Bay leaf is an aromatic leaf from the evergreen bay laurel tree, native to the Mediterranean. The true bay leaf, scientifically known as Laurus nobilis, is a green shrub that belongs to the family, Lauraceae.
The leaf is exceptionally rich in vitamins A, C and folic acid, as well as copper, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese. It also contains essential phytochemicals like parthenolide, volatile oils, organic compounds, caffeic acid, rutin, cineol and Lauric acid.
Bay leaf may be used as fresh or dried, whole or crushed flakes, or powdered. It may also be used as oil, paste, tea, poultice or vapours. It is an ingredient in food preparation, such as sauces and dressings.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses
Bay leaves tea can help reduce cold and flu symptoms and can also provide relief from bronchitis. The tea is effective in reducing fever. Inhaling the vapours of bay leaves might help loosening up phlegm and removing harmful bacteria in the respiratory system. Bay leaves are an excellent natural treatment for viral and bacterial infections of the respiratory tract.
Bay leaves contain valuable compounds such as rutin, salicylates, caffeic acid and phytonutrients which boost heart health and improve heart function, thereby providing protection against cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Bay leaf oil is increasingly being used in cosmetics, as it helps in reducing pigmentation and also cleansing and smoothening skin. Bay leaf essential oil helps to improve the scalp that supports hair strength and removes dandruff.
The consumption of bay leaf improves insulin function, causing reduction of blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels which is why it is beneficial for diabetics. According to a study in 2009, taking capsules that contain 1-3g of bay leaf daily can help lower and manage glucose and cholesterol levels in people with diabetes.
Drinking a concoction of bay leaf tea with hot water can alleviate common digestive disorders like constipation, acid reflux and irregular bowel movements, heartburn and flatulence. Bay leaf has diuretic, astringent and appetite stimulant properties. Bay leaves may reduce food cravings, thereby promoting weight loss.
A study found that an extract from the bay leaf plant is a natural option that might be able to help kill cancer cells by assisting apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
The anti-inflammatory property of the bay leaf makes it useful in arthritis and pain, both orally and topically.
Bay leaf is also reported to have ulcer prevention, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-seizure, sedative, stress-relieving, wound healing, insect repellant properties
Contact dermatitis and eczema breakouts have been sporadically reported. If you are allergic to other members of the Lauraceae family, then you are likely to be allergic to bay leaf as well. Moreover, bay leaves should not be consumed whole. The leaf remains intact and cannot be digested. It may become lodged in the throat or cause damage to the intestinal tract.
Also, it has been reported that bay leaf may increase blood sugar
Economic uses and potentials
The consumption of herbs and spices is fueling the demand for bay leaf in the global market. Bay leaves cost between 1,200 and 2,000 for a pack of 125g in the Nigerian market. There are opportunities in the cultivation, stocking, distribution and sales of bay leaf. There are also prospects for bay leaf in food and beverages, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, personal care and cosmetic industries.
Reference: Koganti S (2020): Bay Leaf: Potential Health Benefits, Nutrition, And Side Effects. Available at: https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/benefits-of-bay-leaf-for-skin-hair-and-health/. April 3.
MSc, MPH, FPCPharm (Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)