Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen bush that grows wild on the Croatian coastline and islands and is an essential ingredient in Mediterranean and Dalmatian cuisine. It is one of many medicinal herbs found on the Mediterranean. It has anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties and stimulates the functioning of the respiratory system. The smell of bay leaf is relaxing, so essential oils and teas made from it are used to alleviate headaches and reduce stress.
Due to its strong scent and distinct bitterness, the olive-green bay leaf is rarely eaten; however, it is used to give a special aroma to various savoury and sweet dishes. Fresh bay leaves are commonly used for preparing desserts such as puddings, sorbets or frozen desserts made from fruit, sugar and fruit syrup, while its dried version has a wide range of applications in cooking. Dried bay laurel makes a good tea, but its leaves are mostly used as a spice, not only in various soups and stews, such as the stewed beef dish pašticada, but also for roasts, fish marinades and winter preserves, such as sauerkraut, pickled beets and pickles, where it’s used to prolong their shelf life together with vinegar.
Bay leaves are dried in a dark, well-ventilated space by separating the big green leaves and arranging them on a flat surface, and then leaving them to dry. The dried leaves can be used for several months as a spice for cooking, but they need to be kept in a well-sealed container to preserve their aromatic properties. Because of its smell, bay laurel is often used for preserving certain foods, especially sweets that attract various pests. Bay leaves were once placed in boxes of home-made sweets to repel ants and preserve treats such as the traditional kumpet, kotonjada and cookies in home pantries all along the Croatian coastline.