The Bay tree was originally native to the Mediterranean but is now grown throughout Europe and in north and south America. The Greeks and Romans saw bay as a symbol of wisdom and glory. The leaves were worn around crowns, honouring successful warriors. They are best grown in a sunny sheltered position with fertile, well-drained soil and can grow to be quite large. The leaves can be picked and used all year round.
The fresh leaves can be a little bitter tasting, but picked and left in a sunny spot for a couple of days to dry they lose their bitter flavour. Bay leaves have a floral aroma with scents of nutmeg and they are best used where their flavour can slowly release in recipes such as soups, stocks, and stews and in marinades. Bay leaves go exceedingly well with beef and chicken dishes, citrus flavours, and traditionally in pâtés and terrines. They are an ingredient in Bouquet garni, a cloute used to flavour Bechemel sauce and more exotically Massaman curries.