Also called “laurel,” bay leaves were once placed on the heads of headache sufferers and Greek scholars. Today, we still confer a baccalaureate degree, which means “noble berry tree” in French. Crush a leaf and the smell is so intense it can produce a headache as easily as cure one. Apparently bay has even more interesting properties: the ancient Greek priestesses at Delphi sat over the burning fumes to increase their prophetic visions.
Extraction: Distilled from leaf (occasionally berry). Smells pungent and spicy.
Medicinal Action: Bay is a stimulant to lymph, sinuses, lungs, and circulation. It makes a very good liniment.
Emotional Attribute: Smelling bay is stimulating and is said to improve memory.
Bay Rum Tree (Pimenta racemosa) –Also called “oil of pimento,” this is the source of most commercial bay oil and the scent in Bay Rum cologne, which was originally from the Virgin Islands and made with rum. Cooler and sweeter than true bay, it scents bay soaps, cosmetics and colognes.
Allspice (P. dioica) –Familiar to cooks, this culinary seed tastes like a combination of cloves, cinnamon and pepper. It is the source of pimento water, an indigestion remedy in the West Indies and South America, where this evergreen grows. The name comes from the Spanish pimiento because the seed (actually a berry) looks like black pepper. It is sold as “Bay” oil.