It is surprising that Bay Laurel essential oil does not feature more widely in books and courses on aromatherapy. It is an elegant and charming oil with an interesting chemical profile and multiple important uses.
Botanical name: Laurus nobilis
Common name: Bay Laurel, Sweet Bay, Bay Tree
Part used: Leaves
Production: Steam distillation
Environmental issues: none
Notes: Top / Middle
Blending: Juniper, Clary Sage, Lavender, Rosemary, Olibanum, Cypress, citrus and spice oils.
Bay Laurel grows on well-drained soil as an evergreen tree or shrub in regions of moderate climate and low altitude. Native to the Mediterranean area the laurel tree originally covered vast spaces of the old continent and remnants of the ancient forest flora can still be found in regions of Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Syria and Madeira. It can reach a height of 10-18 metres but, for example in kitchen gardens, it is often kept smaller by pruning. Bay Laurel is generally pest-free and is able to deter pests from neighbouring plants. Due to its inborn resistance it withstands all sorts of common plant diseases and is a natural insect-repellent. The tree or shrub is often grown as an ornamental or sheltering fence or hedge plant.
History and sybolism
Bay Laurel was highly revered throughout European cultural history. In the blossoming of Greek civilization Bay Laurel was associated with exceptional human virtue and came to symbolise the highest social status. The plant was used to form a crown or wreath of honour for poets and heroes, a custom which finds echoes in our ‘Poet Laureate’ and the academic qualification ‘baccalaureate’.
Essential Oil Characteristics
The leathery leaves of bay laurel yield the maximum oil content in early and mid-summer. The oil is obtained by steam-distillation from the dried leaves and branchlets and has a greenish-yellow colour and an odour which is sweet, spicy, herbal and camphoraceous.
Bay laurel leaves contain a biochemical cocktail of different constituents including elements of most of the main chemical groups perhaps giving us a hint of the wide range of applications. The theme of the oil is perhaps the high 1,8 cineol content.
Typical chemical composition: 1,8 cineol (42%), terpenyl acetate (10%), alpha pinene (7%), sabinene (8%), linalol (6%), beta pinene (5%), methyl eugenol (3%)…
Respiratory: As might be expected from the high 1,8 cineole content the oil has important application for respiratory complaints. Use it as an inhalation oil, and (suitably diluted in a carrier oil) in a chest rub, for ailments such as bronchitis, cough, flu, tonsillitis and viral infections. It also helps against fever and is known for relieving many other chest complaints.
Digestive: Bay leaf is widely used in mediterranean cooking and an important component of bouquet garni, and unsurprisingly the oil has a strong affinity with the digestive system. Use it for colic, indigestion, dyspepsia, flatulence, loss of appetite and other afflictions. It particularly stimulates the upper digestive system provoking the secretion of digestive juices and easing absorption of heavy food.
Energetics: Valerie Worwood finds that the oil develops imagination and inspiration, clears confusion and points the way ahead.
Lymphatic: Kurt Schnaubelt describes the noticeable relieving effect of rubbing a few drops on swollen lymph nodes.
Joints: Use in a compress against arthritic pain
Nervous system: Inhale Bay Laurel essential oil and note its immediate clarifying stimulating effect.
Special Note on Hay Fever
Try the following blend for hay fever sufferers. Put in a cup 1 drop Bay Laurel, 1 drop Roman Camomile, 1 drop Eucalyptus globulus. Add boiling water and inhale deeply. This suggestion (obtained from the IFA office actually) seems to produce immediate and lasting results.
Antioxidant and antibacterial activity; anti-inflammatory and pain reducing effects; anti-viral action against the SARS coronavirus which causes respiratory problems; anti-fungal effects.
Avoid during pregnancy. Frequent use can result in sensitization. (Don’t confuse with Bay St. Thomas, Pimenta racemosa. That’s a different plant.)