Bay leaf, bay laurel or tej patta as it is known in India, is a leaf of the bay tree which is used in cooking. It has a subtly pleasing fragrance which contributes to the flavour of several delectable dishes.
Although used pre-dominantly for cooking in Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, the bay leaf also has healing and therapeutic properties which have been known for centuries in several ancient systems of medicine. Making it great for health is its slew of vitamins, minerals, essential oil and active compounds, a few of which include selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, vitamin A, copper, manganese and iron.
Bay Leaf Health Benefits
Bay Leaf for Diabetes
There is plenty of evidence supporting the claim that bay leaf is beneficial for diabetics, particularly those with type II diabetes. Several experiments have shown that having bay leaves on a daily basis helps to regulate blood sugar and improves the cholesterol profile too. In most tests, a remarkable change was seen in just one month after taking between 1 gm and 3 gm of bay leaf per day.
Great for your Heart
Having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. So that’s one way that bay leaves help keep cardiovascular issues at bay. Another is through the phytonutrients in bay leaf which naturally improve the functioning of the heart. This will reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke and in general keep your ticker running as it should.
Combat Cancer with Bay Leaf
Preliminary tests on rats show that bay leaves kill cancer cells as well as prevent the onset of cancer. Bay leaf has a compound called quercetin which is particularly potent in fighting cancer and also helping to keep the side effects of chemotherapy to a minimum.
Bay Leaf for Digestion
It acts as a mild digestive, will relieve flatulence and can soothe ulcers in the stomach. Bay leaf can help with both constipation and diarrhoea and is known to be effective in fighting irritable bowel syndrome too. It is also sometimes recommended to improve appetite.
Bay Leaves for Cuts and Pain
Bay leaf has anti-inflammatory properties. This one simple fact actually translates into a number of health benefits. Firstly, it helps to facilitate healing of cuts and wounds. Not only that, it also helps to reduce pain resulting not just from wounds but also from some diseases which stem from inflammation such as rheumatism, arthritis and osteoporosis.
Another reason that bay leaves are good for healing is because they have anti-microbial, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties which fight off the bacteria and other common pathogens that usually infect wounds.
Plain old headaches, menstrual cramps and muscle pain can also be alleviated with bay leaves since they contain magnesium which is a known muscle relaxant and also has a mild sedative effect. The latter can naturally benefit the nervous system in time of stress.
You can ingest bay leaves or make a poultice out of them and apply to the wound. Washing the wound with water left over from soaking bay leaves or in which bay leaves have been steeped will also help. This also helps some people with dandruff, although results vary.
How to Get the Health Benefits for Bay Leaf
Any herb could just be eaten plain and you’d still get its health benefits, but there are far more savoury ways so why not try those. Plus, it is strongly believed that bay leaf, like many other spices and herbs, provides better benefits when it is heated and its medicinal properties are released.
- Bay leaf is a common ingredient in Indian rice dishes. If you’re a proficient cook, try your hand at making biryani to which you can add bay leaves. If not, then you can simply temper bay leaves and add to plain rice when it is half cooked. Dishes utilising mutton and fish will also become far more savoury with the addition of bay leaf.
- The flavour of your curries will also receive a real kick with the addition of bay leaves.
- There are some dishes which call for crushed bay leaf, particularly those which include beans and potatoes. To experiment, simply grind dry, roasted bay leaves until they become a powder. This can be used as an additional spice in your existing recipes or you can trawl the internet for some exotic dishes which will have bay leaf as only one of the numerous spices in the ingredient list.
- Bay leaf oil is also a popular way to get its health benefits. The oil can be used for cooking but is more widely used as a topical application.
- If you don’t mind sipping your way to good health, try bay leaf tea. The tea is aromatic but bitter too. It is best to have bay leaf tea plain without milk or a sweetening agent. If you must sweeten it, avoid sugar and use honey instead. You can make your very own bay leaf tea by crushing some dried, roasted bay leaves in hot water and letting it sit for a few minutes so that the flavour is infused.
- Bay leaf is also a popular ingredient in soups. Simply grind it up and add it to a pot of your homemade broth. You can just add the leaves whole as well, but gently crush them first to release the flavour.
- You can also bathe with bay leaves. Boil a few leaves in a 1:2 ratio and add in a bucket of water.
Bay leaves lose their health benefits after one year so discard of unused bay leaves which have lasted that whole time. Remember to store them in a cool, dry, dark place, preferably in an air-tight container. There is no need to refrigerate.
Caution: Although bay leaf is absolutely fine for children and pregnant women and is often recommended in their diets by health practitioners, it is still better to consult with your own health care provider before you start incorporating the leafy herb in your diet.