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Botanical Name: Laurus nobilis
Hindi Name: Tej Patta
Popularly known across the globe for its versatile and irresistable aroma and taste, bay is the leaf of an evergreen tree that is recognised by names such as Sweet Bay, Bay Laurel, Noble Laurel, True Laurel and Daphne.
The bay leaves are native to the shores of the Mediterranean, and cultivated in Britain, Asia Minor and Central America. In India, the tree grows on the south slopes of the Himalayas. The leaf is green on the surface, and fragrant aroma. It has an aromatic and bitter taste.
The composition of bay leaves (dried) is as follows:
The bay leaves have essential oil from the leaves, containing cinnamic aldehyde and traces of eugenol as its main constituents. Indian bay leaves belong to a tree closely related to cinnamon whose leaves form a good substitute.
These tough, three-veined bay leaves are popular in North Indian cuisine, due to the Mughal influence. In the Imperial Mughlai cuisine, bay leaves are used in the preparation of biryanis and kurmas, and form an essential part of the mostly used blend of spices (garam masala).
Today, bay leaf is one of the most sought-after culinary spices for flavouring soups, casseroles, stews, fish sauces, meat, poultry puddings and marinades. Bay oil is popular in a variety of liquors.
In ancient times, the leaf was highly valued as a medicine, but is now only selectively utilised. The leaves were formerly used in hysteria, flatulent colic and in treating the absence of menstrual periods, but are now only used to stimulate the digestion.
The oil is utilised widely in aromatherapy, often to very beneficial effects. The essential oil, when taken internally, is restorative and a tonic against heart palpitations, faintness, giddiness and colic. It dispels flatulence, colic, and promotes appetite. It raises the spirits, and when applied externally, the oil relieves sprains, toothache, neuralgia and rheumatism. The berries are used in treating diarrhoea and dropsy. The wood of the tree is suitable for decorative furniture and cabinet work.
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