Bay leaves are a common fixture in soups, stews, and braises especially in Mediterranean, Indian, and Pakistani cuisines. They give a tasteful flavor and aroma to any dish that they are used in, whether they are added fresh and whole or dried and crushed.
This aromatic leaf is a member of the laurel family and is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean regions, with distributions to other parts of Asia. Even during the ancient times, the bay leaf has been a favorite spice among Greeks due to its sharp and bitter taste that can balance the flavors in a dish. The popular Indian rice dish biryani and the Filipino dish adobo also make use of bay leaves as an ingredient, as well as Italian, American, and French cuisines.
The best thing about the bay leaf, though, is that aside from being a tasty addition to your dishes, it also brings plenty of benefits to your health. It is known to aid respiratory, digestive, and cardiovascular health, and can also prevent the onset of some diseases.
Types of Bay Leaves
- Bay laurel – Also called Mediterranean leaves, these type of leaves are used in cooking soups, stews, and braises either fresh or dried. The leaves should be used several weeks after picking and drying to achieve its full flavor and should be removed from the dish before eating.
- Indian bay leaf – Called malabathrumby the Indians, these leaves look similar to bay laurel but are distinctly different in flavor, with a similarity to cinnamon.
- California bay leaf –This leaf also looks similar to the bay laurel but has a more distinctive and pungent flavor.
- Indonesian bay leaf – Native to Indonesia, this leaf is most often used in meats than in vegetable dishes.
- West Indian bay leaf – The essential oils of this leaf is used to produce bay rum, a type of cologne.
Bay Leaf Nutrition Facts
You can get the following nutrition for every 1 tablespoon (2 grams) of crushed bay leaves:
- 5 Calories
- 3 grams Total Carbohydrate
- 0.5 grams Dietary Fiber (2% Daily Value)
- 1 gram Total Fat (0% Daily Value)
- 1 grams Protein (0% Daily Value)
- 108 IU Vitamin A (2% Daily Value)
- 8 milligrams Vitamin C (1% Daily Value)
- 2 micrograms Folate (1% Daily Value)
- 6 milligrams Calcium (1% Daily Value)
- 8 milligrams Iron (4% Daily Value)
- 1 milligrams Magnesium (1% Daily Value)
- 2 milligrams Phosphorus (0% Daily Value)
- 3 milligrams Potassium (0% Daily Value)
- 4 milligrams Sodium (0% Daily Value)
- 1 milligrams Zinc (0% Daily Value)
- 1 milligram Manganese (7% Daily Value)
15 Health Benefits of Bay Leaves
If your stomach does not fare well with foods that are difficult to digest, then the bay leaf can help you with that problem. The enzymes found in bay leaves help facilitate an easier digestion and nutrient absorption by breaking down the complex proteins in your diet. It is also efficient in easing irritable bowel syndrome, calming an upset stomach, detoxifying the blood, and stimulating vomiting and urination.
Helps maintain a healthy scalp
Your hair and scalp need to be taken care of too, and bay leaves are a good source of vitamin A and antioxidants which are all required in strengthening the hair follicles. Soaking bay leaves in water and applying it on your scalp can effectively eliminate dandruff and dry skin, leaving you with a fresh and flake-free hair.
Fights against cancer
Bay leaves contain the following active compounds: eugenol, linalool, methyl chavicol, myrcene, alpha-terpineol, alpha- and beta-pinene, limonene, neral, and geranyl acetate. These compounds are all known to fight cancer because of their ability to eliminate free radicals, thus preventing the mutation of cancer cells.
Treats respiratory infections
The essential oils in bay leaves such as laurifolii and eucalyptol can be used to treat colds and cough. To do this, boil some bay leaves and inhale its vaporto relieve nasal congestion and soften phlegm. You can also make a bay leaf tea to reduce fever and constant sneezing since it also contains anti-bacterial properties.
Boosts the immune system
Adding bay leaves to your dishes not only makes them more delicious but also boosts your body’s disease-fighting abilities. It has plenty of ascorbic acid, a powerful anti-oxidant that strengthens the immune system and removes free-radicals from the body.
Protects oral health
You can reduce your risk of contracting lung and oral cavity cancer with bay leaves – the abundance of vitamin A and the anti-microbial properties of the leaves protect you from deadly diseases that target your oral health. Furthermore, you can also use it to whiten your teeth by crushing bay leaves into a powder and rubbing them on your pearly whites.
Reduce the appearance of acne
Are you frustrated with the pesky zits that keep appearing on your nose, forehead, and back? Try treating the affected areas with this mixture: boil some crushed bay leaves with water, then wait until it becomes lukewarm before using it to wash your face and body.
Beneficial during pregnancy
Folic acid, an essential B-vitamin during DNA synthesis, is also abundant in fresh bay leaves. Folates prevent neural tube defects from developing and treat anemia in fetuses during pregnancy.
