Plant leaves have been long used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Most of these leaves contain distinct aroma and essential oils which offer distinct flavour to the recipe. You must be aware of most of these leaves – Thyme, rosemary, curry leaves, bay leaves. In this article we focus our discussion on benefits of bay leaves.
There are many plants with leaf similar to bay leaf which finds place in spice box. But the true bay leaf (scientific name Laurus nobilis) is believed to have originated in Asia and Middle East and through spice trade reached to Europe via Mediterranean. Greeks often termed this spice as bay laurel or the tree of sun god. In legends this herb is considered symbol of wisdom and peace; in fact oracle Delphi is believed to chew/smoke bay leaves to enhance her visionary trances!
Bay laurel tree is an evergreen variety which can grow up to 10 meter tall. It produces white flowers and small single seeded berries. The secret of bay laurel lies in the leaves; which are elliptic in shape and quite similar to eucalyptus leaves. The leaves house bundle of 50+ active components which gives it sweet and pleasant aroma. The profile of these active compounds varies as the leaves dries and becomes more distinct.
Nutritional value of bay leaves
Fresh leaves are very good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folic Acid, other vitamin in B complex group and minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. However, the leaves aren’t consumed in proportion to serve enough of these nutrients. The benefits of bay leaves really lie in treasure of volatile active compounds it possesses.
The leaves bear various volatile essential oils. Some active components of the oil include pinene, myrcene, limonene, linalool, eugenol, terpineol, and chavicol along with their variants. Individually these components have demonstrated various medicinal benefits including antioxidant, antiseptic, anticancer, digestive and anti-inflammatory properties.
Dry bay leaves are used whole or in ground form in soups, stews and even sweet as flavouring agent.
Health benefits of bay leaves
Extracts of bay leaves have been used for making several medical applications. Common use is bay leaf oil which is part of aromatherapy and herbal treatments for skin and respiratory conditions. Medicinal properties of bay leaves include its ability as antioxidant, carminative, astringent, digestive, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory substance. This makes bay leaf useful for treating digestive problems, heart problems, respiratory disorders, rheumatic conditions, cancer, kidney stone and other conditions. Let’s have finer look at health benefits of bay leaves and benefits of bay leaf oil:
- Bay leaves aids digestion
Bay leaves have been long used to treat gastric disorders. Infusion from bay leaves is believed to soothe ulcers, relieve gas and abdominal pain. Addition of bay leaves in food, helps in digestion of complex protein due to enzymatic action of compounds in them.
Massaging abdomen with bay leaf oil blended with other oils like sesame oil, promotes secretion of enzymes, stimulating appetite and promotes metabolic functions. It is also helpful in relieving problems like flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal spasms, irritable bowel syndrome and Celiac disease. Just like massaging bay leaf oil, inhaling aromatic oil of bay leaf also promotes digestive functions. Animal studies have found that extracts of bay leaves have strong antioxidant properties that offer gastroprotective functions.
In Jordan and some Middle East, bay leaves are used for treatment of diarrhea. Studies have showed aqueous extract of bay leaves contain flavonoids, alkaloids and tannins which act as antidiarrheal agent. Further essential oils in bay leaves help remove toxins from body.
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- Bay leaf as an insect repellent
Essential oils in bay leaves contain lauric acid, which has insect repellent properties. Therefore bay leaves or bay leaf oil can be used in keeping away moths, cockroaches and other insects away from your home without being any harm to children or pets. Place whole dried bay leaves around damp spots, wardrobes or at various corners of your home. They leave behind nice natural aroma and also keep insects away. One may also burn a bay leaf just like incense stick to ward off pests.
- Bay leaves on respiratory disorders
Essential oils in bay leaves act as an expectorant, decongestant and antimicrobial properties which are useful against respiratory disorders. Bay leaves or bay leaves oil are effective in releasing phlegm/mucus from respiratory cavities, relieve asthma and sinus headache, cure watery eyes and other cold allergies.
