Bay Leaves: from Flavouring to Medical Benefits

Green Bay Leaf Wreath on white background

The legends say that once upon a time, bay leaves were used to repel demons, witches, lightning and thunder. It is said that the great Tiberius Caesar Augustus, the second Roman Emperor (reined from AD 14 to 37) had a bay leaf hat to protect him from lightning. Most commonly bay leaves come from an ancient evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region called Laurus nobilis.

This herb has been around since ancient times and has been used as food flavouring as well as medicinal remedy. The herb is associated with prosperity, honour and fame and has many other ritualistic uses, including protection from misfortune, purification, meditation, accessing higher creative powers, etc. Most importantly this herb lists impressive health benefits in the folk medicine that are yet to be validated by modern medicine.

Harnessing the beneficial effects of bay leaf is easier than one might think in Australia. That is because Bay tree is so easy to grow in pots or garden, but be warned it requires constant pruning.

The leaves are rich in vitamins (specifically vitamin A and C) and minerals including copper, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese. Furthermore, the leaves contain tannins, flavones, flavonoids, alkaloids, eugenol, linalool, methyl chavicol, and anthocyanins (Batool et al, 2020). Here’s what modern research tells us about bay leaves benefits:

  1. May Improve Lipid Metabolism in Type 2 Diabetes: Just one or 2 grams a day for a minimum of 10 days is able to help decrease risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases for people with type 2 diabetes. (Khan et al, 2009);
  2. May Help Fight Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers: an aqueous extract of bay leaf is as effective as ginger, and nigella in fighting against bacteria (commonly Helicobacter Pyloriis) known to lead to stomach ulcer (Biglar et al, 2014);
  3. Could be useful in wound healing preventing fungal infections: the essential oil from bay leaves has been efficient in combating fungal infections (Candida albicans biofilms) (Freires et al, 2016).

Throughout the history bay leaf has also known for other biological activities including:

  • As a poultice to help with wound healing,
  • As a topical application of the oil to ease the arthritic pain,
  • Bug repellent,
  • Vapour treatment in chest and viral infections,
  • Commonly used in cosmetic creams, perfumes, hair conditioner and soaps.

Bay Leaf Tea

Bay leaf tea is delicious; I love the aromatic fragrance that the leaves release when I make the tea. A coup of bay leaf tea can soothe and relax the body. After work or a stressful day and before bedtime the tea will help you getting into the “zzzzzzzzz” mode in no time. Bay leaf is not a morning tea: save it for the afternoon or evening. The tea should be consumed with caution, as it is known to have some slight narcotic qualities slowing down the central nervous system (Batool et al, 2020).

  • One litre water;
  • 5 bay leaves;
  • Juice of one large lemon;
  • Place ingredients, together, in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid reduces to half.
  • Strain and add the lemon juice.
  • Drink the tea after it cools down.

Hair Conditioner. The bay leaf tea can also be used as your best hair conditioner: it will add extra shine to the hair. Use the tea after shampooing your hair.

Safety: If you have a bay leaf tree always make the tea from dried leaves. Fresh Bay leaves have a pungent and bitter taste and should only be used for food flavouring or tea 48 to 72 hours after being harvested. Although, there is insufficient data about the safety of taking bay leaf in pregnancy and breastfeeding it is most probably better to avoid its use during this period.

Ground bay leaf is considered safe when taken in medicinal quantities, less than ¾ of a teaspoon or approximately 3 grams a day, and for a short period (up to maximum 40 days). But, if you cook with whole bay leaf, you must remove it before eating the food. Bay leaf cannot be digested and remains intact in the digestive tract and it may cause piercing of the lining of the intestines.

Final thoughts

Most of the studies I found in my research refer to either in-vitro or testing of bay leaf extracts. As scientific research progresses, we may be able to find out how the savoury leaf makes the jump from being used just as flavouring agent to human medical benefits.

As with all natural products one must manifest caution when embarking on the use of bay leaf for its medicinal properties. When in doubt it is always better to consult and experienced and qualified professional if you feel that your ill-health symptoms require in depth attention.

I would love to hear from you about how you use Bay leaf in your daily life, or if you have any questions please write in the comments below.

