Laurel derives from the Celtic word “laur” (green) or from the latin verb “laudo” (I praise). Laurel is known as “Laurus nobilis” and it is widespread in the Mediterranean basin.
A lot of people often wonder about this plant and its origin. How come people started calling a plant using the verb “to praise”?
In ancient Greece the plant was sacred to Apollo, god of the sun, music and poetry, lord of Delphi. This was the city where the first of six temples in his honour was built and which was surrounded by laurel branches. The plant was also sacred to his son, Asclepius, god of medicine. For this reason, the leaves of the plant were used as a remedy for numerous diseases.
The myth of the nymph Daphne (δαφνη) is also linked to this consecration of the plant to the god Apollo and the reason why bay is still called with the name “Daphne” in Greece.
One of the many versions of the myth is told by Ovid: one day the god of the sun, Apollo, bragged to the god of love, Cupid, that he had managed to kill the snake Python. Therefore, resentful of Apollo’s behaviour, he hit him with a golden arrow, capable of making the first person he saw fall madly in love. The god Apollo placed his first glimpse on a nymph, Daphne, daughter of the river god Ladone. When Cupid saw who Apollo had fallen in love with, he decided to hit her with a lead arrow, which made her escape from love. Apollo declared his love to Daphne but she rejected him and ran away in terror. Apollo chased her and when he was about to reach her near the Peneus river, desperate Daphne invoked the help of Gaea and her father Ladone. It was in that moment that Daphne started a metamorphosis turning into a laurel tree. And from that moment on the laurel became an evergreen plant consecrated to the divine Apollo, who took the plant under his own protection since he couldn’t be with his lover anymore.
The plant was planted especially in Delphi in honour of the god.
Whereas in Thebes the Daphnephoria was celebrated: a great festival where an olive branch surrounded by laurel was carried in procession. It symbolized the triumph of light over darkness and the known over the unknown. And it was in that period of time that people started recommending to sleep on bay leaves in order to know the future.
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