Bay Leaf: An Ultimate Guide on Everything You Have to Know

When it comes to must-have herbs in the garden, not a lot of people will instantly think of bay leaf. It is not as popular as red basil, thyme, or oregano. Yet, as you will learn in the rest of this post, having this plant can also be beneficial in more ways than one. From its kitchen applications to its health benefits, it has an abundance of uses, which can compel you to plant it as well at home.

In the rest of this post, we will let you know more about bay leaf, including its history. We will let you know how it is used in the kitchen, as well as in the field of traditional medicine. Best of all, we will provide you with practical tips and tricks on how you can plant bay leaf.

A Look at the History of Bay Leaf

History of Bay LeafAlso known as Laurus Nobilis, bay leaf came from the Lauraceae family. It is also known as Indian Bay, Sweet Bay, Bay Laurel, and Apollo’s Bay, among other names. It originated from the Mediterranean region, but it can grow all over the world, provided that the external conditions would permit. It is also grown in Central America, North America, Russia, Mexico, Spain, France, and Turkey, among others.

While it is unknown exactly where bay leaf came from, what is clear is the fact that since the ancient times, it is used in more ways than one. Amongst its many applications, it is a representation of greatness. In fact, the Greeks and the Romans used bay leaves to make crowns, which, in turn, are given to people who have shown greatness in their respective fields. Esteemed scholars, also known as baccalaureates, are also often pictured wearing bay leaves in their heads.

Apollo, known as the god of sun, truth, and prophesy, is also known to be a lover of bay leaf. He sees it as a sacred plant and his image is often depicted wearing a wreath made from bay leaves. Apollo used to be deeply in love with a lady named Daphne. To protect Daphne from the advances of Apollo, her father Peneus, turned her into a bay leaf.

Different Types of Bay Leaf

It can be further categorized into the following:

Also known as laurel bay, this is what most of us would imagine when we mention bay leaf. Its leaves can grow from 3 to 8 centimeters and its height can reach up to 16 meters. It is aromatic and flavorful, making it popular for its culinary applications.

European Bay Leaf

This is asserted to be the most unique from all the types. They are known for having oval leaves, which usually grows at a length of 1 to 4 inches. They are soft, yet they exhibit a strong flavor and aroma.
This type of bay leaf comes with leaves that are long and slender, which commonly has a length of 2 to 5 inches. The color is bright green. The flavor is also strong and said to be slightly astringent.
Originating from the Himalayas, it is one of the most popular ingredients in North Indian cuisine. It has a different taste, which is often closer to the flavor of cinnamon than bay laurel.
Sometimes called Balinese bay leaf, it is native to Indonesia. It is a popular choice for seasoning meat, but seldom used in vegetables. It has a sweeter flavor profile.

How Can Bay Leaf be Good for Your Health

Since the olden days until today, bay leaf has a reputation of not only being a flavorful herb, but for also beneficial when it comes to health. With this, the following are some of the good ways by which it can affect your health:

  • Wound Healing: This is one of the traditional applications of bay leaves. In one study published at the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal in 2006, bay leaves were found to be effective in healing wounds in rats, and the same effect is believed to be true in the case of humans.
  • Digestion: If you are suffering from digestive problems, bay leaves can also be an excellent choice for natural treatment. Bay leaf mixed with hot water can effectively provide relief to a number of digestive problems, such as irregular bowel movements and constipation. It also has unique enzymes that can aid in the digestion of complex proteins.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Bay leaves have a high concentration of phytonutrients, which will help in strengthening the heart. It also contains rutin, which can strengthen the cardiac wall. Caffeic acid, meanwhile, can help in regulating cholesterol in the body.
  • Pain Relief: Oil extracted from bay leaf can be promising in terms of relief from common types of pain. If you have headache and migraine, massaging the temples with bay leaf oil can help. It is also promising for providing relief from arthritic pain.
  • Diabetes: Bay leaf also has positive impact in regulating triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood glucose, making its instrumental for the treatment and prevention of Type 2 diabetes. It has antioxidants that can help the body to efficiently process insulin. A study published from the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition in 2009 has proven such claims.
  • Cancer Prevention: It is also abundant with chemo-protective properties, including catechins, eugenol, and quercetin, which will help in increasing the defense of the body from cancer cells.
  • Coughs and Cold: Historically, bay leaves are also used in the treatment of common flu symptoms. All that you have to do is to boil bay leaves in water, allow it to vaporize, soak a cloth, and place the cloth on your chest.
  • Anxiety and Stress: It is also known to be a naturally soothing herb. It contains linalool, which you can also find in basil and thyme. The latter will help in lowering the hormones that can cause stress.
  • Kidney Problems: Using 5 grams of bay leaves, boil it in 200 ml of water. Wait until the volume of water is reduced to at least 50 ml. Strain to get rid of the leaves and drink. This is a natural way to help in the prevention of kidney stones.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Parthenolide, a unique form of phytonutrient, is a compound in bay leaf that makes it an effective choice in combating inflammation. Topical application of bay leaves can immediately provide relief from arthritis and sore joints. It can also help in the improvement of blood circulation.
Bay Leaf Supplements

