Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Botany, Geographical Distribution, and Horticultural Information of Bay (Laurus nobilis)


Bay, scientifically known as Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, smooth (glabrous) leaves. It belongs to the flowering plant family Lauraceae. The laurel is variable in size, sometimes reaching 7–18 meters (23–59 feet) tall. The genus Laurus includes four accepted species, with diagnostic key characters often overlapping. Bay laurel is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Each flower is pale yellow-green, about 1 cm in diameter, and they are borne in pairs beside a leaf. The leaves are 6–12 cm long and 2–4 cm broad, with an entire margin. The fruit is a small, shiny black drupe-like berry about 1 cm long that contains one seed.

Geographical Distribution:

Laurus nobilis is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a widespread relict of the laurel forests that originally covered much of the Mediterranean Basin when the climate was more humid. With the drying of the Mediterranean during the Pliocene era, the laurel forests gradually retreated. Most of the last remaining laurel forests around the Mediterranean are believed to have disappeared approximately ten thousand years ago, although some remnants still persist in the mountains of southern Turkey, northern Syria, southern Spain, north-central Portugal, northern Morocco, the Canary Islands, and in Madeira.

Horticultural Information:

Bay laurel is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in regions with Mediterranean or oceanic climates, and as a house plant or greenhouse plant in colder regions. It is used in topiary to create single erect stems with ball-shaped, box-shaped, or twisted crowns; also for low hedges. However, it is slow-growing and may take several years to reach the desired height. The plant is also affected by pests like the jumping plant louse Trioza alacris and the scale insect Coccus hesperidum.


1. Wikipedia – “Laurus nobilis” –


History, Traditional Herbal & Culinary Uses of Bay (Laurus nobilis)


Bay, also known as Laurus nobilis, has a rich history that intertwines with various cultures and traditions. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has been a symbol of honor, victory, and peace in many ancient civilizations. The Greeks and Romans revered bay leaves, using them to fashion laurel wreaths that crowned victors in various competitions, including the Pythian Games, which were held in honor of Apollo. The laurel wreath also became a symbol of scholarly achievement, leading to the terms “baccalaureate” and “poet laureate.”

Traditional Herbal Uses:

In traditional herbal medicine, bay leaves have been used for their astringent and salve properties. They have been applied to open wounds and used in massage therapy and aromatherapy. Bay leaves were also believed to have medicinal properties that could treat a variety of conditions, including paralysis, spasms, sciatica, bruises, headaches, catarrhs, ear infections, and rheumatism. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented various uses of laurel oil in his writings.

Culinary Uses:

Bay leaves are a popular herb used in a wide variety of recipes, particularly in Mediterranean cuisines. The aromatic leaves are typically added whole to Italian pasta sauces and are usually removed before serving. They have a long shelf life and are used almost exclusively as flavor agents during food preparation. Ground bay leaves are ingested safely and are often used in soups and stocks. Dried laurel berries and pressed leaf oil are used as robust spices, and the wood can be burnt for strong smoke flavoring.


1. Wikipedia – “Laurus nobilis” –


Scientific and Medicinal Studies on Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Overview of Scientific Research:

Bay, also known as Laurus nobilis, is a plant belonging to the Lauraceae family and is one of the most useful essential oil plants used in foods, drugs, and cosmetics. It is cultivated throughout the world, mainly in tropical and sub-tropical Asia, Australia, the Pacific region, and South Asia.

Phytochemical Composition and Biological Activities:

Bay essential oil can be extracted from various parts of the plant and chiefly consists of 1,8-cineole, sabinene, α-pinene, and p-Cymene. Due to the presence of these chemical constituents, bay has been reported to have various biological and pharmacological properties, such as antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, insecticidal, and nematicidal activities.

Pharmacological Properties:

1. Antibacterial and Antifungal Activities: Bay leaves possess significant antibacterial and antifungal properties, making them useful in treating various infections.

2. Antioxidant Activity: The antioxidant properties of bay leaves are attributed to their high phenolic content, which includes flavonoids, phenolic acids, tannins (proanthocyanidins), and lignans.

3. Insecticidal and Nematicidal Activities: Bay essential oil has shown potential as an insecticidal and nematicidal agent, offering an alternative to synthetic pesticides.

4. Anti-inflammatory Action: An in vitro study evaluated the anti-inflammatory action of Laurus nobilis, demonstrating its ability to inhibit protein denaturation, a well-documented cause of inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect of bay leaf was comparable to reference analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.


1. “A review on chemistry and biological activities of Laurus nobilis L. essential oil” –
2. “Nutritional and Pharmacological Properties of Bay Leaves (Laurus nobilis L.)” –
3. “Isolation of Laurus nobilis Leaf Polyphenols: A Review on Current Techniques and Future Perspectives” –
4. “Evaluation of anti-inflammatory action of Laurus nobilis-an in vitro study” –


The following specific phytochemicals have been identified in Bay (Laurus nobilis):

1. Kaempferol-3-O-glucopyranoside
2. Kaempferol-3-O-rhamnopyranoside
3. Kaempferol-3-O-(2@,4@-di-E-p-coumaroyl)
4. Quercetin-3-O-glucopyranoside
5. Quercetin-3-O-rhamnopyranoside
6. Quercetin-3-O-


Contraindications and Safety of Bay (Laurus nobilis)

1. General Safety: Bay leaf and bay leaf oil are generally considered safe for most people when used in food amounts. However, caution is advised when using bay leaf in medicinal amounts.

2. Ingestion Risks: Whole bay leaves should be removed from food before consumption, as they can be a choking hazard and may cause blockages in the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. There have been instances of bay leaf impaction in the esophagus and hypopharynx.

3. Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic contact dermatitis from bay leaf oil. This is relatively rare but can occur in sensitive individuals.

4. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: There is insufficient reliable information about the safety of using bay leaf during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Therefore, it is advisable to use it cautiously during these periods.

5. Interactions with Medications: Bay leaf might cause sleepiness and slowed breathing. It could potentially interact with sedative medications, leading to excessive sleepiness or breathing difficulties.

6. Other Considerations: Bay leaf has been used traditionally for various medicinal purposes, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before using it for therapeutic purposes, especially in large amounts or for extended periods.


1. “Bay Leaf: Health Benefits, Side Effects, Uses, Dose & Precautions” –