Laurel-FOR Erasmus+ project
Collaborative dictionary of mythological plants
FUNDED BY EUROPEAN UNION
TARGET GROUP NUMBER: 1
The Laurus nobilis is dioecious (unisexual), with male and female flowers on separate plants. Each flower is pale yellow-green, about 1cm (0.4 inch) diameter, and they are borne in pairs beside a leaf. The fruit is a small, shiny black berry about 1cm (0.4 inch) long. Potted grown specimens seldom flower and fruit.
Uses, threats and singularity
Laurus nobilis makes a popular container plant being grown as a shrub or even topiary specimen.
It is an effective slow growing hedging or screening plant that can be kept clipped from 1-4m (3-13 feet) or left to grow into a medium sized tree. Its dark green leaves will provide an ideal backdrop for other plants. Also it is an excellent plant for topiary and is well suited to formal gardens. Its dried leaves are used in cooking and so it is an essential plant in any kitchen garden.
Culinary, the leaf is added at the beginning of cooking soups and stews and slowly imparts a deep, rich flavor. The leaf is left whole so it can be retrieved before serving the dish. To harvest leaves from a privately owned tree, cut off small branch with the desired number of leaves attached. Allow the entire branch to dry out. Remove the leaves from the branch and store them in a container to maintain the flavour of the leaf. Source consulted
All parts of the laurel are poisonous, though there are few reported cases of serious illness. The berries are the most likely to attract children. However, there is no doubt it is extremely dangerous if very much is eaten as it contains cyanide.
The leaves and stems contain small quantities of cyanide. Bundles of crushed leaves were used in ancient times to poison wells. Emperor Nero used laurel water to poison the wells of his enemies in Rome.
Laurel water (distilled from the fresh leaves of the laurel) was used in Victorian times as a medicine. However, there is a case of a death reported when it was mistaken for an alcoholic spirit and drunk by a chemist's cleaner. Effectively, it contains hydrogen cyanide.
Crushed leaves were used by butterfly collectors (in a closed jar) to kill the butterflies.
Commentators advise against burning the leaves and clippings as they also give off cyanide. It would be wise not to do so or to keep well away from the smoke.
There are cases, however, where people have become ill through inhaling the vapours from the shredded leaves, including professional gardeners who have transported the shredded leaves and branches in an enclosed van. It would be advisable not to shred laurel leaves. Source consulted
Laurus nobilis is native to the Mediterranean region. It can vary greatly in size and height, sometimes reaching 10–18m (33–59 feet) tall. Source consulted
Victory - laurel wreath
Fame, inmortality, and resurrection
Symbolic dreams and inspiration
Classical myths related to the plant
Daphne and Apollo