Essential oil of bay leaves along with carrier oil like sesame oil or coconut oil can be directly applied to chest region to treat cold and cough. Alternately bay leave poultice can be applied and kept overnight. It would release aromatic essential oil which alleviates nasal congestion. This can be combined with consumption of bay leaves tea which fights microbes causing cold and cough from inside and eases their symptoms.
Bay leaf oil also blends well with other essential oils like eucalyptus oil or rosemary oil which are equally effective in treating respiratory infections. Why not try this home remedy on cold – add 2 drops of bay oil with 2 drops of eucalyptus oil and rosemary oil in vaporizing ointment and massage this to chest, throat, nasal region and forehead.
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- Bay leaves for treating inflammatory pain
Essential oil of bay leaves has been used in treatment of joint pain, muscular pain and arthritis. Bay oil is also used as home remedy over headache or migraine. This ability of bay leaves can be attributed to anti-inflammatory properties of phytonutrient – parthenolide and eugenol, which reduces inflammation and pain associated with it. Using bay leaves in recipes is also good way of enjoying this benefit of bay leaf.
Topical application of bay leaf oil to the inflamed region provides warmth and reduces inflammation. As home remedy over joint pain, mix 4 drops each of bay oil, lavender oil and cinnamon oil with teaspoon of coconut oil and apply to the pain area. This shall alleviate pain, reduce inflammation and irritation.
- Bay leaves for heart health
Initial research suggests that organic compounds in bay leaves reduce cholesterol in body. Animal studies with bay leaves extract confirmed that bay leaves extract reduced absorption of fat in body. This ability of bay leaves can help promote heart health. However these studies are too early to confirm if bay leaves are useful for heart.
- Bay leaves can protect from cancer
Active compounds in Bay leaves have shown strong antioxidant properties in lab studies. These compounds, including catechins, linalool, and parthenolide, have ability to protect body cells from free radicals which can result in cancerous mutation. Bay leaves extract has also been found to kill cancer cells by assisting apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which suggests its use in cure of cancer.
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- Bay leaves promotes hair growth
Bay leaf has been traditionally used in promoting hair health. It is used in form of bay leaves powder, bay leaves tea/infusion or bay leaves oil for purpose of treating hair related problems. Infusion made by heating water with bay leaves can be used for washing hair. It helps keeping scalp healthy and improves health of hair follicles. Healthy hair follicles mean healthy and strong hair. If you are looking for smooth and silky hair, you must make bay leaves tea and damp your hairs with it before shampooing.
In Ayurveda, herbal preparation made by bay leaves is used treatment of dandruff and dry scalp. Bay leaf has antibacterial and antifungal properties. So if you suffering from dry scalp and facing fungal problems, you ought to wash your scalp with this bay leaves water/tea. Regular application of bay leaves to your scalp will help get rid of this infection. Try this home remedy for dandruff and itchy scalp – Mix dried bay leaves powder with coconut oil and apply to dry scalp. Leave it for about half hour. Wash this with bay leaves water. Regular use offers multiple benefits – reduce itchiness, eradicate dandruff and promote hair growth.
Lice infestation is very common problem with long hairs and especially small children. How many times you have shortened your hair just because you were not able to handle lice? Stop worrying now, bay leaves offers natural and herbal solution to this problem. Just use of bay leaves water to wash hair and scalp regularly. Within 10 days, you would find lice being suffocated by bay leaves. Thereafter apply bay leaf oil along with coconut oil to the scalp once a week and leave it over night. Lice problem would no more be a problem. All lice and their eggs would be permanently removed.
- Bay leaves for skin problems
Just like we found that bay leaves water helps strong and silky hair, use of bay leaves water can also promote skin health. Washing your skin and face with this water gives a clean, smooth skin with even tone. Antibacterial and antifungal properties of bay leaves can also help keep skin infections at bay. Very simply, one can also store dried bay leaves powder and add this to bathing water.
