Herb: Mountain Laurel

Latin name: Kalmia latifolia

Synonyms: Kalmia lucida

Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Medicinal use of Mountain Laurel:

Mountain laurel is a very poisonous narcotic plant the leaves of which were at one time used by some native North American Indian tribes in order to commit suicide. Because of its toxicity, it is a remedy that is seldom used in modern herbalism, but the leaves have been used externally in herbal medicine and are a good remedy for many skin diseases and inflammation. The leaves are analgesic, astringent, disinfectant, narcotic, salve and sedative. An infusion of the leaves is used as a disinfectant wash and liniment to treat pain, scratches, rheumatism, inflammations and to get rid of body parasites. Used internally, the leaves have a splendid effect in the treatment of active haemorrhages, diarrhoea and flux. They are also used in the treatment of syphilis, inflammatory fevers, neuralgia, paralytic conditions, tinnitus and angina. The leaves should be used with great caution however, and only under the guidance of a qualified practitioner. Excess doses cause vertigo, headache, loss of sight, salivation, thirst, nausea, palpitations, slow pulse and difficulty in breathing. See also the notes above on toxicity.

Description of the plant:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Rich rocky, or dry gravelly woods in the shade of deciduous trees, and swamps in acid soils. Prefers sandy or rocky soils.

Other uses of Mountain Laurel:

A yellow-tan dye is obtained from the leaves. The plant can be grown as an informal hedge. Wood - heavy, hard, strong but rather brittle. It weighs 44lb per cubic foot and is used for making small implements, tool handles etc. The roots are used to make spoons etc, these are fashioned when the wood is green and soft, when dry they become very hard and smooth. The wood is a good fuel.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - surface sow in late winter in a cool greenhouse in light shade. Prick out the young seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. The seedlings are rather sensitive to damping off, so water them with care, keep them well-ventilated and perhaps apply a fungicide such as garlic as a preventative. Grow the young plants on in light shade and overwinter them in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. The seed is dust-like and remains viable for many years. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, August in a frame. Very poor results unless the cuttings are taken from very young plants. Layering in August/September. Takes 18 months. The plants can also be dug up and replanted about 30cm deeper in the soil to cover up some of the branches. The plant can then be dug up about 12 months later when the branches will have formed roots and can be separated to make new plants.

Cultivation of Mountain Laurel:

Rich rocky, or dry gravelly woods in the shade of deciduous trees, and swamps in acid soils. Prefers sandy or rocky soils.

Known hazards of Kalmia latifolia:

The foliage is poisonous to animals. The whole plant is highly toxic. Cases of poisoning have occurred when livestock or game birds have been eaten after they have ingested this plant.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.