Bay Laurel Unearthed: Decoding the Legends and Lore of Laurus Nobilis

Bay laurel has a long and storied history of symbolic use, but it’s most familiar to people today as a spice. Bay leaves can be found in the kitchens of millions that have never seen the tree in its full form. While the tree is generally only found in the Mediterranean, it can be used as decorative foliage in a bouquet or grown indoors. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Bay Laurel’s meaning and symbolism.

Essential Guide to Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis) Meaning

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) Meaning – The Essentials

Bay Laurel’s primary meaning is glory, success, and achieving your goals at any cost. It was often given to Greeks and Romans who achieved the highest ranks of society. For Victorians, it was a symbol of staying the same and devoted until death. It also had a romantic meaning in Ancient Greece.

Etymological Meaning

The common name Bay Laurel is derived from the plant’s Latin name Laurus. 

The R-sound at the end of the name changed to the L-sound as it traveled through both Old French and Old English. 

It’s believed the Latin name was borrowed from an unknown Proto-Indo-European name for the tree. The Bay or Sweet often used in the name refers respectively to the preferred habitat and scent of the plant.

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Bay Laurel 

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Bay Laurel

Common Bay Laurel Colors and Symbolism

Bay Laurel plants have two distinct colors when flowering: dark green and bright yellow. 

The dark green leaves are symbolic of wealth, fertility, growth, good health, and renewal.

Bright yellow flowers symbolize warmth, joyfulness, youth, energy, and stimulation. The combination is striking and ideal for encouraging fresh starts and new beginnings.

Bay Laurel Myths Begin in Ancient Greece

This tree first acquired its symbolic power in Ancient Greece, where it was associated with the nymph Daphne. She didn’t return the affections lavished on her by the god Apollo, so she asked the goddess Gaia for help. Gaia either transformed her into the Laurel tree or whisked her away and left the tree in her place. Apollo used the tree’s branches to fashion a mourning wreath, giving it a meaning of unrequited love and affection. 

Bay Laurel was also linked to prophecy and the art of foresight due to the use of the leaves in the rituals of the Pythia oracle. 

Finally, games and contests held in the name of Apollo gave out Laurel wreaths as the reward, and the leaves symbolized the highest levels of Greek society.

Bay Laurel Meaning in Ancient Rome

Bay Laurel Meaning in Ancient Rome

Romans also carried over the use of Bay Laurel flowers and leaves for symbolic purposes as well as practical ones. 

The strong link with Bay Laurel leaves and success comes from this culture in particular. Roman poets were crowned with Laurels as the highest honor from the state, while the leaves were added to water for purification purposes during rituals. They were not burned, which was considered an offense to the gods evidenced by the crackling noise made by the leaves.

In addition, Bay Laurel was linked mythically to many popular Roman Emperors as a symbol of their rank, most notably Caesar Augustus. 

The term “resting on your laurels” came from this period since people awarded Laurel wreaths were often set for life due to their high rank.

Bay Laurel in the Victorian Language of Flowers

While Victorians were well aware of Bay leaves and their many uses, they didn’t widely use the plant in flower arrangements. This is likely due to the fact that the flower is relatively small and only blooms for a brief period each spring. 

The foliage is a bit large to use in the small and tightly packed bouquets popular during this period as well. However, the Bay Laurel was still used occasionally to symbolize constancy and not changing until death. This kind of promise of long-term stability was often exchanged between potential or committed partners.

Christian Bay Laurel Symbolism Through the Bible

Christian Bay Laurel Symbolism Through the Bible

Most of the plants found in the Bible are mentioned in the Old Testament, but Bay Laurel is one of the only plants mentioned in the New Testament. 

Bay Laurel is an image taken from the Ancient Roman culture that was well known to the Apostles. Specifically, Paul mentions Bay Laurel as a crown for victors and later compares it favorably against a gold crown as a reward for those who persevere in their faith. Through this, it has become a popular symbol of dedication in the Christian faith.

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) FAQs:

What does Bay Laurel smell like? 

The leaves of the Bay Laurel smell spicy, sweet, and somewhat like green herbs like thyme.

Are bay laurels fast-growing? 

In the right climate, Bay Laurels planted in the ground can grow up to 6 feet per year once they get established.

How big do bay laurel plants get? 

Ground-planted Bay Laurels may reach 40 to 60 feet in height and 15 feet in canopy width. They can be pruned to smaller and more manageable sizes as well.

What do bay trees symbolize? 

Bay Laurel symbolizes success, triumph, courage, healing, and related meanings.

Can you grow bay laurel indoors? 

Bay Laurels are easily kept in a pot and moved indoors in the winter to keep them alive in cooler climates. They must be pruned regularly if kept this way.


As a symbol of success, power, rank, and devotion, the Bay Laurel is a potent plant to add to a landscape. Yet the cuttings of its flowers or foliage can add beauty and meaning to a flower arrangement as well.

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