Bay leaf – commonly used herb for its fragrance and flavor, has a sharp and bitter taste, packed with a lot of nutrients and health benefits. It is scientifically known as Laurus Nobilis and belongs to the Lauraceae family. Bay leaves are native to the Mediterranean region and is mainly available in two variants, that is, Turkish (or Mediterranean) bay leaves and California bay leaves. They are distinguishable by the shape and flavor of the leaf. Turkish leaves are short and fat leaves and have a more subtle flavor, whereas California leaves are thin and long like silhouette and have a more strong flavor and slight minty taste. Turkish leaves are most commonly used than California leaves because of their characteristics. Other varieties like West Indian bay leaf and Indonesian bay leaf are also used throughout the world for cooking and have similar health benefits.
This herb can be easily purchased from any grocery store. Bay leaves are available in fresh or dried whole leaf, crumbled form, grounded into a powder. Also, one can grab it as bay leaf tea, capsules, and oil from any store or online. Generally, it is seen that fresh leaves are more expensive and do not last as long as the dried leaves so one can buy as per their requirements. For quality assurance, fresh bay leaves should be bright green, waxy, can bend and twist without tearing, where as dried bay leaves should be free of blemishes, cracks, and tears.
After we buy good quality bay leaves, proper storing of it is the next essential step so that its prominent flavor and all the vital nutrients are not affected. Fresh bay leaves may last for a week or two if placed in a sealed Zip lock bag and stored in the refrigerator. Dried Bay leaves can be sealed in a container and kept in a cool, dry, and dark place or in a freezer which helps bay leaves to retain its flavor and floral potency.
Generally, whole dried bay leaves are used for culinary purposes and are removed from the cooked food before eating. We can also use fresh, dried crumbled or powdered bay leaves for cooking, but we have to be cautious while using them instead of whole bay leaves. Ground bay leaves cannot be readily substituted for the whole in every recipe. When the intended flavor is met during the cooking process, we can easily remove whole leaves but ground leaves will continue to build flavor that alters the desired taste. Though, we can substitute ground bay leaves with the whole by using less than what’s needed for the recipe to balance the flavor. Crumbled leaves have more fragrance than whole leaves but are difficult to remove before eating, so the best way to use crumbled leaves is in a tea infuser.
To get the best of the taste and benefits, add bay leaves to the slow-cooked recipes and at the beginning of cooking because the longer they simmer – the better release of flavor and taste in the dish. We can use any form of bay leaves in various recipes very easily, all we need to know is the correct conversion ratios. 1 fresh bay leaf is equal to 2 dried whole bay leaves. Bay leaves are used in various cuisines, from Indian and Thai to Spanish and French. One or two bay leaves are enough for flavoring most dishes of 6 servings. Depending on the flavor, both fresh and dried bay leaves go best with soups, sauces, stews, stuffing’s, rice preparations, casseroles, and marinades but should be removed before serving the dish. Bay leaves matches well with white beans, lentils, potatoes, risotto, rice, tomatoes, citrus fruits. Bay leaves work well with other spices and herbs like allspice, garlic, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, and thyme. They can also be used for making herbal tea.
Knowing how we can consume the leaves, we should also know the safe amounts that can be consumed to avail of the health benefits. As per the research, 1 to 3 grams of ground bay leaves are considered safe to consume by every individual. 2 teaspoon of crumbled bay leaf is equal to 1.2 grams. 1 whole dried bay leaf = 1/8 to 1/4 tsp powdered or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crumbled bay leaf.
Bay leaves have plenty of nutrients like Fiber, Vitamin A, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Copper, Potassium, Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Zinc, and Magnesium. It has many volatile active compounds such as a-pinene, ß-pinene, myrcene, limonene, linalool, methyl chavicol, a-terpineol, geranyl acetate, eugenol, and chavicol. These active compounds and nutrients make bay leaf so potential for aiding various therapeutic health benefits.
Let’s understand various health benefits that we get by daily consumption of bay leaf:
- Indigestion: Bay leaves contain certain enzymes that help to digest food faster and helps in relieving indigestion. Best way to get this benefit is by consuming bay leaves tea.
- Migraine: It is proven that when bay leaves are used for aromatherapy it helps in treating migraines and has a calming effect on the mind. For aromatherapy, use 3 to 4 dried bay leaves and burn it in a bowl. This helps in infusing natural aroma in the room which when inhaled helps in aiding the benefit.
- Respiratory issues: Aromatherapy eases respiratory ailments and aids in releasing respiratory airways. Also, bay leaves extract can be used to relieve bacterial respiratory infections.
- Diabetes: According to the research, consuming 1 to 2 grams of ground bay leaves helps in maintaining good blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetic patients. It also reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL) levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes. But, before consuming it consult your doctor or a health-care professional.
- Skin health: Bay leaves act as a natural astringent for the skin. Ground bay leaves paste can be applied to cuts, bruises, and insect bites. It also helps in preventing wrinkles and relieve skin from stress.
- Hair health: It helps to get rid of dry, damaged, and brittle hair. Bay leaves with cloves acts as a natural tonic for hair. Boil and cool 5 to 6 bay leaves along with 24 cloves in water and apply it directly on the scalp, massage it, leave it overnight and you can rinse your hair thoroughly the next day. This strengthens your hair, treats dryness, dandruff, reduces the chance of getting head lice, and promotes hair growth.
- Anti-fungal effects: Most studies suggest, that it helps in relieving Candida infection. Also, it has anti-fungal effects on other fungal infections.
- Wound healing: Bay leaves contributes to better external and internal wound healing. For external cuts, ground bay leaves paste can be applied and for internal healing, bay leaves tea or ground bay leaves in any recipe helps.
- Weight loss: Few studies suggest, bay leaves help in reducing food cravings, which ultimately helps in reducing weight. Further studies are needed to prove a proper mechanism for it.
- Other health benefits: It helps in fighting inflammation, acts as a diuretic which promotes sweating and helps in flushing out body toxins, bay leaves extract helps in reducing cancer risks in adults, bay leaves oil can be used for massage, ground bay leaves can be sprinkled on toothpaste before brushing as it helps keep your teeth healthy and strong.
Now, talking about the side effects caused, as per the research, bay leaves are generally considered safe when consumed as per the recommended amount. The possible and common side effect caused due to swallowing of crumbled dried bay leaf is choking and irritation felt in the digestive tract. Females who are pregnant or lactating should not consume it in excess as it may cause adverse effects. Patients who have planned or undergone surgery should be cautious before consuming bay leaves. Bay leaves may cause allergies in some people. These leaves interact with drugs that are prescribed to control blood sugar levels, so consult a doctor before consuming it by yourself.