Laurel (Bay leaf) is a plant with an intense aroma and numerous properties. Ranging from culinary applications to herbal medicine, laurel finds an important position as an ally for human health.
Laurel, whose taxonomic name is Laurus nobilis, is an evergreen plant belonging to the Lauraceae family and native to the southern areas of Europe. Although its origins are Mediterranean, laurel is easily cultivated even in more remote areas. Widely used in the culinary, medicinal and cosmetic fields, laurel is endowed with a marked versatility, having a moderate commercial importance.
In the following paragraphs, the different aspects that make laurel a plant with a thousand resources will be considered. In more detail, its nutritional and nutraceutical characteristics will be examined, with specific reference to potential phytotherapeutic applications. Finally, the role of laurel in the kitchen will be explored, not without some practical ideas.
Is laurel leaf the equal as a bay leaf?
Absolutely, the laurel leaf and the bay leaf are the same things. Bay leaves come from a historical Mediterranean tree known as the bay laurel tree or Laurus nobilis, from the household Lauraceae. Apart from bay leaves, laurel leaves, or bay laurel, they’re additionally generally known as candy bay or true laurel.
Bay leaf: nutritional properties
Being a vegetable food, it is not surprising that laurel boasts some characteristics that are suitable for the pursuit of well-being. In fact, laurel contains various vitamins and mineral salts. Among the latter, iron stands out, a mineral involved in the transport of oxygen in the blood and crucial for human health. The amount of bay leaves contained in a common cooking spoon (about 1.8g) is able to provide 0.8mg of iron, corresponding to 8% of the average requirement calculated for an adult male. In addition to iron, other relevant minerals can be found, such as calcium, the amount of which contained in a spoonful of bay leaves corresponds to about 15mg and whose role in the body is mostly linked to bone health.
Among the water-soluble vitamins that characterize laurel, vitamin C is worthy of note, known for its marked antioxidant properties. A tablespoon of bay leaves provides about 0.8mg of vitamin C. In addition, bay leaf contains numerous B vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and folate, which are essential for energy metabolism.
As far as fat-soluble vitamins are concerned, vitamin A stands out among the nutrients of laurel, involved in many physiological aspects: a tablespoon provides about 5.56μg.
As a plant food, laurel is cholesterol-free and, on the contrary, is rich in dietary fiber (26.3g per 100g), notoriously useful for intestinal function, for the prebiotic action and for the beneficial effect on peaks. glycemic.
As can be easily deduced from the table below, 100g of bay leaves provide a negligible amount (2.28g) of saturated fatty acids, generally known for their negative impact on cardiovascular health. Furthermore, considering that a fraction of the fatty acids in question is constituted by lauric acid, that is a low atherogenic medium-chain fatty acid, and that, as a spice, bay leaf is generally consumed in quantities much lower than the reference value reported in the table, it is obvious that the presence of saturated fatty acids is completely irrelevant.
Although polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are also present in bay leaves in very small quantities (respectively 2.29g and 1.64g per 100g), the non-unbalanced coexistence of essential fatty acids of the omega-series is noteworthy. 6 and omega-3, whose dietary ratio should remain optimal in order to allow a good balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory factors.
For completeness, the table below shows the nutritional values of laurel referred to 100g of leaves.
Nutritional values per 100g of laurel:
|of which saturated||2,28g (total)|
|of which monounsaturated||1,64g (total)|
|of which polyunsaturated||2,29g ( total)|
|Thiamine (Vit. B1)||0.009 mg|
|Riboflavin (Vit. B2)||0.421mg|
|Niacin (Vit. B3)||2.005mg|
Bay leaf: the health benefits
As mentioned above, laurel finds applications in various fields, occupying, since ancient times, a prominent place also within herbal medicine. Several studies conducted on the chemical composition of laurel leaves and fruits have in fact demonstrated the presence of numerous bioactive compounds, such as terpenoids, anthocyanins and other flavonoids. These chemical components are responsible for some phytotherapeutic properties attributed to the plant . Subsequently, the various beneficial activities associated with the consumption of laurel will be examined, with particular reference to the related scientific evidence.
