Family: Lauraceae, Laurus nobilis L.
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Bay laurel, sweet laurel, laurel, or sweet bay, Laurus nobilis
L.an evergreen shrub or small tree native to the Mediterranean
region and Asia Minor, has been admired for its beauty and aromatic
leaves since Greek and Roman times. Currently, the plant is both
cultivated and collected from the wild in many Mediterranean countries.
Commercial production centers include areas of Turkey, Algeria,
Belgium, France, Greece, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, the
Canary Islands, Central America, and the southern United States
The reported life zone of bay laurel is 8 to 25 degrees centigrade
with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.2 meters and a soil pH
of 4.5 to 8.3 (4.1-31). Best development occurs in full sun
and deep soils. The plant can withstand several degrees of frost
The oil of laurel, accumulated in the palisade and mesophyll cells
of leaves, reaches a content of 1 to 3% on a fresh-weight
basis. There appears to be a seasonal periodicity in oil synthesis
and accumulation with significant oil increases in leaves occurring
during early summer and maximizing in mid-summer (1.2-117).
The main constituent of the essential oil includes 1,8-cineole,
- and -pinene, sabinene, l-linalool, eugenol, eugenol
acetate, methyleugenol, l--terpineol acetate, -phellandrene,
plus other esters and terpenoids (1.2-20, 1.2-120, 3.1-65,
14.1-9). The high concentrations of oil catechins in bay
laurel leaves are maintained by drying (6.3-55).
The dark to bright green leaves are very fragrant, and after drying
they are broken, cracked, or cooked to release the characteristic
aroma. Dried leaves are used as a flavoring for soups, fish, meats,
stews, puddings, vinegars, and beverages. Oil of bay or oil of
laurel leaves, the essential or volatile oil obtained by steam
distillation, and an oleoresin have replaced dry leaves in some
food preparations. Several varieties and leaf forms of bay laurel
are available for growing as ornamentals. The plant can readily
be sheared into distinctive shapes and is adaptable to outdoor
gardens and container growth. Leaves and branches are used for
garlands and wreaths.
As a medicinal plant, bay leaves and berries have been employed
against rheumatism, skin rashes, and earaches. In addition, it
has been used as a stomachic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic,
stimulant, emetic, emmenagogue, abortifacient, and insect repellent.
The esssential oil is used by the cosmetic industry in creams,
perfumes, and soaps.
There are several other plants referred to as bay, and the essential
oils of some of these plants are also known as oil of bay. An
essential oil from mountain laurel, Umbellularia californica
Nutt., an aromatic tree native to California and Oregon in the
United States, has been used as both a condiment and as an insecticide
(14.1-9). Umbellulone, a chief constituent of this plant's
essential oil, is a mucous irritant and has shown toxicological
properties (14.1-9). Safrole, another constituent in the
essential oil, has carcinogenic and hallucinogenic activity (11.1-96).
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia L.), sheep laurel (Kalmia
angustifolia L.), cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus
L.), bull bay (Magnolia grandiflora L.), bayberry (Myrica
pennsylvanica Loisel), and loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus
Ellis) should not be confused with true bay laurel, as some are
poisonous. Oil of bay obtained from the bay rum tree or West Indian
bay tree is actually from Pimenta racemosa J. W. Moore.
Laurel is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as
both a spice/natural flavoring and a plant/essential oil extract
(21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 ).
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997