Laurel leavesBotany and production: The Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis of the Lauraceae family, is the only representative of this family in our part of the world. It is a dioecious tree, 2 to 10 meters high, with evergreen leaves. The female plant produces small yellow flowers followed by black or deep violet shiny fruits. The Bay laurel originates from Greece, where its ancient use is reported from Delphi. In the casting of the oracles, the place was cleaned by the smoke of laurel leaves, and it was regarded the sacred Herb of Apollo, the god of enlightenment poetry and music.
Today, it grows spontaneously all around the Mediterranean Basin, and its essential oil is available from North Africa, Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia as well.In Crete, its essential oil has been produced traditionally in the villages of Apokorona, called "Karabassi" and been used mainly for toothache and hair-care, however, today this village production has sadly ceased. In 1992 we met one of the last people producing Karabassi in a village in sub mountainous Apokoronas. An old man, he came riding on a donkey, shouting 'Karabassi', and would sell the oil measured in 'oka', using a bullet-shell to measure out the small amount. It is still in this area, that we are collecting laurel from large wild growing populations.
All parts of the tree contain essences, but the leaves most. We distill the essential oil from the young shoots in the summer months, in the stage of fruit ripening, and the fruits, though yielding a very small amount of oil, do give an interesting, delicate aroma to the oil. The leaves have to be comminuted, cut, immediately before distillation to truly liberate their oil. Laurus nobilis, steam distilled for 4-5 hours, yields approximately 0.5-0.7% essential oil. Our oil has a truly wonderful round, warm, full and rich scent, and the collection of Laurel and the distillation process itself is an illuminating experience for us again and again.