By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
Bay leaf (Laurus nobilis) is a perennial shrub belongs to the family laurel (Lauraceae). It has been cultivated throughout the European, tropical, subtropical, and Asian countries. It has been used for thousands of years for food flavoring, essential oil applications, and in traditional medicine. Mostly, it contains tannins, flavones, flavonoids, alkaloids, eugenol, linalool, methyl chavicol, and anthocyanins. The extent of each of these chemical constituents varies depending on the type of species or cultivars as well as cultivation conditions such as soil type, weather, irrigation, pruning, and other horticultural practices. Bay is an essential component of several industrial applications that range from food to cosmetics to pharmaceutical products. Bay leaf has many biologic activities such as wound healing activity, antioxidant activity, antibacterial activity, antiviral activity, immune stimulant activity, anticholinergic activity, antifungal activity, insect repellant activity, anticonvulsant activity, antimutagenic activity, and analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. (1)
Health Benefits of Bay leaf
Improves Digestion: Bay leaves have a very strong effect on the gastrointestinal system, both stimulating urination as a diuretic, which decreases the toxicity of the body and stimulates vomiting (as an emetic) when something toxic has been consumed. Furthermore, the organic compounds found in bay leaves are very effective for settling upset stomachs, soothing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even lessening the symptoms of celiac disease. Some of the more complex proteins in our modern diet can be difficult to digest, but the unique enzymes found in bay leaves help facilitate efficient digestion and nutrient intake.
Anti-inflammatory Activity: One of the most important benefits of bay leaves is their ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body. These 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 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.
Prevent Cancer: The unique combination of antioxidants and organic compounds in bay leaves, including phytonutrients, catechins, linalool, and parthenolide, which has shown to specifically restrain the proliferation of cervical cancer cells and helps to protect the body from the effects of free radicals. Free radicals can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells and bay leaves are particularly adept at preventing this activity.
Beneficial during Peri-conception Period: Being rich in folic acid, bay leaves are extremely beneficial during the peri-conception period by providing sufficient folic acid content.
Reduce Anxiety & Stress: Linalool is often associated with thyme and basil, but it is also present in bay leaves and can help lower the level of stress hormones in the body, especially when used in aromatherapy. Regular consumption of 4 to 5 bay leaves will help in nervous system function, enzyme synthesis and regulating body metabolism. However, they remain unpleasantly stiff even after thorough cooking, and if swallowed whole or in large pieces, they may pose a risk of harming the digestive tract or causing choking. Hence the leaves should be ground well before consumption or they should be removed from the food before serving. (2)
There are many benefits of drinking bay leaf tea. Some of the most widely known benefits are:
- Bay leaves are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Also regular inclusion of bay leaves in meals promotes general health.
- They have been proven to be useful in the treatment of migraines.
- Bay Leaf contains enzymes that help to breakdown proteins and digest food faster, helping to calm indigestion.
- A hot cup of bay leaf tea can be very comforting. The aromatic fragrance that the leaves release is calming and the essence of the spiced tea makes bay leaf tea delicious.(3)