To achieve Herb of the Year status, an herb must fit within at least two of the three following categories: (1) Medicinal, (2) Culinary, (3) Craft or Decorative. Bay is primarily a culinary plant but does have a few, limited uses as a craft herb, mostly for wreathes and decorative items.
The Herb of the Year for 2009 is Bay (Laurus nobilis)The Part Used: It is the leaves of bay that have the flavoring properties. The plant is a tree that came originally from Asia Minor but was quickly spread around the Mediterranean and beyond. Supposedly the Oracle at Delphi chewed bay leaves and inhaled the smoke of the burning leaves of bay to induce her visions. Bay, and laurel, were worn as wreaths on the head for protection, as an honor for being victorious in sports and battle. (The association with honor continues to this day, as we have poet laureates and the word baccalureate means laurel berries, signifying the completion of a bachelor's degree.
Bay leaves have long been used in flour and grain to keep pantry moths out. Medicinally, it has a long history of being used for treating high blood sugar, migraines, bacterial and fungal infections. Bay leaves and berries have been used as an astringent, carminative digestive and emetic properties. The oil (bay oil or oil of bays Oleum Lauri) has been used in bruise and sprain liniments and salves.
"It contains compounds called parthenolides, which have proven useful in the treatment of migraines. Bay leaf has also been shown to help the body process insulin more efficiently, which leads to lower blood sugar levels.It has also been used to reduce the effects of stomach ulcers. Bay Leaf contains eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Bay leaf is also an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Bay Leaf has also been used to treat rheumatism, amenorrhea, and colic." (See this link for the complete quotation).
Growing Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Bay is easy to grow in pots on the patio or indoors. Use any average potting soil and give the plant full sun for at least half the day, or indoors, use a sunny window or growlight. Pick the leaves as needed. Keep the plant pruned to size as it wants to become a tree if left to do so.
Bay is generally thought of as a background culinary herb, adding flavor in foods such as beef stew, pot roast, poultry dishes and the like. But it can just as easily be a primary flavor, as in this dessert recipe adapted from an episode of the Food Network, changing it a bit to suit my own tastes.
Bay & Warm Bananas with Vanilla Ice Cream
4 tablespoons butter
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup fresh or frozen orange juice
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
6 not quite ripe bananas, peeled and into bite sized pieces
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the bay leaves and turn in the liquid, then add the lemon & orange juices, brown sugar, bourbon and salt. Simmer the liquid until it has reduced by half and has reached a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bananas and black pepper. Stir to coat the bananas evenly. Serve still hot over ice cream.