Laurel-FOR Erasmus+ project

Collaborative dictionary of mythological plants

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FUNDED BY EUROPEAN UNION

TARGET GROUP NUMBER: 1

Scientific name: Laurus nobilis

Family: Lauraceae

Genus: Laurus

Species: L. nobilis

Vulgar name

English: laurel

Spanish: laurel

Basque: ereinotz

Italian: alloro

Greek: δάφνη

Morphological description

Laurus nobilis is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with a broad base with many stems. The stems bear dense, pointed, elliptical leaves, rather leathery in texture, bright green when young and darker green when mature. The leaves are 6–12cm (2.5-5 inch) long and 2–4cm (0.8-1.6 inch) broad with smooth margins; on some leaves the margin undulates. The aroma of the leaves is not free; leaves have to be rubbed to release it.
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.

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Uses, threats and singularity

Uses:

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


Threats:

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


Singularity:

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

Symbolism

Victory - laurel wreath

Laurel leaves were used to fashion wreaths that were crowned to those with the highest status in ancient Greece and Rome. The Pythian Games held in Apollo's honor awarded laurel wreaths to the winners, as they were very important to Apollo. Today, winners of the Grand Prix are awarded laurel wreaths. Ironically, today, laurel leaves symbolize victory, despite the story that connects them to Apollo's loss of love.
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Fame, inmortality, and resurrection

Laurel leaves are also believed to be a sign of fame, inmortality, and resurrection, according to the Bible. They are also considered to be an emblem of the resurrection of Christ. Additionally, laurel leaves are believed to keep one away from evil influences, and are supposed to protect against lightning.
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Symbolic dreams and inspiration

Laurel leaves were believed to inspire symbolic dreams. Pytia at the oracle of Delphi held laurel leaves to give the prophecies, and consultants carried laurel branches sacred to Apollo. At the spiritual level, laurel leaves were believed to help one awaken spiritually and become more aware of everything.
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Academic achievement

The words 'laureate' and 'baccalaureate' have originated from the significance of laurel leaves, each signifying a special academic victory.
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Classical myths related to the plant

Daphne and Apollo

Apollo once ridiculed Eros, the God of Love, for carrying a bow and arrow, saying that they were meant to be carried only by those who were worthy of them. In a state of anger, Eros shot Daphne, the nymph, with an arrow that provoked hatred and dislike, and shot Apollo with an arrow that triggered intense love within him. Apollo was filled with love for Daphne, who spurned his advances for a long time. As Apollo followed her and almost caught up with her thanks to Eros, she pleaded with her father to help her so that she could escape Apollo. Her father then turned her into a tree so that Apollo could no longer want to marry her. The heartbroken Apollo vowed to take care of her forever, and to keep her safe from all danger. He also declared that her leaves would be used in crowns, and granted her eternal youth and immortality, which is why the laurel tree is an evergreen one. The Greek name for the laurus nobilis is Daphne.
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Daphne and Apollo in Plastic Arts

VIDEOS ON THE MYTH

Apollo & Daphne.wmv