No tree has been as much praised for its elegance, fragrance and therapeutic properties as the laurel, sweet bay or bay laurel, to list but a few of its names in English. Laurus is a genus of unisexual, hardy, evergreen shrubs or trees which originates from Asia Minor, but has been well established in all the Mediterranean countries and further north for many centuries; the laurel tree was introduced to Italy before the time of Christ, for instance. It arrived in Britain around the sixteenth century, and can flourish, although it is smaller in size than in warmer habitats (where it can grow as high as 19m (65 ft). In Greece, wild bay trees are very common, as they are in south and west France.
The bay laurel has blackish green bark, and evergreen, shiny, lanceolate leaves which exude a wonderful aroma when crushed. The insignificant, creamy-yellow flowers form in clusters in April on both male and female trees, but it is only the female which produces the small blackish-blue berries. Other aromatic trees of the laurel family are the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) of south-east Asia, the Californian laurel or Oregon myrtle (Umbellularia californica), and the sassafras (Sassafras albidum) of the eastern United States. Laurus nobilis, the true laurel, must never be confused with the tree called the common laurel, which is an evergreen ornamental cherry (Prunus laurocerasus) and can be poisonous (the leaves contain a small proportion of prussic acid).
The Greek name of laurel – Daphne – salutes the nymph who, on being pursued by Apollo, asked the other gods to help. They turned her into the laurel tree which has, ever since, remained under the protection of all the gods in Olympus. The French, however, often call the tree the ‘laurier d’ Appollon’, and many sources speak of the tree as dedicated to Apollo, the god of music and poetry. The tree also became a symbol of military glory for the Greeks, and generals would encircle their heads with a crown of laurel and carry a twig in one hand. From this derives the British ‘Poet Laureate’, and the French baccalaureat. This latter originated in the Renaissance, when gifted scholars would be crowned with laurel as in days of yore. Other phrases in English are ‘to win or gain one’s laurels’, and ‘to look to one’s laurels’.
The Greeks also believed the laurel had powers of divination and prophecy, and that it could protect against thunder and lightning, evil and contagious disease. Asclepius, the god of medicine, was always depicted crowned with the magic leaves.
The Romans, too, believed bay laurel had great powers. Pliny’s Natural History records an amusing anecdote of how a white hen bearing a twig of laurel in its beak landed in the lap of Augusta, Caesar’s fiancée. This was considered very propitious, and the twig was planted and quickly became a very beautiful tree. Later, Caesar, triumphant in battle, wore a garland of leaves from the same tree – although many thought the crown was for another purpose, to hide his bald patch!
In medicine, the tree has been attributed with many therapeutic values from the very earliest times. Dioscorides considered the leaves to be vomitive, the fruit to be pectoral, and the roots to help dissolve kidney stones. Galen thought the tree to be a good remedy for liver complaints, stimulating and warming the vital functions. In the Middle Ages, St Hildegarde, the abbess of Bingen, described laurel as a universal remedy for a number of ailments, including fever, asthma, migraine, gout, palpitations, angina pectoris, and liver and spleen complaints. She also echoed some of the earlier beliefs: she claimed that it could keep evil ‘at bay’, and that people should wear it or go under its branches to protect themselves from thunder and lightning. A medieval French saying, quoted by Corneille in Horace, was ‘foudre ne chiet sur le lorier’ (‘lightning does not fall on the laurel’).
What is Bay Laurel Essential Oil?
Bay Laurel or Laurel Leaf essential oil is well-regarded in aromatherapy due to its unique molecular structure. It contains elements of nearly all of the primary chemical groups which make up essential oils. The result is a broad range of therapeutic uses. Bay Laurel and other essential oils of Mediterranean plants were the subject of research into possible anti-viral activity. Bay Laurel was noted to have ‘interesting’ anti-viral action against the SARS coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Most outstanding is the mention it receives by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt in ‘Advanced Aromatherapy’: “Its positive effects on the lymphatic system are undeniable. Rubbing a few drops of bay laurel essential oil on swollen lymph nodes will produce an immediately noticeable relieving effect. The positive and pleasant effect of this oil is so distinct and strong that one application will normally suffice to convince the most hardened skeptic to use it.”
