Also called LAUREL LEAF, leaf of the sweet bay tree, Laurus nobilis, an evergreen of the family Lauraceae, indigenous to countries bordering the Mediterranean. They have a woody, astringent flavor with a pleasant, slightly minty aroma. Bay leaves are imported primarily from Turkey. A popular spice used in pickling and marinating and to flavour stews, stuffings, and fish, bay leaves are delicately fragrant but have a bitter taste. They contain approximately 2 percent essential oil, the principal component of which is cineole. The smooth and lustrous dried bay leaves are usually used whole and then removed from the dish after cooking; they are sometimes marketed in powdered form. Bay has been cultivated from ancient times; its leaves constituted the wreaths of laurel that crowned victorious athletes in ancient Greece. Champions of the Olympic Games wore garlands of bay leaves. The word "baccalaureate," signifying the successful completion of one's bachelor studies, means "laurel berries." Bay leaves have always had a reputation for protection against lightning, witchcraft, and evil. Bay also had a legendary role in the love affair of Appollo and Daphne and was associated with romance. During the European Middle Ages bay leaves were used medicinally.