Bay Leaf (Yue Gui Shu Ye)
Botanical Name: Mediterranean – Laurus nobilis. California Bay – Umbellularia californica. Indian Bay – Cinnamomum tamala. Mexican Bay – Litsea glaucescens.
There are several species of bay trees whose leaves are used as medicines and as culinary herbs. They all have similar aromatic properties, but the Indian Bay tastes more like cinnamon though milder, and the California Bay is considered to have the strongest flavor.
Below is an overview of Bay Leaf, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Bay Leaf.
Western Name: Bay Leaf
Also Known As: Bay Laurel, Pepperwood, Sweet Bay, Nobel Laurel, Roman Laurel, Daphne
Organs/Systems: Stomach, Kidney, Liver
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Diaphoretic, Emetic, Excitant, Emmenagogue, Carminative.
Pin Yin: Yue Gui Shu Ye
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Lung, Stomach
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Soothes the Stomach: aids digestion, bloating, full feeling. Soothes the Lungs/Disperses Dampness: cools sore throat, coughs, opens up mucous filled nasal passages, asthma, stuffy chest. Calms Shen: the aromatic qualities help calm and sooth anxiety.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Leaves, Fruit, Oil
Flavors/Temps: Pungent, Bitter, Aromatic
Caution: None noted. It is not recommended that the leaves be chewed and swallowed as they are too abrasive to the digestive tract.
History/Folklore: Bay leaves have a floral fragrance similar to oregano or thyme. They have been used as a flavoring by the Ancient Greeks and many Mediterranean cultures, as well as in the Americas. They are commonly used in soups, stews, meat and fish dishes and sauces. Bay leaves are a classic herb in traditional French cuisine. Typically the leaves are used whole or as part of an herbal garnish that is removed before serving the meal. They are also used in Thai and Arabic dishes, in particular Massaman Curry. In India they are used in Aram Masala.
Bay trees can live many decades. The leaves are harvested when the plant is a couple of years old. Fresh bay leaves are very bitter. The dried leaves have a deeper less bitter flavor. The older the leaf is the stronger the flavor. The oil is used by the perfume industry. The wood is also sweet-scented.
The name Lauris nobilisis derivies from the Latin “laurus” meaning to laud or praise and “nobilis” meaning noble. Esoterically, the leaves are considered a noble and strong protector that have the ability to attract the “right place” to you. The leaves can be burned to purify the air, providing comfort and freshness to a room.
In early Greece annual athletic competitions held to honor Apollo. The winner was crowned by a wreath of bay, also called, bay laurel leaves. In modern Greece, the bay laurel is called Daphne and the tree’s boughs are a national symbol. The term “baccalaureate” originates from the giving of the bay leaf crowns to signify success. The Romans held bay laurel to be a symbol of victory.
If you wish to grow bay laurel as a houseplant a blend of one-half cactus mix and one-half potting soil works well or one part sand to two parts potting soil. Water the tree well and allow it to dry for several days and be sure the tree has access to bright light.
Bay laurel is a slow growing tree, but once it is old enough, say 10-30 years it will begin to flower in the spring, followed by small fruits that birds love.
Some say the leaves and berries can have a narcotic effect. The oil is used externally for sprains, bruises and sometimes into the ear to relieve earaches. The French have also used the berries in carminative formulas.
The leaves can be harvested any time of year, with the flavor and fragrance strongest before the plant begins to bloom. Many of the most bitter tasting compounds are lost during the drying process.
Wu Gang is a character in Chinese folklore and Taoism. As a punishment for ill deeds he was given the task of cutting down a self-healing bay laurel tree that was located on the moon. The story is part of the Mid-autumn Festival, which is also known as the Moon Festival. The story has several versions but all are essentially about performing impossible tasks and not giving up. After all, how does one cut down a self-healing tree? It will always grow back! So the lesson is about not giving up. It has also been recorded that even the immortals can be sent to the moon to chop down the bay laurel when they make a mistake. This story also illustrates the value placed on the bay laurel and its self-healing properties.
Lu Wei is a popular Chinese culinary technique that slowly cooks food in a brine to yield deliciously flavored dishes. The herbs blended include bay leaf along with a variety of herbs including cardamon and cinnamon. Bay leaves are a popular flavoring in Chinese cooking.
Bay laurel is traditionally used in entomology as a key ingredient in killing jars. Fresh, crushed, young leaves are put into jars under a layer of paper. Their vapors kill insects slowly keeping the specimens relaxed allowing them to be easily mounted for preservation and study.
Myrcene, Essential oils (Eugenol, Pinene, Geraniol, Cineol and others), Polyphenol.
Repel Meal Moths
Bay leaves can be scattered in a food pantry to repel meal moths, weevils, flies, roaches, mice and silverfish.
Some Laurels Are Toxic
While some laurel trees (Cheery Laurel for example) are toxic, bay laurels are safe to eat, though they can be tough and therefore hard to digest thereby possibly scratching the digestive tract, so are often removed from meals before serving.
Bay trees can be cultivated into dense topiaries for your garden or patio. Avoid using terracotta containers.