Enter a Bay Tree
ABOUT a fortnight ago the postman left a large square pack
age at our door. It was the size of a hatbox and addressed to me. When opened it seemed to' contain nothing but dry leaves, but removal of these revealed a round parcel, about the size of a pudding basin. done up in the gayest of Christmas paper, all bells and Yule logs and bursting crackers. It was moist, and yielding to the touch.
Removal of the last layer of dry leaves revealed two short stems sticking out of the parcel, with green, new leaves. There was a
familiar look about these. Why did I think at once of rice pudding? Of course—they were bay leaves.
I lifted the damp parcel, removed the Christmas paper and disclosed a tiny bay tree, its roots carefully packed round with some of the soil from which it had been taken.
IT was a dampish, muggy day, and we planted the tiny tree at once, praying that the wind would not veer before nightfall and a ground frost attack this little newcomer, for bays, in spite of their reputation for flourishing, cannot stand up to very severe weather, being natives of a Southern and much warmer clime. This es probably why they are met with more often in Cornwall than in other parts of England.
THE flavouring properties of bay leaves for soups, stews, and even plum puddings, are well known, but they have health-giving
and cleansing ones as well. A 16th century writer, in what is probably the forerunner of our many books on hygiene, tells us
how to expel " odyferous savours" from the house by sweeping it thoroughly when the master is out so that he he not troubled by the dust that cloth putry fy the air; and in times a plague to burn bay leaves, juniper and rosemary as a safeguard from infection.
All the old herbalists used leaves of the bay tree "for physic both for the sick and the sound." but Culpeper went further than any of them. The bay, he claimed, was a Tree of the Sun, growing under the Sign of Leo, "and resisteth witchcraft very patently as also all the evil old Saturn can do to the body of Man, and they are not a few," and he goes so far as to claim that " neither witch nor devil nor thunder nor lightning will hurt a man in the place where a bay tree is."
Where medicine was concerned, he claimed that the ground bark of the root was efficacious in the treatment of liver complaints and of gallstones, while the juice of the berry was " very effectual against the poison of venomous creatures and the stings of wasps and bees, as also against the pestilence or other infectious diseases, and therefore is put into sundry treacles for that purpose." Not only this, but " made Into an electuary with honey " they help coughs, shortness of breath and the megrim. And he concludes with the assurance that " they mightily expel the wind and kill worms."
BUT the bay has a greater distinction than those of the foregoing, for it is the true Laurus nohilis, the tree from which wreaths were made for poets and conquerers. and the emblem used in the conferring of doctors' degrees.