and Rome, when laurel wreaths were worn as a sign of victory and status. This is also the origin of the current term “laureate,” which is used to identify a person of earned merit, and is a meaningful part of the phrase warning against “resting on one’s laurels,” or remaining satisfied with only the achievements of the past.
Bay Leaf is desirable for its ornamental properties, and is also a staple of many ethnic cuisines, including traditional Italian sauce, or “gravy.” It can most often be found in kitchens across the U.S., floating among the ingredients of an evolving soup or stew.