December is all about harnessing our light, giving back, and winter wellness. Encouraging self-care and wellness is something we value every month here at The Herb Shoppe. However, we herbal elves want to honor our winter spirit by allowing ourselves that extra little boost we all need this time of year. After 11 long months, we finally wind down to the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. It’s dark at 4pm, our bodies are chilled and damp, the SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is creeping in, and we may find our inner light drained as the cycle of our calendar year comes to a close. However, at the same time, magic seems to fill our streets with twinkling lights and crisp night skies as we grasp onto the remaining glimmers of light during the year's longest nights.
Our December herbal star, shining brightly with magic and full of nourishment, is named Laurus nobilis. “Laurus” meaning “praise” and “nobilis” meaning “noble." This Herb of the Month is commonly known as Bay leaf. Bay leaf is a perennial shrub that is part of the larger family Lauraceae, and grows up to 50 feet tall adorning smooth, thin leaves. This species is known to be one of the earliest cultivated trees and is currently grown all over the world in places such as Central America, Southern Europe, Mediterranean regions, France, Mexico, the United States, and Southeast Asia to name a few.
This herb is legendary, with use dating back thousands of years and roots deep in Roman and Greek Mythology. Have you ever noticed the decorative crown Apollo wears? If so, then you have already met our friend Bay leaf! Apollo wore a wreath of Bay leaf after seeking Daphne, who was turned into a Laurel tree by her father. Additionally, the term “baccalaureate” stems from giving a crown of Bay leaf to signify success. It is a symbol of victory, peace, and later, of emperors when Roman leaders began to fashion them. Bay leaf is honored by many cultures for its magical abilities such as manifestation, cleansing, attraction, abundance, and ritual use. A simple practice with Bay leaf is to write down a prayer or wish on the leaf and burn it, letting the smoke set your intention. Not only is this a sweet ritual to take a small moment for ourselves, but it is also medicinally beneficial! Bay leaf contains an important chemical compound called “linalool” which relaxes the nervous system, boosts immunity, and improves respiratory function when inhaled. The smoke has a lovely aroma, and the sound of the bay leaf crackling under the flame is an experience that tends to all of the senses! I love using this practice as a way to encourage myself to be present, give thanks, or say a little prayer.
Bay leaf is classified as an emmenagogue, expectorant, diaphoretic, nervine, carminative, aromatic, and insecticide. Medicinally, this leaf has been used to heal wounds, rashes, and skin conditions, neutralize odor, and repel insects. Bay leaf has also been used to soothe earaches, nausea and vomiting, fevers, headaches, colds and flu, gastrointestinal upset, and asthma, as well as to lower blood pressure and calm anxiety. Bay leaf is antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, antibacterial, AND anti-inflammatory! It has a trace of fats, lots of vitamin A, and a small bit of vitamin C and potassium. The taste is sharp, bitter, and pungent, which makes it a highly sought-after spice in the kitchen! Great in soups, curries, and just about anything, Bay leaf is an easy addition to give us that immunity boost we are all needing this winter.
I think Bay leaf is the perfect plant ally to have readily available as we approach the winter solstice and to carry us through the dark and cold months to come. Not to mention, it can be a true lifesaver when navigating the holiday season! Sometimes this time of year is so overwhelming with work deadlines, in-law gatherings, travel, and our respective holidays. When you want to take good care of yourself, but that skincare routine or the workout you keep telling yourself you will do feels like too much, Bay leaf can help! Just one cup of tea, a few leaves in your soup, or a smudging of your room with its smoke will aid your immune system, nervous system, and maybe even call in that light and abundance that has felt dim. Try out Bay leaf in our house-made blends such as our Immune Boosting Soup blend or Orb of Night tea!
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