Regulates body metabolism
Bay leaves also help maintain the optimum health of your nervous system and keep your metabolism up and running. It contains plenty of riboflavin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, niacin, and B-complex groups that all contribute to your mental well-being.
Keeps the heart healthy
The caffeic acid, rutin, and phytonutrients in bay leaves provide protection against cardiovascular diseases, remove bad cholesterol, and strengthens the capillary walls of the heart. Furthermore, it is rich in potassium which helps control the heart rate and blood pressure.
Controls blood sugar levels
For diabetic people, bay leaves can reduce triglyceride levels and maintain the normal blood sugar levels. The anti-oxidants in the leaves enable the body to process insulin more efficiently, making it a good choice for diabetics who want to naturally stay healthy.
Bay leaves have anti-inflammatory properties that are good for relieving pain caused by arthritis, rheumatism, migraines, and headaches. Massaging the affected area with the oil extracted from the leaves will alleviate the pain and promote better blood circulation. You can also make a poultice out of ground bay leaves and apply it on your joints to reduce the swelling and inflammation.
Soothes stress and anxiety
Excess levels of stress hormones can become harmful to your health, especially at frequent periods. When used in aromatherapy, bay leaves can soothe anxiety by lowering the levels of stress hormones in the body. A cup of bay leaf tea or a gentle massage using bay leaf oil can calm your nerves and help you relax.
Heals wounds faster
Bay leaf has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties that can quickly heal wounds, insect bites, bruises, and skin infections. The oil can be topically applied on the wound; just make sure to wash the leaves thoroughly before extracting the oil.
Combats kidney infection
Regularly drinking bay leaf tea can also combat kidney infection and prevent the formation of kidney stones. It is recommended to drink bay leaf tea twice daily to achieve better results.
Potential Side Effects
- After cooking, bay leaves should be removed from the food before eating.
- Whole or dried leaves will remain stiff even after thorough cooking, and will still remain interact even during digestion.This could cause choking or scratching of the digestive tract if swallowed.
- It is said that bay leaf slows down the central nervous system (CNS) especially when combined with anesthesia and other medications. Doctors recommend patients to stop using bay leaf two weeks before the surgery.
- Some members of the laurel family, such as the cherry laurel and mountain laurel, have leaves that look similar to bay leaves but are actually poisonous. Therefore, extreme caution must be exercised when gathering bay leaves in the wild.
Bay Leaf Fun Facts
- The early Greeks and Romans believed that the bay leaf symbolizes wisdom, peace, and protection.
- Bay leaf has different names in different Indian languages: tejpatta in Hindi, masala aku in Telugu, birinji ilai in Tamil, karuvaela inMalayalam, tamal patr in Gujarati, paththa in Kannada, tezpatta in Punjabi, tej patha in Bengali, and tamal patra in Marathi.
- The term ‘baccalaureate’ came from the ceremony of giving bay leaf crown to symbolize success.
- In entomology (the science of studying insects), bay leaves can be used as an alternative to cyanide for killing insects. The vapor slowly kills the specimen, keeping them in a relaxed state, and makes it easier to mount them.
- Scattering bay leaves in the kitchen pantry can also effectively repel pests such as months, rats, flies, and cockroaches.
Buy Organic Bay Leaf
2 Delicious Bay Leaf Recipes
Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya Recipe
Makes: 2 Servings
Preparation Time: 35 minutes
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tbsp.butter
- ¼ lb. fully cooked smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ½ cup canned diced tomatoes with juice
- ¼ cup chopped green pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 dash cayenne
- ¼ cup uncooked long grain rice
- ½ cup cubed cooked chicken breast
- ¼ pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- In a skillet, sauté onion and garlic in butter until crispy-tender.
- Add the sausage, broth, tomatoes, green pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne.
- Add chicken and shrimp; cook 5-10 minutes longer or until shrimps turn pink and rice is tender.
- Discard bay leaf before serving.
8 Bay Leaf Chicken
Makes: 4-6 Servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- 1 – 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2½ – 3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 cup chicken broth
- 8 bay leaves
- 1tbsp. Adobo seasoning (Goya)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. dried parsley
- Salt & pepper
- Cooked rice
- Heat up oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet over medium/high heat.
- Put salt & pepper on both sides of the chicken. Add chicken to the Dutch oven until it is lightly brown on both sides.
- Add broth, bay leaves, adobo seasoning, garlic, oregano, and parsley.
- Bring to a boil. Stir occasionally and simmer for a few minutes until all broth & spices seem well combined.
- Reduce heat to low/medium-low. Simmer and cover for about an hour. Make sure you keep bay leaves in the broth. Spoon broth over chicken occasionally & flip chicken thighs once or twice during cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place a piece of chicken and a few tablespoons of broth in the bowl, then spoon in a serving of rice on top.
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