Top 8 Benefits of Bay Leaves

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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The most impressive health benefits of bay leaves are numerous and include their anti-cancer potential, ability to protect the body against oxidative stress, and management of diabetes. They may also help in improving heart health, reducing inflammation, alleviating respiratory issues, and optimizing digestion.

What are Bay Leaves?

There are many types of plants containing leaves referred to as “bay leaves”, but the true bay leaf is scientifically known as Laurus nobilis. This is the nutrient-rich variety that is discussed in the article. Many other leaves have a similar appearance and aroma like true bay leaves, but not the same nutrient content. This plant is a small tree native to the Mediterranean region. Laurel trees were present everywhere in the region, but changing climates have diminished their presence. However, these leaves have been a part of the culinary and medicinal world for thousands of years, dating back at least to Roman times.

How to Use Bay Leaves?

The uses of bay leaves include grinding the leaves into a spice to flavor soups and stews, but they are most commonly added in their whole form as a flavoring for certain Italian dishes. They are removed from the dish prior to consuming or used as a garnish. Whole leaves are not commonly consumed. There is no extensive range of culinary applications for bay leaves, although extracts of these leaves have numerous medical uses. These leaves are also a popular element in aromatherapy and herbal treatments for various skin and respiratory conditions.

Dried bay leaves with bay seeds on jute cloth

Dried bay leaves Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Spices, bay leaf
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]5.44
Energy [kcal]313
Energy [kJ]1312
Protein [g]7.61
Total lipid (fat) [g]8.36
Ash [g]3.62
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]74.97
Fiber, total dietary [g]26.3
Calcium, Ca [mg]834
Iron, Fe [mg]43
Magnesium, Mg [mg]120
Phosphorus, P [mg]113
Potassium, K [mg]529
Sodium, Na [mg]23
Zinc, Zn [mg]3.7
Copper, Cu [mg]0.42
Manganese, Mn [mg]8.17
Selenium, Se [µg]2.8
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]46.5
Thiamin [mg]0.01
Riboflavin [mg]0.42
Niacin [mg]2.01
Vitamin B-6 [mg]1.74
Folate, total [µg]180
Folate, food [µg]180
Folate, DFE [µg]180
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]309
Vitamin A, IU [IU]6185
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]2.28
8:0 [g]0.01
10:0 [g]0.01
12:0 [g]0.53
14:0 [g]0.21
16:0 [g]1.27
18:0 [g]0.16
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]1.64
16:1 [g]0.14
18:1 [g]1.5
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]2.29
18:2 [g]1.24
18:3 [g]1.05
Sources include : USDA

Health Benefits of Bay Leaves

With the wide range of benefits that these powerful leaves offer, it is necessary to include them in your diet. Let us explore them in detail.

Improve Digestion

Bay leaves have been used traditionally to relieve symptoms of indigestion and other stomach-related ailments. According to a 2019 report published in the Medicinal Plants of South Asia Journal, bay leaves not only add great flavor and taste to the food, but also help to give relief from abdominal pain, gastrointestinal infections, flatulence, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. It is also used as a diuretic. However, more research is needed focusing on the effects of bay leaves to truly prove their efficacy on digestion.

Relieve Respiratory Conditions

Bay leaves have strong antibacterial properties as per a research published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. When the essential oil of bay leaves is extracted, it can be mixed into a salve and applied to the chest to help alleviate various respiratory conditions. This can also be achieved with a poultice made of the leaves. Spread it on the chest and allow it to remain overnight. Inhaling the vapor has a similar effect to aromatherapy and can loosen up the phlegm and eliminate dangerous bacteria that may be trapped in your respiratory tracts, thanks to its natural antibacterial quality.

Note: However, it is highly recommended to consult a health specialist before trying this remedy at home

May Improve Hair Health

Anecdotal evidence suggests that bay leaf works wonders to treat dandruff and reduce hair fall problems. If you want to improve the health of your hair follicles and eliminate dandruff, a homemade method is to steep bay leaves in water and then rub them on your scalp after shampooing. The chemicals and volatile ingredients in them may help eliminate dry skin and dandruff. Having said that, there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of bay leaves for hair and hence more research is needed.

Anti-inflammatory Activity

One of the most important benefits of bay leaf is its ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This is confirmed by a study published in the Phytotherapy research journal.

Bay leaves contain a unique phytonutrient, called parthenolide, which can quickly reduce inflammation and irritation when topically applied to affected areas, such as sore joints or areas affected by arthritis. This effect can also be achieved through the normal consumption of bay leaf spice.

Protect Heart Health

Caffeic acid and rutin are both important organic compounds, found in bay leaves, that enhance our heart health. Rutin strengthens capillary walls in the heart and the body’s extremities, while caffeic acid can help eliminate LDL or bad cholesterol from the cardiovascular system.

Health benefits of bay leaves infographic

The uses of bay leaves include grinding the leaves into a spice to flavor soups and stews.

Anti-Cancer Properties

The unique combination of antioxidants and organic compounds in bay leaves, including phytonutrients, catechins, linalool, and parthenolide, helps to protect the body from the effects of cancer-causing free radicals, according to the journal Nutrition Research. Free radicals can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells and bay leaves may prevent this activity due to the presence of these antioxidants and organic compounds.

Reduce Anxiety & Stress

Linalool is often associated with thyme and basil, but it is also present in bay leaves. This compound can help lower the level of stress hormones in the body, especially when used in aromatherapy. Excess stress hormones can be dangerous for long-term health, so bay leaves can help you calm down and remain relaxed even in your high-anxiety moments.

Manage Diabetes

Research suggests that bay leaves have been connected with improved insulin receptor function and regulated blood sugar levels. For patients at risk of developing diabetes or for those who have already developed the condition, regular consumption of bay leaves may significantly lower the chances of diabetic episodes. While these findings are promising, more studies with larger sample sizes should be conducted to bolster the current research.

Word of Caution: As mentioned earlier, “bay leaf” is a commonly used term that applies to many different plants around the world; however, to achieve all of the health benefits listed above, it is essential that you find a true bay leaf, derived from the laurel tree. Other varieties can actually be toxic when consumed, so be certain that you’re getting the real thing. In terms of allergies, bay leaves aren’t widely known as an allergenic substance, but contact dermatitis and eczema breakouts have been sporadically reported. If you’re allergic to other members of the Lauraceae family, you will likely be allergic to bay leaves as well.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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