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Laurel

This plant is also known as bay leaf and shares its common name with other species (Cherry Laurel, Mountain Laurel, and Sheep Laurel), it is not related to these poisonous-leaved plants.

Laurel has given its name to the Laurel family of plants (Lauraceae). Within this family of over 2000 species are a number of aromatic plants, including Sassafras, Spice-Bush, Cinnamon-Tree, and Camphor-Tree. The Avocado, with its anise-scented fruits, is also a member of Lauraceae.

Besides its use as a spice in cooking, Laurel has a long history of use by people. The leaves contain an essential oil used in perfumery. The fruits contain lipids that are made into laurel butter which is used in human and veterinary medicine as laurin ointment, and as a sweat-inducing ingredient in aromatic baths. The fruits can be distilled to make a liqueur called Fioravanti.

Probably the most fascinating aspect of Laurel is its historical significance as an illustrious and symbolic plant. In ancient Greece Laurel was sacred to Apollo and, as such, was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for heroes, scholars, and poets (Apollo was the god of poets). Laurel became the symbol of triumph in Rome as well as in Greece. The term "laureate" derives from this tradition. In England the word laureate came to signify eminent. "Poet laureate" arose in England as a position of poet to the royal household beginning with Charles I in 1617. Some believe that "bacca-laureate", the name for the university degree of bachelor, owes its origin to this revered plant.