Antimicrobial activity: Bay leaf and its action against infections
In vitro studies conducted on bay leaf extracts have demonstrated the relative antimicrobial potential towards the gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, a pathogen involved in various infectious processes.
Further studies confirmed the bactericidal power of Bay leaf essential oils on additional bacterial strains. Among these, the gram-negative species Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and the gram-positive species Enterococcus hirae are noteworthy. Similarly, the fungicidal effect has been demonstrated on some fungal species of the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium, as well as on the components of the genus Alternaria.
Antioxidant activity: laurel and tissue protection
A further property of Bay leaf, demonstrated through in vitro and in vivo studies, is represented by its antioxidant power. In fact, the ability of the laurel leaf extracts to neutralize various free radicals was observed. The latter are responsible for oxidative stress which results in metabolic and structural damage to the cells, affecting the health of the human body as a whole.
More specifically, an in vivo study conducted on a mouse model made it possible to attribute a likely neuroprotective effect to laurel extracts, by virtue of the inhibition of some reactive oxygen species and the cell damage they induce on brain matter.
Further evidence obtained from in vitro and in vivo investigations also provided evidence of the potential gastroprotective effect of Bay leaf extracts. Some tissue damage to the gastric mucosa is in fact related to oxidative stress and the related inflammatory response. Going into the merits of the experimental evidence, the antioxidant activity of flavonoids and polyphenols contained in laurel extracts seems to have an anti-ulcer effect. Finally, in relation to various animal models, the flavonoids contained in laurel extracts seem to be responsible for a cytoprotective activity (protection of the gastric mucosa) . The aforementioned evidence justifies the common use of laurel in the treatment of diseases affecting the gastrointestinal system.
Analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity: laurel and the treatment of pain
Laurel is traditionally used for making infusions and compresses aimed at relieving some painful conditions, such as rheumatism and joint inflammation. In order to verify the scientificity of these applications, experimental studies have been carried out on the relative effectiveness of Bay leaf essential oils.
In vivo evidence has correlated some bioactive compounds present in leaf essential oils to a potential analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, comparable to the effect exerted by common non-steroidal analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs on the market.
Insect repellent activity: laurel as a natural pesticide
Although this is an activity that affects human health only indirectly, it is appropriate to make some considerations on the role of laurel as a natural insecticide.
Infestations by insects are, in fact, a major problem in food preservation, prompting production companies to resort to various pesticide agents in order to preserve the edibility and sanitary conditions of the goods. However, the chemical nature and the quantities of use of some synthetic pesticides mean that they are also, in a somewhat paradoxical way, among the potential threats to human health.
It is in this context that laurel and the scientific studies conducted on its essential oils are placed. Experimental evidence in this regard has in fact confirmed their repellent activity on some species of insects, giving laurel a good efficacy as a natural pesticide to be used in place of synthetic products.
Digestive and carminative activity: laurel in folk medicine
Being one of the popular medicinal plants, laurel boasts a phytotherapeutic role in the treatment of functional disorders affecting the digestive tract. In particular, infusions made from bay leaves appear to be effective in facilitating digestive processes. In addition, the laurel seems to mitigate the meteorism conditions, taking the form of a carminative remedy.
How to use laurel in the kitchen: practical tips and combinations
As for uses that go beyond phytotherapy, it is possible to take advantage of the benefits of laurel in the kitchen as well. Whole or ground bay leaves are very suitable for enriching foods. The intense and sweetish aroma makes this spice particularly suitable for enhancing the flavor of meat and fish, making it suitable for marinades or for simple garnishing dishes.
In winter, bay leaves can be effectively used to flavor imaginative legume soups, adding “bunches” of bay leaves to the preparation, with or without adding additional herbs, so that they can release all their aromas. In order for the result to be satisfactory, the aromatic herbs should only be removed after cooking.
