Spice Descriptions and Uses

Bay Leaves - laurus nobilis


Bay Leaves offer a subtle yet distinctive note to foods. They are also called Laurel Leaves. Laurel was woven into wreathes by the ancient Greeks and given to winners of Olympic Games, heroes and poets (hence the term poet laureate). It is a winner in the kitchen too.

How to Use:

Bay leaves come whole and in ground powder. The leaves can be removed from the dish before serving. The powder is a useful ingredient in some seasoning mixtures and can be used in place of leaves where this is preferable. Bay is used in soups, chowders, sauces, marinades, fish and shellfish dishes, pickling, tomato juice, custard sauce, French dressing, in water when cooking vegetables, in aspics, pot roast, sauerbraten, stews and a variety of meats.





Pot Roast:

one or two leaves to a stock pot of soup

one leaf to a quart of sauce

add a leaf to the water when cooking

add a leaf or two to the liquid in the roasting pan

Other Info:

Laurus nobilis Linn.

Family : Lauraceae

Other names: Sweet laurel; bay laurel; Appolo's bay leaf; wreath laurel


Bay leaf, leaf of the sweet bay tree (Laurus nobilis). Is an evergreen plant, indigenous to Asia Minor bordering the Mediterranean. Bay is a tree of the sun under the celestial sign of Leo and has been cultivated from ancient times; its leaves constituted the wreaths of laurel that crowned emperors, heroes and victorious athletes in ancient Greece and Rome. In Biblical times and also in the Middle Ages people associated bay leaves with goodness and saw it as a protection against evil and lightning. Today, the Grand Prix winner is decked with a laurel wreath and the poet of the British Royal Household is given the title of poet laureate. During the European Middle Ages bay leaves were used medicinally.


Bay tree is a large dense evergreen shrub or ornamental tree up to 15 m height. The leaves are large, glossy dark green, elliptical and pointed (about 8 cm long and 3-4 cm wide). Small creamy - yellow flowers appear in early summer, followed by dark-purple, black one-seeded berries on mature plants.


These trees grow in rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Young plants are sheltered from cold winds and frost. They are planted in early autumn or spring and trimmed to shape in summer. Propagation is by layering shoots or from cuttings of side roots. The leaves are harvested by hand, dried in shallow layers in shade and lightly pressed flat. Ripe berries are pressed for oil.

Bay leaves contain approximately 1.5 - 2.5 % essential oil, the principal component of which is cineole. Bay oleoresin contains about 4 - 8 % volatile oil. Essential oil of bay is also available.

Aroma and Flavour

Bay leaves are a popular culinary flavouring in classic and contemporary cuisines which stimulates the appetite. A popular spice used in pickling and marinating and to flavour stews, stuffings, and fish, bay leaves are delicately fragrant but have a bitter taste. It is an essential ingredient in many classic sauces.

Culinary use

The smooth and lustrous dried bay leaves are usually used whole and then removed from the dish after cooking; they are sometimes marketed in powdered form. The crushed form is a major component in pickling spices in processed meats and pickle industry. Ground bay is utilized in many seasoning blends and products. Oil of bay and bay oleoresin are used in soluble pickling spices.

Medicinal and other use

Bay leaf has legendary medicinal properties. It has astringent, diuretic and digestive qualities and is a good appetite stimulant. When pulped these leaves can be applied as an astringent to burns and bruises. Oil from ripe berries is used in liqueurs, perfume and in veterinary field. The acid from the leaves discourages moths.


Bay grows in the Mediterranean region and Asia. It is a small evergreen tree with glossy dark green leaves. Bay is a frequent companion ingredient in a Bouquet Garni, Garam Masala and pickling spice (see seasonings and mixtures for more info).

Bay leaves--like cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves--help to regulate the body's level of insulin, the hormone that carries blood sugar into the cells. All four of these spices are under study as possible treatments for Type II (adult onset) diabetes, a disease that occurs when the body produces insulin, but not in sufficient quantities to meet its needs. Right now, however, dried bay leaves aren't a help. The sharp leaves can puncture the wall of the digestive tract, and should never be eaten.

Indian Institute of Spices Research, India