Herb: Portugal Laurel
Latin name: Prunus lusitanica
Synonyms: Laurocerasus lusitanica, Padus lusitanica
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Medicinal use of Portugal Laurel: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:
Habitat of the herb:Forests in the mountains of the Iberian peninsula.
Edible parts of Portugal Laurel:The fruit is probably edible when fully ripe but should not be eaten if it is bitter because this bitterness is caused by the presence of toxic compounds, see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter and contains one large seed. 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:A very good plant for a low windbreak. It is also used as a medium to tall hedge and for topiary. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit.
Propagation of Portugal 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:Forests in the mountains of the Iberian peninsula.
Known hazards of Prunus lusitanica:Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, it belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus produce 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.