The Health Benefits of Bay Leaf

Bay leaves provide flavor without added sodium

Bay leaves

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The herb commonly known as the bay leaf can come from a variety of different trees. One of the more widely known sources is the bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis). Other varieties of bay leaves include the California bay leaf, the Indian bay leaf, the Indonesian bay leaf, the West Indian bay leaf, and the Mexican bay leaf.

Each variety of bay leaf has a slightly different taste. Bay leaves may be used fresh, dried, ground, or whole. There are a variety of health benefits and uses of bay leaves, making them a popular herb for cooking.

Health Benefits

Bay leaves add flavor to popular dishes like soups, stews, and other savory dishes.

The main benefit of bay leaves is that they can enhance the taste of your meals without adding sodium.

It is also believed that bay leaves may provide other health benefits. Some consumers prepare tea with bay leaves, add bay leaves to their baths, or crush bay leaves into a skin cream. Bay leaves have also been used by some to treat cancer, gas, dandruff, and joint pain or boils (for which bay leaves have been used topically on the skin).

However, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bay leaf for these benefits.

There is limited evidence to suggest that bay leaf benefits people with type 2 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus. In a study published in the Journal of Biochemical Nutrition, participants with type 2 diabetes took capsules of one, two, or three grams of ground bay leaf per day for 30 days. A fourth group took a placebo (no bay leaf).

The three groups who consumed bay leaf had lower blood sugar levels and improved cholesterol profiles at the end of the study.

Nutrition Facts

A single bay leaf used in cooking is not likely to change the nutritional value of the dish being prepared. Typically, the leaf is removed from the dish before you eat it. Even if the leaf is left in the soup, casserole, or any other dish, it doesn't provide significant micronutrients or macronutrients.

If crumbled bay leaves are consumed in a dish, you may gain a few nutritional benefits. A 1-tablespoon serving provides about five calories, primarily in the form of carbohydrates. Micronutrients in bay leaves include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, and calcium.

Selection, Preparation, & Storage

You'll find whole bay leaves in the spice section of most grocery stores all year long. Dried, crumbled, or ground bay leaves may also be available. However, many cooks feel that ground bay leaves are too strong and prefer to use (and then discard) a whole leaf when cooking.

Fresh bay leaves may also be found in the produce section of some markets. However, fresh bay leaves don't last long, so they are not as common as dried.

Many people store bay leaves in their spice cabinet. However, some say that freezing bay leaves is the preferred way of storing this herb. Many chefs recommend storing bay leaves in the freezer because the leaves retain more flavor when frozen than they do when stored in a cool, dry space.

Recipes

Bay leaf is used in a variety of cuisines. Try any of these delicious recipes that utilize the bay leaf:

Possible Side Effects

Bay leaves should not be consumed whole. The leaf remains intact and cannot be digested. It may become lodged in the throat or cause damage to the intestinal tract.

Bay leaf and ground bay leaf are likely safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food. It is also possibly safe when taken medicinally for short periods of time. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to know the effects of bay leaves if higher doses are consumed or if it is used long-term.

Common Questions

What is a suitable substitute for bay leaves in recipes?

Oregano or thyme can be used if you do not have a bay leaf handy for your recipe.

Should I use fresh or dried bay leaves in recipes?

You can use either fresh or dried bay leaves, but dried bay leaves tend to be stronger in flavor and are much easier to keep fresh.

Does a bay leaf really make a difference?

Most recipes call for only one or two bay leaves. The trick to melding the flavor of the bay leaf into your dish is time. The longer your dish cooks with the bay leaf, the more flavor you'll get.

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