Cherry Laurel

(Prunus laurocerasus) This is the shrub, usually known simply as Laurel, so beloved of Victorian shrubbery owners, and so typical of them that the shrub is known in America as English Laurel (Cunningham & Côté). It is difficult to see why it achieved such popularity. Certainly it more or less looks after itself, but it is highly poisonous. As early as 1731, Madden of Dublin drew the attention of the Royal Society to some cases of poisoning that had occurred by the use of a distilled water of the leaves. This water had been used in Ireland for flavouring puddings and creams, and also as an addition to brandy. This is actually hydrocyanic, that is, prussic acid! O P Brown recommended the leaves as "an excellent sedative", and in fact a tincture made from the leaves is still in use in homeopathy as a sedative (Schauenberg & Paris).

A Witney (Oxfordshire) love divination was for a girl to prick her lover's name on a laurel leaf. If the prick marks turned pink, it was a sign that he would marry her, but if not, he would desert her (Oxfordshire and District Folklore Society. Annual Record; 1952).

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