Bay leaves: Leaves of rich aroma and flavor

This article explains about aromatic bay leaves which are mainly used for culinary purposes. Nutritional value present in them makes them eligible to be used to derive various skin and health benefits. They are serve as insect repellents.


Bay leaves are aromatic leaves used either in fresh or dried forms to add flavor and aroma in cooking. These leaves have sharp taste i.e., they taste bitter and pungent. When used for cooking purposes, they get mixed with different spices and flavors and add aroma to dishes. One thing that is clearly noticed is that taste gets masked by different spices and all that can be sensed is pleasant aroma which they leave behind. Once they are dried, they give herbal fragrance which is mildly floral and similar to fragrance of oregano and thyme.


These leaves belong to various plants. All of which are from different genera. Some of the types of bay leaves are-
  • California bay leaf (Umbellularia californica)- Also known by names like California laurel, pepper wood etc. It is the leaf of California bay tree. This bay leaf resembles Mediterranean bay laurel and can only be differentiated from it because of its strong flavor.

  • Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis lauraceae)- It is also known by the name Mediterranean bay leaf. It is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine to provide aroma in soups, stews and other dishes. It is used in both fresh and dried forms. Fresh leaves have mild flavor. Once these leaves dry after several weeks, they develop complete flavor in them.

  • Indian bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala)- These leaves resemble bay laurel in appearance. However, when it comes to taste and fragrance, they resemble cinnamon bark, but are a little milder.

  • West Indian bay leaf (Pimenta racemosa)- These leaves are usually used in production of cologne very popularly known as bay rum. Also used to flavor and provide aroma to dishes. These are leaves of West Indian bay tree.

  • Indonesia bay leaf (Syzgium polyanthum)- Also known as Indonesian laurel. These leaves are native to Indonesia and rarely found outside of it. These leaves are usually used in preparation of meat and very less used for vegetable preparation.

Chemical composition

Bay leaves comprises of 1.3% essential oils, consisting of almost 45% eucalypol, terpinyl acetate, terpenes, methyleugenal. It also comprises of alpha and beta pinenes, geraniol, linalool, lauric acid etc.

Nutritional value

Bay leaves are rich in vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium etc. They also are rich in volatile oils and contain essential phytochemicals. 100 gm of bay leaves have 46.5 m of vitamin C, 6185 IU of vitamin A and 180 mg of Folic acid. B-Complex group of vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine etc are also present in good amount. They are rich sources of minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, copper, potassium etc. Volatile active components like alpha-pinene, alpha-terpineol, gernyl actate, p-cymene, euganol, methyl chavicol, limonene etc are present. These volatile oils contain almost 50% cineol.


Bay leaves are completely safe and can be used for culinary uses. No toxic effects are noticed. Some stronly believe that after food is cooked, one needs to immediately remove these leaves as they are believed to be poisonous. However, this is not true. Care should be taken that they are not swallowed whole or even in big pieces. If done then this will cause harm to digestive tract, other organs and also poses a high risk of choking. These leaves even after thorough cooking remain very stiff and thus not edible. They do provide taste and aroma to the dishes, but rarely they soften themselves to an extent that could be chewed. Thus, there is no need to remove these leaves after food is prepared thinking of them as poisonous. Rather they should not be chewed to prevent intestinal perforations which will then demand surgery to save life. However, if they are finely ground in powder and consumed then there is no such risk. Also, some leaves of laurel family as well as unrelated family which appears similar to bay leaves but are poisonous should be avoided. They are not sold for culinary purpose and bay leaves which we find in market are very safe to use. Randomly picking similarly appearing leaves from road side may pose a threat to life.

Aroma therapy

Different aromas have different effects on both mind and body. These aromas can create soothing effect and calm down disturbing vibrations which are lingering mind and body. They take away all the stress and tension and instill positiveness and stillness within. Bay leaves can also be used in aroma therapy. They serve similar purpose as that of an incense stick. Burning a bay leaf inside home will help in the treatment of various diseases and disorders like fatigue, weakness, viral infections etc. Patients suffering from joint pains have confirmed a remarkable relief in their condition. Even it is useful in those individuals suffering from varicose veins. It boosts immunity and thereby all disorders start getting corrected by themselves. It has a calming effect on central nervous system and also tends to boost mental activity.

Bay leaves for culinary use

Bay leaves are used as an ingredient in garam masala. In India and Pakistan, they are added to number of dishes, particularly to biryani. In Philippines, they are used as a spice in the Filipino dish adobo. They have been used since ancient times in Greece and also form a very important part of Mediterranean dishes. Soups, stews, meats, vegetables and even sauces cannot be made in absence of them. Thai dish massaman curry employs bay leaves. Whole leaves need to be removed and are not edible. They can also be crushed or grounded. Crushed leaves give more fragrance than whole leaves but pose a difficulty in removal and thus it is better to use them tied in muslin cloth. However, ground leaves need not be removed and also impart very strong flavor.

Helpful in killing insects

Bay leaves are helpful in killing jars. Fresh and preferably young leaves are plucked. They are crushed and inserted inside the jar under a layer of paper. These bay leaves keep specimens relaxed and even easy to mount. This is because they release vapors which are effective in killing insects. They prevent formation of molds. They can even be scattered in a pantry or kitchen and this will prevent entry of cockroaches, mice, flies etc. They are great insect repellents. This is because they contain lactic acid. A paste made by using crushed bay leaves and small amount of oil when applied on skin relieves stings and bites.

Skin benefits of bay leaves

Bay leaves are widely used in herbal medicines. They are good sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and thus greatly benefit skin. They are used to treat snakebites and insect stings. Cuts, abrasions and bruises can be very well treated as they possess excellent healing properties. Also, oil extracted from bay leaves has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties and thus its application topically helps in the treatment of various skin infections.

Hair benefits of bay leaves

Bay leaves are rich in nutritional value and this is what make them beneficial for hair health. Bay leaf essential oil is excellent in the treatment of both dandruff as well as hair fall. Also, a rinse can be made from infused bay leaves. Regular use of this rinse will prevent dandruff effectively. A tea prepared out of bay leaves if consumed daily serves as a great herbal medicine in the treatment of hair loss. Bay leaves are of great help when it comes to getting rid of lice. A handful of crushed bay leaves should be added to boiling water. Boiling should be continued until water is reduced to one-fourth of its volume. After straining it apply on roots of hair and let it remain there for 3 to 4 hours. This will effectively kill and help in removal of lice from hair.


Bay leaves are aromatic leaves collected from various trees. They are used in both fresh and dried forms. When used in fresh forms, they are edible, but they do not impart strong aroma to the dishes when added. However, dried bay leaves when used impart complete aroma and taste. They are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and volatile oils. They are mainly used for cooking purposes. Their nutritional value makes them popular in treatment of various skin and hair problems too. Bay leaves are also used in aroma therapy. Learn 9 Amazing health benefits of bay leaves to make best use of these aromatic leaves for health purposes and live a healthy life which is free from all sorts of diseases and disorders.


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