Bay Leaves or Laurus nobilis were extremely important to the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were a sign of glory, greatness and honor. Scholars and Olympians were crowned with wreaths of laurel. Laurel crowns were the headgear of choice of Roman Emperors.
In modern times many people will find bay leaves stashed in the back of their spice cupboard. They are only taken out for soups and stews and are rarely bought fresh on a regular basis. It is a shame that Bay is one of the more forgotten herbs since it has a number of uses both culinary and medicinal.
Diabetes Type II
According to the US National Library of Medicine and the NIH study bay leaves were shown to improve insulin function in vitro. The study showed that bay was also able to decrease fasting serum glucose. Good news in the medical community and good news for herbalists that bay leaves are now being studied for medicinal effects.
Arthritis and Rheumatism
Sore achy joints are one of the main traditional uses for bay oil. This oil can be easily made at home. For complete instructions see the Instructables Once your oil is made simply massage it into the affected area to ease pain. Herbalists have long believed bay oil to be anti-inflammatory. Decreasing the inflammation in the joints is the way to ease the pain.
Bay leaves are on the list of “safe” herbs but they are not an herb I would recommend for pregnant women. A traditional use of bay leaves was to bring on menstruation and cause miscarriage. Better to be safe than sorry in this case. Pregnant women are much better off to stick to ginger for morning sickness. Gingersnaps can be an excellent calming agent for an upset stomach.
Other uses for Bay leaves are for stomach upset, high blood pressure and insomnia. Unfortunately not a lot of study has been done on bay.
For stomach upset steep 2-3 leaves in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 3 minutes. Drink 1 – 2 cups to relieve gas and nausea.
The same infusion can be used for insomnia. The only change is to drink the infusion before going to bed. Although bay has not been tested as an aid for insomnia in people, animal studies show that bay will cause grogginess and stupefaction.
Lowering blood pressure is probably the most controversial use for bay leaves. No human trials have been conducted as yet. The herbalist Culpepper believed it would lower blood pressure. In animal studies bay has been seen to lower blood pressure mildly.
An unconfirmed urban myth exists about a gentleman having a heart attack that stopped it by chewing on bay leaves until the paramedics arrived. He had a laurel tree in his yard so the leaves were fresh.
Bay leaves add flavor to soups stews and sauces, help with digestion, calm the nerves, help you to sleep and can even relieve the pain of inflamed joints. It seems clear that a fresh supply of bay leaves is an excellent addition to any home spice/herbal medicine cupboard.
Bartram Thomas, Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Marlowe & Company New York
Kowalchik Claire & Hylton William H editors, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Rodale Press Emmanus Pennsylvania
Castleman Michael, The Healing Herbs, Rodale Press Emmanus Pennsylvania