The bay laurel essential oil has traditionally been used to alleviate digestive complaints, but its modern aromatherapy applications make use of its antiseptic, anti-microbial, expectorant, mucolytic, anti-bacterial and anti-infectious properties. It may be included in blends for breathing support, and the aroma may be more appreciated by some that other oils used for this purpose. Laurel leaf essential oil can be safely used as an immune system support agent, particularly when one may be exposed to higher-risk situations, or may find their immune system depleted from traveling or stress.
Further, Bay Laurel essential oil is indicated by some authorities for nerve regeneration (blending with Helichrysum may be useful), as well as rheumatoid arthritis. The oil has a lovely aroma and would make an excellent addition to arthritis/joint/muscular formulas not only due to its therapeutic action, but its beautiful spicy & herbaceous scent!
Wounds should not be ignored, even if they look mild, more so when they are from iron objects, rusty or otherwise, or from dirty or unclean objects. Wounds are very much prone to Septic or Tetanus, which can result in severe convulsions, cramps, breathlessness, pain, hydrophobia, and even insanity. The antiseptic property of this oil protects wounds against such infections and inhibits bacterial growth, while helping to avoid those painful situations.
This oil is also known for its antibiotic properties. That means that it inhibits any sort of biotic growth (growth of microbes, bacteria, or fungi) in the body, effectively safeguarding you against those infections. There is one more advantage of using this oil as an antibiotic. It is completely safe and has no adverse side effects (unless used in very heavy doses), unlike those antibiotic medicines available on the market that heavily impact the liver, heart, and other internal organs.
Neuralgia is very painful and it leaves almost the entire oral zone, including the throat, ears, tonsils, base of the nose, larynx, pharynx, and the surrounding areas suffering from severe pain. It is caused due to compression of the Glossopharyngeal or the Ninth Cranial Nerve by the surrounding blood vessels, which tends to swell when excited or stimulated as a result of chewing, eating, laughing, shouting, or any other excitement or movement in that region. The bay laurel essential oil has analgesic and astringent properties, each of which helps provide relief from the pain of Neuralgia in its own way. Being an analgesic, it reduces the feeling of pain in the affected area. Then, as an astringent, it induces contraction in the blood vessels, thus relieving the pressure on the cranial nerve, giving immediate relief from the pain.
Cramps, coughs, aches, diarrhea, nervous afflictions, and convulsions are some of the ailments caused by spasm, which is an excessive contraction in the respiratory tracts, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs. Not only does it cause the ailments discussed above, but sometimes it can also become fatal if it is overly excessive. For example, excessive spasms in the respiratory system can leave someone breathless or literally choke them to death. The bay laurel essential oil gives relief from spasm by relaxing the contractions and helping to avoid the related dangers or ailments.
An analgesic, like the bay laurel essential oil, reduces pain, and is particularly effective in pains resulting from coughs and colds, viral infections, influenza, and sprains. Again, this is better than the analgesic pills available on the market, which cause damage to the heart, digestive system, and nervous system.
Loss of appetite is a very common problem with people who lead a metropolitan way of life. With the excessive pressure of work in the office as well as at home, a never-ending search for money, and almost no time to relax or exercise, it is bound to happen! This loss of appetite eventually induces acute deficiencies in those people. Therefore, an appetizer or an aperitif can be a helping hand in these cases. Nothing is better than an herbal aperitif like the bay laurel essential oil to help them want and have a sumptuous lunch or dinner.
We have already read that astringency can be beneficial in treating painful conditions like Neuralgia. However, it is not its sole benefit. An astringent’s main function is to induce contractions in muscles and tissues. This contraction helps in many ways. It strengthens the grip of gums on teeth, pulls up the sagging skin and muscles, strengthens the hold of the scalp on hair roots, thereby preventing loss of hair and finally, it induces contractions in the blood vessels, thus helping to stop hemorrhaging.
