I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. —Psalms 37:35
The sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) grows in dense thickets in the Palestinian mountains. It retains its leathery, aromatic leaves and looks green and prosperous all year long. For the Psalmist, the “green bay tree” was a symbol of prosperity and power. It was also a mark of distinction for high office and political functions, and Greek and Roman generals sent reports of their successful campaigns wrapped in laurel leaves. (Our word “baccalaureate” means “laurel berries,” and alludes to the wearing of bay wreaths by those who receive an academic degree.)
The bay tree is a beautiful tub plant that may be trimmed into a topiary. Bay leaves have long been used as a seasoning, and the berries, leaves, roots, and barks have been employed medicinally. “Neither witch nor devil, nor thunder nor lightning will hurt a man in a place where a Bay Tree is,” said Nicholas Culpeper, 17th century herbalist.