Herb: Bay Tree

Latin name: Laurus nobilis

Family: Lauraceae (Laurel Family)

Medicinal use of Bay Tree:

The bay tree has a long history of folk use in the treatment of many ailments, particularly as an aid to digestion and in the treatment of bronchitis and influenza. It has also been used to treat various types of cancer. The fruits and leaves are not usually administered internally, other than as a stimulant in veterinary practice, but were formerly employed in the treatment of hysteria, amenorrhoea, flatulent colic etc. Another report says that the leaves are used mainly to treat upper respiratory tract disorders and to ease arthritic aches and pains. It is settling to the stomach and has a tonic effect, stimulating the appetite and the secretion of digestive juices. The leaves are antiseptic, aromatic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emetic in large doses, emmenagogue, narcotic, parasiticide, stimulant and stomachic. The fruit is antiseptic, aromatic, digestive, narcotic and stimulant. An infusion has been used to improve the appetite and as an emmenagogue. The fruit has also been used in making carminative medicines and was used in the past to promote abortion. A fixed oil from the fruit is used externally to treat sprains, bruises etc, and is sometimes used as ear drops to relieve pain. The essential oil from the leaves has narcotic, antibacterial and fungicidal properties.

Description of the plant:


12 m
(39 feet)

to May


Habitat of the herb:

Damp rocks and ravines, thickets and old walls.

Edible parts of Bay Tree:

Leaves - fresh or dried. A spicy, aromatic flavouring, bay leaves are commonly used as a flavouring for soups, stews etc and form an essential ingredient of the herb mix "Bouquet Garni". The leaves can be used fresh or are harvested in the summer and dried. The flavour of freshly dried, crushed or shredded leaves is stronger than fresh leaves, but the leaves should not be stored for longer than a year since they will then lose their flavour. The dried fruit is used as a flavouring. The dried leaves are brewed into a herbal tea. An essential oil obtained from the leaves is used as a food flavouring. Yields can vary from 1 - 3% oil.

Other uses of the herb:

An essential oil from the fruit is used in soap making. The plant is highly resistant to pests and diseases, it is said to protect neighbouring plants from insect and health problems. The leaves are highly aromatic and can be used as an insect repellent, the dried leaves protect stored grain, beans etc from weevils. It is also used as a strewing herb because of its aromatic smell and antiseptic properties. Very tolerant of clipping, it can be grown as a screen or hedge in areas suited to its outdoor cultivation. Wood - sweetly-scented, does not wear quickly. Used for marqueterie work, walking sticks and friction sticks for making fires.

Propagation of Bay Tree:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in early autumn in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first year. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer and give them some protection from the cold for at least their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Can take 6 months. Cuttings of mature side shoots, 10 - 12cm with a heel, November/December in a cold frame. Leave for 18 months. High percentage. Layering.

Cultivation of the herb:

Damp rocks and ravines, thickets and old walls.

Known hazards of Laurus nobilis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.