This is the second of our articles which looks at herbs which can be grown in an English garden. My previous article on Rosemary can be found by clicking here.
Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen tree which produces aromatic thick green leaves, and it’s these leaves which can be added to meals for added flavour.
Bay is native to the Mediterranean though it grows well in the UK, too.
Most of us may recognise bay leaves as something that we add to our soups and stews. It has not always been just an addition for flavour but was also used within traditional medicine for its healing properties.
Bay’s Traditional Medicinal Properties and Historical UsesBay leaves have been used brewed and infused with warm water and consumed. This infusion would cause the individual to increase urination (diuretic) helping to remove water from the body, as well as an emetic, to cause vomiting. It has also been associated with helping to heal wounds when used as a bay leaf wash on injuries.In the times of the ancient Romans and Greeks, crowns were made out of the true bay leaves (Laurus nobilis). It was believed to symbolise wisdom, peace and protection. These crowns were presented to individuals who had accomplished great things, including Kings, war hero’s, and Olympians.
The word Baccalaureate means laurel berries, which is related to the bay leaf crowns that these individuals were given, to show their success, as with the word poet laureate.Traditionally as well, bay leaves have been used to treat gastrointestinal problems, including impaired digestion and flatulence (Muñiz-Márquez et al., 2013).
Research Around Bay Leaves
Here, I will talk about potential benefits that bay may hold. Bay leaves contain around 81 different compounds and one of the active components is likely a polyphenol, which are compounds found in natural plant food sources and have antioxidant properties (Khan et al., 2009). One of the other compounds it contains is eugenol, an essential oil. The compounds that are found within the leaves are shown to be antiseptic, antioxidant and aid digestion.
It has been demonstrated that bay leaves have helped to improve insulin function but this was carried out in vitro (meaning the study was done in a controlled environment outside of the living organism). However before the study, it was not known what affect it would have on people (Khan et al., 2009).
A small scale study using 40 people all of whom have type 2 diabetes, were split into 4 groups, and given either 1,2, or 3 grams of ground bay leaves a day. The fourth group was given a placebo, for 30 days.
It was found that all three quantities of bay leaves significantly reduced serum glucose levels, total cholesterol decreased, with a decrease in low density lipoproteins and an increase in levels of high density lipoproteins. Triglyceride levels were also found to decrease after 30 days of consumption of the bay leaves (Khan et al., 2009). It was concluded that the consumption of bay leaves at either 1,2 or 3 grams a day decreased risk factors which are associated with both diabetes and also cardiovascular disease (heart disease).
Bay leaves may be a great addition to the diet of those with type 2 diabetes, due to its apparent beneficial effects, although as always, more research needs to confirm this with a larger sample (Khan et al., 2009).
One study found that when examining extracts of bay leaves and whether they demonstrate any antioxidant activity, it was found that these extracts showed protective effects, especially on the liver, showing it produced protective antioxidant effects (Kaurinovic et al., 2010).
The extract from bay leaves has also been found to be antimicrobial activity against pathogenic bacteria (Ramos et al., 2012).
It also appears that both its oil and consumption of bay leaves may have some anti-inflammatory properties (Sayyah et al., 2003)
It has also been indicated that the essential oils from bay leaves have antifungal properties against Candida spp. which is a yeast infection. This study found that the essential oils from the bay leaves helped to prevent the adhesion and formation of candida (Peixoto et al., 2017).
What gives bay leaves these beneficial effects is the bioactive compounds which are found within the essential oils found in the leaves (Peixoto et al., 2017).
Bay has been found to have a potentially promising role in the prevention of oral diseases (Merghni et al., 2015).
Uses for Bay Leaves in Cooking
Bay leaves can be used either fresh or dried. If using fresh bay leaves, it's best to store these in a sealed container and they also freeze well.
Dried bay leaves will keep for a long time without losing their aroma or flavour, making these a versatile store cupboard ingredient. They can also have a more intense aroma than fresh leaves.
They can be used in various ways in cooking and can be added to:
- stews or casseroles
- poaching liquid for fish
- infused in custards or rice puddings
Remove the leaves before serving.
Bay leaves should be stored in an airtight container and kept out of direct sunlight. Over time the leaves will most likely lose their potency.
When cooking with bay leaves, they are usually kept whole. It’s best to not eat them whole like this as they are tough to both chew and swallow, and may cause damage to our digestive tract.
It appears as well that bay leaves’ essential oil, due to it antibacterial properties, could play a role in prolonging shelf life of ingredients.
Bay leaves are a great addition to your regular diet and have beneficial impacts on our health. The essential oils found within bay leaves play an important role in the health benefits associated, due to their potent properties.
Daisy, MSc PGDip ANutr, is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition, both of which are Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course.
Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street.
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Kaurinovic, B. Popovic, M. and Vlaisavljevic, S. (2010). In vitro and in vivo effects of Laurus nobilis, L. leaf extracts. Molecules. 15(5), pp. 3378-3390. Available here.
Khan, A. Zaman, G. and Anderson, RA. (2009). Bay leaves improve glucose and lipid profile of people with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 44(1), pp. 52-56. Available here.
Merghni, A. Marzouki, H. Hentati, H. Aouni, M. and Mastouri, M. (2015). Antibacterial and antibiofilm activities of Laurus nobilis L. essential oil against Staphylococcus aureus strains associated with oral infections. Pathologie Biologie. Available here.
Muñiz-Márquez, DB. Martínez-Ávila, GC. Wong-Paz, JE. Belmares-Cerda, R. Rodríguez-Herrera, R. and Aguilar, CN. (2013). Ultrasound-assisted extraction of phenolic compounds from Laurus nobilis L. and their antioxidant activity. 20, pp.1149-1154. Available here.
Peixoto, LR. Rosalen, PL. Ferreira, GLS. Freires, IA. de Carvalho, FG. Castellano, LR. And de Castro, RD. (2017). Antifungal activity, mode of action and anti-biofilm effects of Laurus nobilis Linnaeus essential oil against Candida spp. Archives of Oral Biology, 73, pp. 179-185. Available here.
Ramos, C. Teixeira, B. Batista, I. Matos, O. Serrano, C. and Neng, NR. (2012). Antioxidant and antibacterial activity of essential oil and extracts of bay laurel Laurus nobilis Linnaeus (Lauraceae) from Portugal. Natural Product Research, 26(6). Available here.
Sayyah, M. Saroukhani, G. Peirovi, A. and Kamalinejad, M. (2003). Analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of the leaf essential oil of Laurus nobilis Linn. Phytotherapy Research, 17(7), pp. 733-736. Available here.