The health benefits of Bay leaves are such that it helps in improving digestive health, treats respiratory conditions, improves hair health, has anti-inflammatory activity, improves heart health, helps in cancer prevention, reduces anxiety and stress, helps in diabetes management, used in treatment of menstrual problems, helps in inducing sleep, used as an insect repellent, used in treatment of dandruff and hair loss.
Bay leaf which is also called laurel leaf is the leaf of the sweet bay tree (Laurus nobilis), an evergreen tree of the family Lauraceae and is indigenous to countries bordering the Mediterranean. A popular spice used in pickling and marinating and to flavour stews, stuffings, and fish, bay leaves are delicately fragrant but have a bitter taste. They contain approximately 2% essential oil, the principal component of which is cineole. The smooth and lustrous dried bay leaves are usually used whole and then removed from the dish after cooking. They are sometimes marketed in powdered form. Bay has been cultivated since the ancient times.
100 grams of bay leaves contains 313 kcal of energy, 7.6 grams of proteins, 5.4 grams of water, 75 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of dietary fibre, 8.4 grams of total fat (out of which saturated fat is 2.3 grams, monounsaturated fat is 1.6 grams, polyunsaturated fat is 2.3 grams, omega-3 fatty acids is 1.1 grams and omega-6 fatty acids is 1.2 grams). The vitamins present are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate. Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese and Selenium are the minerals present in bay leaves.
Bay leaves have a very strong effect on the gastrointestinal system, both stimulating urination as a diuretic, which decreases the toxicity of the body and also stimulating vomiting (as an emetic) when something toxic has been consumed. Furthermore, the organic compounds found in bay leaves are very effective for settling upset stomachs, soothing irritable bowel syndrome, or even lessening the symptoms of Celiac’s disease. Some of the more complex proteins in modern diet can be difficult to digest, but the unique enzymes found in bay leaves help to facilitate efficient digestion and nutrient intake.
When the essential oil of bay leaves is extracted, it can be mixed into a salve and applied to the chest to help alleviate various respiratory conditions. This can also be achieved with a poultice made of the leaves. It is spread on the chest and allowed to remain overnight. Inhaling the vapours has a similar effect to aromatherapy and can loosen up phlegm and eliminate harmful bacteria that may be trapped in the respiratory tracts. This is due to its natural antibacterial quality.
In order to improve the health of the hair follicles and eliminate dandruff, bay leaves are steamed in water and then rubbed on the scalp after shampooing. The chemicals and volatile ingredients in bay leaves can help to eliminate dry skin and dandruff.
One of the most important benefits of bay leaves is their ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Bay leaves contain a unique phytonutrient, called parthenolide, which can quickly reduce inflammation and irritation when topically applied to the affected areas, such as sore joints or areas affected by arthritis. This effect can also be achieved through normal consumption of bay leaf spice.
Caffeic acid and rutin are both important organic compounds found in the bay leaves that enhance heart health. Rutin strengthens capillary walls in the heart and the body’s extremities, while caffeic acid can help eliminate “bad” cholesterol from the cardiovascular system.
The unique combination of antioxidants and organic compounds in bay leaves, including phytonutrients, catechins, linalool, and parthenolide, helps to protect the body from the effects of free radicals. Free radicals can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells, which bay leaves are particularly adept at preventing.
One of the least commonly known benefits of bay leaves is their naturally soothing quality. Linalool is often associated with thyme and basil, but it is also present in bay leaves and can help to lower the level of stress hormones in the body, especially when used in aromatherapy. Excess stress hormones can be dangerous for long-term health, so bay leaves can help you calm down and remain relaxed even in your most high-anxiety moments.
Bay leaves have been directly connected with improved insulin receptor function and regulated blood sugar levels. For patients at risk of developing diabetes or for those who have already developed the condition, regular consumption of bay leaves can significantly lower the chances of diabetic episodes.
Bay leaves, when taken orally, can induce regular and normal menstruation. They also have the property of curing vaginal discharge.
Consumption of bay leaves at bedtime helps to induce proper sleep. For this purpose, a few drops of the bay leaf extract is mixed with water and consumed.
Bay leaves are a great insect repellent as they contain lauric acid. A dish of bay leaves can ward off insects. A paste made from crushed leaves and little oil relieves stings and bites when applied topically.
A rinse made from infused bay leaves is effective in treating dandruff. Bay leaf tea is considered a great remedy for hair loss. Bay leaf oil is a tonic for hair that effectively combats dandruff and hair loss.
Bay leaves are used as flavouring in soups, stews, meat, fish, sauces and in confectionaries. Both leaves and fruits possess aromatic, stimulant and narcotic properties. The essential oil from the leaves is also used as spice and food flavouring agent and has wider application in traditional medicines of different countries. The major functional properties are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, hypoglycaemic, anti-ulcerogenic etc.
Bay leaf and bay leaf oil is likely safe for most people in food amounts. Taking the whole, intact leaf by mouth is likely unsafe. The leaf can’t be digested, so it remains intact while passing through the digestive system. This means it can become clogged in the throat or pierce the lining of the intestines.
Bay leaf might interfere with blood sugar control. Hence monitoring blood sugar closely is needed if one has diabetes and is using bay leaf as a medicine.
Bay leaf might slow down the central nervous system (CNS). There is a concern that it might slow down the CNS too much when combined with anaesthesia and other medications used during and after surgery. Using of bay leaf as a medicine should be stopped at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Bay leaf tree was probably first grown in Asia Minor. Today, the laurel tree grows all over the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the main exporters. Because of its poor resistance to freezes, laurel cannot be grown outdoors in more Northern regions (except some fortunate parts of Britain, I have been told). Contrary to some other originally Mediterranean plants, the common cultivation in medieval monasteries has not lead to more hardy breeds.