Together with a good quality olive oil, bay leaf can be effectively used to make vegetable soups with which to whisk the rice, obtaining first courses with a particular flavor.
In addition, bay leaf can be an excellent option for the preparation of flavored olive oil, which can be used in the dressing of refined dishes. The general procedure consists in placing a few fresh or dried bay leaves in a dark glass container, and covering them with an excellent quality olive oil. The preparation can be used at the end of a maceration period of about two weeks. The intensity of the final flavor may vary depending on the starting quantities. In general, it is advisable to start with 4-5 bay leaves for about 300 ml of oil, however, nothing prevents you from using more bay leaves and obtaining a compound with a stronger flavor.
The same principle can be applied to the preparation of a vinegar flavored with laurel. Similarly, bay leaf is also particularly suitable as an aromatic herb to add to vegetable preserves, generally associated with other herbs and spices.
Finally, laurel can enrich some sweet dishes, making flavored creams or syrups with which to flavor single-portion cakes and desserts. As an example, the so-called nociata is a traditional dessert of Central Italy and sees bay leaves as an integral part of its preparation.
Bay leaf tea: the benefits and the recipe
One of the expedients to benefit from the properties of laurel is to prepare herbal teas. The classic herbal tea with bay leaves is commonly consumed in the winter period, in order to relieve fever. Its use for digestive and carminative purposes is also particularly well known.
The simplest version of the bay leaf tea involves crushing a few dried bay leaves and immersing them in about 200 ml of water, which will then be brought to a boil for 5-10 minutes. The liquid is finally filtered and possibly sweetened. For greater effectiveness, it would be advisable to consume the herbal tea when it is still hot.
In addition to the classic recipe with water and bay leaf, it is possible to obtain some variations of the herbal tea, adding further herbs or spices to the procedure. The purpose of these changes is to give the final preparation additional phytotherapeutic properties or to enhance the healing properties already characterizing the laurel.
Starting with the classic version, a possible variant of bay leaf tea consists in adding a small amount of ginger, in order to give the herbal tea a powerful anti-nausea action. To make this variant, you need to get a fragment of ginger root, remove the peel and bring it to a boil together with the bay leaves. At the end of a few more minutes of infusion, the solid parts must be removed and the preparation sweetened if necessary. In addition to its anti-nausea power, ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory action, as are mallow leaves. In order to enhance this latter effect, a few mallow leaves can be boiled together with bay leaves and ginger root.
To increase the carminative activity attributed to bay leaves, it is possible to boil, in addition to bay leaves, fennel and anise seeds, obtaining a tea with an enveloping aroma and aimed at treating abdominal swelling. If you do not have the seeds, you can add one or two filters of sieved chamomile to the preparation with water and bay leaves, enhancing the relaxing effect of the herbal tea.
Contraindications of laurel
With regard to the discussions on the alleged toxicity of laurel, it is important to introduce some information about the botanical species Prunus laurocerasus, improperly known as “cherry laurel”. The latter belongs to the Rosaceae family and is often confused with the laurel proper, or Laurus nobilis, due to the strong similarity in the morphology of the leaves. Beyond the similar features, Prunus laurocerasus is a toxic plant due to its hydrogen cyanide content. This poisonous substance is not present in laurel, which has no toxicity for humans.
With regard to the contraindications associated with laurel, it is important to specify that, as with any other food or herbal medicine, it is always a good idea to ensure its compatibility with any allergies or sensitivities, as well as its potential interactions with any pharmacological therapies in place.
Having established these possibilities, the use of the plant in question in culinary preparations, as well as in the making of herbal teas, a laurel infusion, or a decoction of laurel, does not seem to be related to particular undesirable effects, although the actual ones must be considered. amount of intake. In general, it is a good idea to stick to commonly used quantities and avoid falling into excess.
As for the essential oils of laurel, it would be advisable to use them under the supervision of a health professional expert in phytotherapy, in order not to incur incorrect and potentially harmful quantities for health. Additionally, laurel essential oils are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.