032. Laurus nobilis. Common sweet-bay.
Synonyma. Laurus. Pharm. Land. & Edinb. Dodon. 849. Catner. Epit. 60. Gerard emac. 1407. J. Bauh. Hist. 1. 405.
The Common Bay-tree. Raii Hist. 1688.
Laurus vulgaris. Bauh. Pin. 460.
Laurus major sive latifolia. Park. Parad. 598.
Laurus nobilis. Trew. nov. act. ph. med. A. N. C. vol. 2. p. 381.
Laurus foliis ovato-lanceolatis, ramis florigeris, folio brevioribus. Hall. Stirp. Helv. n. 1602.
Arbor (greek) Fructus (greek) Dioscor.
Class Enneandria, Ord. Monogynia. L. Gen. Plant. 503.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cal. o. Cor. calycina, 6-partita. Nectarium glandulis 3 bisetis, germen cingentibus. Filamenta interiora glandulifera. Drupa 1-sperma.
Spec. Char. L. foliis venous lanceolatis perennantibus, floribus quadrifidis.
The Bay-tree never rises to any considerable height, but usually sends off many radical shoots, which grow close and bushy: [Tum spissa ramis laurea servidos Excludet ictus.— Hor. lib. ii. Ode xv.] the bark is smooth, and of a dark olive colour: the leaves are elliptical, pointed, smooth, veined, entire, often waved at the margin, of a shining green colour, and Hand erect upon short channelled footstalks: the flowers come forth in April and May, and, like those of the Sassafras, are male and female upon different plants; [We have figured the male plant.] they appear in clusters of three or four together, standing upon short peduncles at the axillae of the leaves; the corolla divides into four oval leaves, which stand erect, and are of a yellowish white colour; the stamina vary in number, from seven to thirteen; there is no calyx, and the glands, &c. correspond with the generic description: the style of the female flowers is very short, and the germen becomes an oval berry, covered with a dark green rind,and separable into two lobes or cotyledons. This tree is a native of Italy, and other southern parts of Europe, and the first account we have of its cultivation in England is given by Turner in 1562; [Turn. Herb, part 2. fol. 32. in Hort. Kew. cit.] it is a handsome evergreen, and now very common in the shrubberies and gardens of this country. The leaves and berries possess the same medicinal qualities, both having a sweet fragrant smell, and an aromatic astringent taste. [Lewis M. M. 382.] —The berries are imported from the Streights, and are much stronger than the leaves. "In distillation with water the leaves yield a small quantity of very fragrant essential oil: with rectified spirit they afford a moderately warm pungent extract. The berries yield a larger quantity of essential oil: they discover likewise a degree of unctuosity in the mouth, give out to the press an almost insipid fluid oil, and on being boiled in water a thicker butyraceous one, of a yellowish green colour, impregnated with the flavour of the berry." [Their spicy warmth has recommended them for culinary purposes, and in this way they were much used by the Romans, "Apud veteres Romanos inter cibi condimenta in culinis frequenter adhibebantur, ut testatur Apicius Coelius." And the leaves both of this plant, and the common laurel, are frequently used in cuftards, &c. But the practice has by many been discontinued, since a recent and fatal proof of the poisonous qualities of the latter was made public. To such we may observe, that the common laurel, or Prunus Lauro cerasus of Linnaeus, differs very materially from the plant here represented, both in its effects and in its botanical characters. The common sweet bay may be thus used not only with safety but with the advantage of assisting digestion: and it has even been thought to obviate the poisonous effects of the laurel: "Aqua stillatitia Lauri, secundum Clar. Cantwell, antidotus est aquae stillatitia; Lauro cerasi." (Hall. l. c.) It may be remarked, however, that the deleterious part of the laurel is the essential oil which requires to be separated by distillation, in order to become an active poison.]
The Laurus of honorary memory, [Laurus planta est, Apollini lucidissimo sacra: quin etiam a Jove colitur. It was not only generally worn as a triumphal crown, but, by the Emperor Tiberius, as a protection against thunder. "Laurum fulmine non percuti veteribus persuasum suit." "Eadem superstitione nititur observatio ilia de crepitu quem folia & virgae Lauri inter urendum edunt. Nam si crepuissent abunde ac sonatius, haud dubie portendi felicem eventum rebantur: quod si tacita deflagrassent, tristem & inauspicatum." The Laurus, as well as the Olive, was considered as an emblem of peace, and called Laurus pacifera, "si ejus rami prastendebantur inter armatos hostes, firmum quietis erat indicium." (Mattbiol) Musas in Laurinls mantis Parnassi sylvis sidere sinxerunt. Eadem coronabantur Poetae. Necnon adhuc quibusdam in locis novi Medicinae Doctores Lauro coronantur: inde fortasse Laureandi & Laureati dicuntur. (Geoff.)] the distinguished favourite of Apollo [Cui Deus, At conjux quoniam mea non potes esse,
Arbor eris certe, dixit, mea. Semper habebunt
Te coma, te citharae, te nostrae, Laure, pharetrae.
Tu ducibus Latiis aderis, cum laeta triumphum
Vox canet; & longae visent Capitolia pompas.
Postibus Augustis eadem fidissima custos
Ante fores stabis; mediamque tuebere quercum.
Utque meum intonsis caput est juvenile capillis;
Tu quoque perpetuos semper gere frondis honores.
Ovid. Met. I. v. 557.] may be naturally supposed to have had no inconsiderable same as a medicine; ["Laurus apud veteres medicos magnum habuit in medicina usum, & veluti panacea aestimata suit." Geoff.] but its pharmaceutical uses are so limited in the present practice, that this dignified plant is now rarely employed, except in the way of enema, or as an external application; thus, in the London pharmacopoeia the leaves are directed in the decoctum pro somento, and the berries in the emplastrum cumini. The berries however appear to possess some share of medicinal efficacy, [Haller says, "Calida & aromatica planta, semine potissimum, cujus vires a medicis nondum pro dignitate per experiments exploratae sunt." l. c.] and if we do not allow them to be so extensively useful as represented by J. Bauhin, Tournefort, Geoffroy, and some others, yet we have no doubt of their virtus, stomachica, resolvens, pellens menses, urinam, sudorem, as stated by Fergius, who recommends them only in hysteria. They have been long thought to act with peculiar power upon the uterine system, and on this account we are cautioned against their use in pregnancy. [Baccae Lauri interne sumptas, abhorret cl. Spielmann, ob vim prout dicit, infamem abortum promovendi, sanguinemque multum exaestuandi,etiam ubi pauca solum grana data fuerint. In praxi hodierna raro exhibentur baccae; vidi tamen plures, etiam foemiras, quae pulverem e seminibus Capsici & baccis Lauri, supra memoratum, innoxie fumpserunt, saepe per octiduum. Bergius M. M. 324.] An infusion of the leaves is sometimes drunk as tea; and the essential oil of the berries may be given from one to five or six drops, on sugar, or dissolved by means of mucilages, or in spirit of wine.