Herb: Cherry Laurel

Latin name: Prunus laurocerasus

Synonyms: Cerasus laurocerasus, Laurocerasus officinalis, Padus laurocerasus

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Medicinal use of Cherry Laurel:

The fresh leaves are antispasmodic, narcotic and sedative. They are of value in the treatment of coughs, whooping cough, asthma, dyspepsia and indigestion. Externally, a cold infusion of the leaves is used as a wash for eye infections. There are different opinions as to the best time to harvest the leaves, but they should only be used fresh because the active principles are destroyed if the leaves are dried. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.

Description of the plant:


6 m
(20 feet)

to June


Habitat of the herb:

Woods in Britain.

Edible parts of Cherry Laurel:

Fruit - raw or cooked. Sweet and reasonably pleasant when fully ripe. The cultivar "Camelliifolia" bears huge quantities of fruit. This is the size of a large cherry and, when fully ripe, has a reasonable flavour raw with a jelly-like texture and a slight astringency. Some sources suggest the fruit is poisonous, this probably refers to the unripe fruit. We have eaten this fruit in quite large quantities without the slightest ill effects (this also includes a 2 year old child) and so any toxicity is of a very low order. However, any fruit that is bitter should not be eaten in quantity because the bitterness is caused by the presence of the toxic compounds - see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter and contains one large seed. Water distilled from the leaves is used as an almond flavouring. It should only be uses in small quantities, it is poisonous in large amounts. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

Very tolerant of trimming, this plant makes an excellent hedge especially in shady areas. Some forms of this plant, notably "Cherry Brandy", "Otto Luyken", "Zabelina" and "Schipkaensis" are low-growing and make very good ground cover plants for sun or shade. Water distilled from the leaves is used in perfumery. The bruised leaves, when rubbed within any container, will remove strong odours such as garlic or cloves so long as any grease has first been fully cleaned off. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. Wood - pinkish grey. Used in turnery and lathe work.

Propagation of Cherry Laurel:

Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Cuttings of mature wood, October in a sheltered north facing border outdoors. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woods in Britain.

Known hazards of Prunus laurocerasus:

All parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.