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- Stress relief with bay leaf
Bay leaves contain essential oils which have natural soothing ability. Linalool, compound which is also present in thyme or basil, is present in bay leaves. Linalool has ability to reduce stress in body. Taking bath with bay leaves water is good way to relax your body. You can also use bay leaf oil in aromatherapy. In ancient Europe, infusion of bay leaves in water was used to ease the pain and anxiety of afterbirth
- Bay leaves and diabetes
Polyphenols in Bay leaves have strong antioxidant activity. Studies have found that it helps in insulin process and thereby regulate blood sugar for diabetic patients. Consumed in diet, it may reduce risk of developing diabetes. In one study, consumption of 1-3 grams per day of bay leaves for a month demonstrated significant reduction in risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
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- Bay leaves for healing wounds
Studies have shown that bay leaves have significant antibacterial and anti-inflammatory property which is helpful in healing wounds. Animal studies with extract of bay leaves were conclusively found to speed up healing process. Both oral intake of bay leaves extract and topical application of bay leaves extract were found to be useful in treating wounds. This also validates the traditional practice of using bay leaves to heal wound. Traditional herbalist applied bay leaf poultice to wrap wounds and wash wound with bay leaves water.
- Bay leaves for Kidney Stones?
Enzyme Urease is associated not only with kidney stones but also with other gastric orders. A lab study on use of traditional medicinal herbs, including bay leaves, on treating kidney stone found that it helps in reducing enzyme urease in body. More studies will help in understanding the mechanism and effectiveness of using extracts from bay leaves in treating kidney stones.
- Bay leaves and brain related problems?
Recent study tried to validate traditional use of bay leaves in treating seizures. It found that rats treated with bay leaves extract were able to manage seizure better. More studies on understanding specific chemicals present in bay leaves which contribute to this benefit are expected in future. It is understood that antioxidant properties of bay leaves could be contributing to this effect.
- Bay leaves for white teeth
As traditional home remedy for white teeth, teeth are rubbed with powder of dried bay leaves twice a week. This could be attributed to astringent effect of bay leaves.
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Caution with bay leaves
Since there are multiple leaves which are similar to bay leaves, caution is advised in choice of bay leaves. Some other leaves may be toxic and allergic in nature. Minor skin allergies are reported with use of bay leaves. Leaves are rough and often discarded when used as whole leaf. Harsh piece of bay leaf when accidently ingested may injure your mouth or food pipe.
Other Names for bay leaves include feuille de laurier, laurier franc (French), Lorbeerblatt (german), foglia di alloro, lauro (Italian), Dhafni (Greek), Teej Patta (Hindi), hoja de laurel (Spanish). Apart from bay laurel, it is also commonly known as Indian bay, Grecian Laurel, Sweet bay, Sweet Laurel.
How to make bay leaf tea? We have already read about benefits of bay leaf tea for hair and skin. To brew a bay leaf tea, heat 4-5 dried bay leaves in a liter of water. Allow it to simmer for 20 minutes. For weaker brew, just add crushed bay leaves in tea bag and dip it in hot water.
We have learned many ways of using benefits of bay leaves. Easiest is to use bay leaves in cooking. Bay leaves finds regular place in cooking recipes for its flavours. It is used as powdered form or as whole leaves. Often this is just for fragrance. It adds flavours to soups and stews. Use of bay leaf water or infusion is good way to treat your hair and skin. Bay leaf tea is good way to aid digestion, relieve respiratory problems and treat inflammatory diseases. Fragrant Bay leaf oil, dried bay leaves powder are some other forms of enjoying its health benefits. One can also simply burn bay leaf like a herbal incense and experience the aroma.
So bay leaves are far more useful to than just to add in food for flavour. More studies will unravel health benefits it holds within. Till then use bay leaves and enjoy benefits for what the bay leaves are good for.