Bay leaves are aromatic leaves from plants grown in different countries with different botanical names. These leaves are bitter in taste. The fragrance is herbal as well as floral resembling oregano and thyme. An essential oil called eugenol is extracted from bay leaf. We discuss here about this herb, the origin, how we can use it and of course, the various health benefits of bay leaves.
Originally bay leaf was used by ancient Greeks and Europeans in soups, sauces and other side dishes.
Many countries namely, USA, India, Indonesia and Pakistan are known to be the users of bay leaves of particular varieties grown in their respective countries.
In India and Pakistan bay leaf is generally used in preparation certain rice dishes primarily for the aroma.
Crushed bay leaves impart better fragrance than whole leaves. But since swallowing certain varieties of bay leaves cause intestinal perforation, only whole leaves are used. You can then remove them after cooking and before consumption.
If you use crushed leaves for better fragrance, then tie them up in muslin bags for easy removal.
You can use bay leaves in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes for their aroma.
Bay leaves contain many vitamins and minerals which are very essential for human health. In just 100 gm. of bay leaves, 313 calories of energy, 74.97 gm. of carbohydrates, 7.618 gm. of protein, 836gm of total fat and 26.8gm of dietary fiber are present.
Bay leaves do not contain cholesterol. The dietary fiber in bay leaf is equivalent to 69% of recommended daily amount (RDA).
Bay leaves contain 180 mcg of folates equivalent to 45% RDA, niacin 2.005 mg (12.5% RDA), and pyridoxine 1.74mg (133% RDA). Riboflavin 0.421mg (32% RDA), vitamin A 6185 I.U (206% RDA) and vitamin C 46.5mg (77.5% RDA) are also present. In addition, it provides 23 mg of sodium and 529 mg of potassium.
Bay leaf is an excellent source of iron and manganese. It also has calcium, copper and zinc. In the said quantity of bay leaf we get 834 mg of calcium (83% RDA), 0.416 mg of copper (46% RDA),zinc 3.70 mg (33% RDA) and magnesium 120 mg (30% RDA) besides small quantities of phosphorous and selenium.
Though bay leaves are commonly used for their aromatic value, the health benefits derived from bay leaf are enormous.
Health benefits of bay leaves
People who are at risk of developing diabetes or those who are already diabetic can immensely benefit by the use of bay leaf. The leaf improves insulin functions and regulates sugar levels in the blood.
Bay leaf contains rutin, salicylates, phytonutrients and caffeic acid which are known to boost health of the heart. Caffeic acid lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol level and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Rutin helps in strengthening the capillary walls in the heart.
One study has found the continuous use of bay leaf powder for 30 days causes drop in blood sugar levels and improves functioning of the heart.
Relieves respiratory conditions
The oil extracted from bay leaf is very helpful in alleviating respiratory problems. You can apply the oil and rub it on the chest. Leave this overnight for relief in the respiratory system. When inhaled, the vapor of the oil removes phlegm and the bacteria on the respiratory track is eliminated. Bay leaf thus treats cold, cough and flu and gives total relief from all other problems related to the respiratory system.
Bay leaf contains certain organic compounds that cures irritable bowel syndrome. It removes toxic materials in the food consumed, by inducing vomiting. The enzymes in bay leaf improves digestion. It is a diuretic which stimulates urination. Consuming bay leaf also helps in proper functioning of the gastrointestinal system.
Consuming bay leaf decoction can help.
- Boil water in a vessel.
- Add a few bay leaves to the water.
- After a few minutes, switch off.
This water cures bloating and improves digestion. Adding a piece of ginger and a small quantity of honey to the bay leaf decoction acts as an appetizer.
Applying bay leaf powder or oil tropically can cure inflammation in any superficial part of the body. A unique phytonutrient known as parthenolide in bay leaf swiftly reduces the irritation or inflammation in joints affected by arthritis. The same benefit can be achieved by consumption of bay leaf also. It is useful in treating muscle and joint pains by external application.
Since the phytonutrients and other organic compounds are combined in a unique way in bay leaf , it eliminates free radicals from the body. This aggravates the mutation of healthy cells from the body thus preventing formation of cancer cells.
Caution: World over many different varieties of bay leaves are known but not all of them are fit for consumption. Only those belonging to the family of laurus nobilis contain the benefits and hence one has to be careful in sourcing the bay leaves.