Bay Leaves are also beneficial When It Comes to Health

Other Uses of Bay Leaf

Aside from its health benefits, bay leaves are known for their varied applications, which include the following:

  • Insect Repellent: The high content of lauric acid is basically the one that is responsible for this benefit. You can keep it in a dish and this will help to keep insects away. It will be good in the garden to get rid of common pests.
  • Natural Facial Wash: Looking for a way to get rid of acne without resorting to products with harsh ingredients? A simple solution would be crushing bay leaves and mixing with boiling water. Strain the water, let it cool, and use it to wash your face.
  • Natural Shampoo: Bay leaves also have components that are known for helping in the prevention of lice and dandruff. It can help in the treatment of dry scalp, as well as in bringing back your hair follicles at their best state.
  • Meat Rub: If you want a more flavorful meat, whether it will be grilled, smoked, or fried, you can consider using bay leaf as a spice rub. Simply blend ground bay leaf with garlic, cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, and orange peel. Smother your meat with the mixture and it will have a distinct taste.
  • Soup: The fragrance of bay leaves will also make it an excellent choice for making an aromatic soup. It is flexible, since you can add almost any ingredient, although it would be better if their flavor is not as strong as bay leaf.
  • Sauces: Planning to cook marinara for dinner? You might want to throw some bay leaves in your sauce. The aroma of this herb makes it a great complement for red sauces. 1 to 2 leaves will be enough to add a distinct flavor to your dish.
  • Stews: Slow-cooked dishes will also benefit from the flavor and aroma of bay leaves. In San Francisco, it is a main ingredient in a fish stew known as cioppino. In France, on the other hand, it is used in bouquet garni, which simply refers to a bundle of herbs that are simmered in soups and stews.
Bay Leaf Soup

Bay Leaves are also Known for Their Varied Applications

How to Effectively Grow Bay Leaf

By now, you are most probably convinced that bay leaf is indeed a great herb. If you are thinking of planting this in the garden, in this section, we will share some valuable insights.

What is the Best Way to Plant Bay Leaf

If you live in a place where the climate is very warm, there is a possibility that bay leaf can grow anywhere from 30 to 60 feet, which is why is commonly planted outdoors. In most cases, however, you can plant it indoors and in a pot at first, and have it transferred when it grows bigger.

Bay leaf can be grown from seeds, but this is a difficult process and success will not be high. With this, a better way to grow bay leaf is to buy a small plant. For sure, there are many nurseries in your area selling this. Plant it in small container or in the garden. Make sure that the soil is moist and healthy.

Another important thing to remember when planting bay leaf is its right position. Preferably, you should place it somewhere it will receive full sun. This is especially important if you are planting indoors.

How to Harvest Bay Leaf

Take note that bay leaf is an evergreen tree. This means that it will grow throughout the year and you can also harvest the leaves anytime, provided that the plant has already reached its full growth. Unfortunately, it will most probably take a couple of years before your first harvest. Take out only the amount of leaves that you will need. You won’t need a lot. It has a strong flavor and aroma, which is why its use should be kept at minimum. When picking the leaves, choose the largest. This means that it will be more flavorful.

After taking out the leaves, you can use it fresh or dried, depending on what a specific application would require. Nonetheless, using it fresh, especially for culinary applications, is not recommended because it is bitter. With this, you can wait for two to four days before using the leaves.

How to Take Care of Bay Leaf

Just like in the case of other plants that you might have in the garden, regular watering is a must. This is important especially during the hot months so as the plant will not end up being dehydrated. When watering, do not overdo it. Give the soil time to dry before it is watered again. Also, you need to water the plant more frequently if it is planted in a container.

When it comes to maintenance of your plant, another thing that will prove to be important is pruning, which will help in maintaining its tip-top condition. It is recommended that you prune two times in a year. The first one is during the early days of spring and the next one is when summer is about to end. If there are additional stems or shoots, as well as signs of diseases, you will also need to prune the plant. You can also consider pruning the foliage in different shapes, which will give the plant a distinct look in your garden.

Generally, bay leaves are not easily prone to pests. However, there are several problems that will warrant your attention, such as root damage. To prevent this, be sure that there are no other plants near the tree. You can also consider the application of fertilizer, especially the spring. Just choose the right type of fertilizer to ensure that it will help in promoting heath growth.


Indeed, bay leaves can be beneficial in a lot of ways. It may not be as popular as other herbs, but after reading this post, we hope that you have been enlightened about what it can do. It is not only flavorful and aromatic, but it can also be good for your health. Keep in mind the tips that have been mentioned above to successfully grow bay leaves in your garden.

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