Bay laurel essential oil promotes the discharge of bile into the stomach, thereby helping maintain the acid and base balance in it. This bile is used to break down the complex food molecules and to neutralize the excess acids discharged into the stomach, which is very important, since this excess acid can wear down the inner lining of the stomach, causing ulcers.
This property of bay laurel essential oil is effective in turning on obstructed menses and making them more regular. It also eases the pain and other troubles associated with menstrual periods.
Since certain components of bay laurel essential oil are capable of fighting infections that cause cough, cold, and fever, this oil helps reduce fevers. Its sudorific property also contributes to this, since perspiration helps bring down body temperature.
Bay laurel (both leaves and the essential oil) is widely used as a spice and flavor in the food industry. The dried leaves are used as a seasoning for pies, soups, sauces, marinades, stews and pickles. The leaves are used as an ingredient in many spice mixtures, like the famous French “bouquet garnii”, although there is no generic recipe for bouquet garni, it usually includes thyme and bay laurel leaf. The leaves should be used sparingly in cooking and from the start as they emit taste slowly. However, even when cooked, whole bay leaves can be sharp and abrasive enough to damage internal organs, so they are typically removed from dishes before serving, unless used as a simple garnish. Whole bay leaves have a long shelf life of about one year, under normal temperature and humidity. Bay leaves are used almost exclusively as flavor agents during the food preparation stage. Ground bay leaves, however, can be ingested safely and are often used in soups and stocks, as well as being a common addition to a Bloody Mary. Dried laurel berries and pressed leaf oil can both be used as robust spices, and even the wood can be burnt for strong smoke flavoring.
Being lethal for insects and lower animals is yet another beneficial property of this oil, which helps drive away insects. Therefore, it can be used in fumigants, sprays, vaporizers, and in various other ways to keep away insects.
This oil sedates nervous afflictions and disturbances and helps provide relief from conditions like epilepsy, hysteria, convulsions, anxiety, stress, depression, anger, etc.
The stomach is the root to health and is the root to all health problems as well. Any malfunctioning by the stomach results in an ailment. As long as it is functioning well, then your total health remains fine. This is exactly what bay laurel essential oil does. It keeps the stomach functioning fine and maintains it in very good health, keeping it safe from infections, ulcers, and acidity.
Bay Laurel Essential Oil promotes perspiration and facilitates the removal of toxins, excess salt, water, and fat from the body through sweat. This makes the body lighter and protects it from ailments caused due to the accumulation of toxins, salt, and water in the body. Perspiration also brings down body temperature in the case of fever.
This property of bay laurel essential oil is beneficial for the whole body. It improves the metabolic functions such as decomposition of food and the absorption of nutrients by toning up the liver, stomach, and intestines, helping you grow stronger and healthier. It also takes care of proper excretion, regulates the endocrinal secretions of hormones and enzymes, and also tones up the nervous system, thus making you more alert and active. Finally, it boosts the immune system, thereby protecting you from infections.
The bay laurel essential oil is equally effective in symptoms like rheumatism, neuralgia, muscular pain, circulation problems, cold, flu, dental infection, diarrhea, skin infections and promoting growth of hair, and general health of the scalp.
Blending for Bay Laurel Essential Oil
Bay Laurel Essential Oil blends with a whole range of essential oils, including the essential oils of Cedar Wood, Coriander, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Ginger, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon, Orange, Rose, Rosemary, Thyme, and Ylang-Ylang.
Precautions for Bay Laurel Essential Oil
Only therapeutic grade essential oils should be used for best results. Bay laurel essential oil is Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Although it may be used as a dietary supplement, it is advised not to use it in this manner for children under 6 years of age. Repeated use may cause contact sensitization and this oil should be avoided during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult a healthcare professional prior to use. Tisserand and Young said that bay laurel essential oil is potentially carcinogenic and that oils high in 1,8 cineole may cause CNS and breathing problems in children.
Bay Laurel Essential Oil Trivia
Did you know that Laurel leaf was worn on the head like a crown by Generals, Emperors and Athletes? Yes, it was a symbol for victory, achievement and protection.
Did you know that schools were crowned with Laurel when they completed their Secondary Education? Yes, once again it symbolized achievement and success.