References

Batool, S., Khera, R. A., Hanif, M. A., & Ayub, M. A. (2020). Bay Leaf. Medicinal Plants of South Asia, 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102659-5.00005-7

Biglar, M., Sufi, H., Bagherzadeh, K., Amanlou, M., & Mojab, F. (2014). Screening of 20 commonly used Iranian traditional medicinal plants against urease. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR, 13(Suppl), 195–198. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977070/#__ffn_sectitle

Peixoto, L. R., Rosalen, P. L., Ferreira, G. L., Freires, I. A., de Carvalho, F. G., Castellano, L. R., & de Castro, R. D. (2017). Antifungal activity, mode of action and anti-biofilm effects of Laurus nobilis Linnaeus essential oil against Candida spp. Archives of oral biology, 73, 179–185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.archoralbio.2016.10.013

Khan, A., Zaman, G., & Anderson, R. A. (2009). Bay leaves improve glucose and lipid profile of people with type 2 diabetes. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 44(1), 52–56. https://doi.org/10.3164/jcbn.08-188

FEED Your Trillion Workers

Microbiome Boosting Strategies to Keep You Healthy

Some say that we’re more microbe than human. And guess what: this is not a myth anymore. We develop the gut microbiome by age 3, but this can be altered depending on the environmental factors determining the diet type one follows. Currently, we know that there are about 30 to 40 trillion microbes living within us and working for or against us (Holmes & Rosewarne). That is all depending who we feed and what we feed them with. As we move through life and different environments, our microbiota changes, evolves or de-evolves.

Want to know more? Follow the links in the references for an in-depth analysis of this topic. This blog is about how to boost a diverse microbiome on fresh produce in a relatively short time. The answer is in the title: FEED your trillion workers.

How to Boost Gut Microbiome?

It is relatively easy to boost the gut microbiome. To do so one must make sure that the good bacteria, the Trillion Workers, are well nourished. I made it easy for you to remember using the acronym FEED: Feast, Eat Eschew and Ditch as described below:

Feast on whole foods

  1. Increase your Dietary Fibre by eating regularly your pile of greens: 2½ cups per day would be a beneficial investment as long as you diversify your salads and leafy meals to include other green Champions, walloped with Vitamins A, C, K, antioxidants and minerals. Examples include:
    1. Arugula – or rocket known as the champion in health-promoting bacteria due to its high content of phytochemicals as well as for its cancer fighter properties (Wassermann et al, 2017);
    2. Bok choy – known for its water soluble food folates (Ware, 2018) that are beneficial to the colonic microbiota (Food and Nutrition Board, 1988);
    3. Swiss chards and kale.
  2. Consume Natural Prebiotic Fibre from whole foods. It is believed that one needs to consume in average about 5g of prebiotic fibre per day. The Prebiotics are a special kind of fibre containing high levels of inulin. Prebiotic fibres pass through the gastro-intestinal tract undigested and stimulate the growth and/or activity of certain ‘good’ bacteria in the colon; example include (Gibson, 1998):
    1. Leeks – promote healthy digestions by breaking down fat;
    2. Asparagus – the benefits of this wonder vegie are multiple: its soluble fibre content soars a…, it is a natural diuretic ( you will have a stinky pee though) and it is known to help flush your body of excess salt;
    3. Jerusalem artichoke – are delicious consumed raw or baked; see note for wind production;
    4. Apples – are high in pectin, a prebiotic fibre that helps decrease the harmful bacteria in the gut while playing a significant role in cholesterol reduction (Bernie et al, 2019);
    5. Chicory root – has a very high inulin content and it is often used as a substitute for coffee, without the benefits of the caffeine kick. Due to its high fibre content it is unsuitable for people suffering from IBS or Crohn’s disease.

A note of caution: when changing from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet, people experience an increase in wind production. Main culprits are Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root. If this is the case, it is better to allow the body to adjust to the new diet over a period of five to 10 days.

Eat Fermented Foods

Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years and they provide the best source of probiotics: live bacteria that are beneficial for gut lining.

Probiotic yogurt. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with different bacteria. These days supermarkets are full of yogurt products boasting on the probiotics benefits. The main question here is the following “Do they actually make it through the acidic environment of the stomach to colonise the lower intestinal tract?” Trouble is that the real impact that they might have in the gut microbiome is rather unclear. Furthermore the probiotic bacteria often loose viability during shelf storage (Mani-López et al, 2014). If you consume probiotic yogurt, a good rule of thumb is to choose the ones closer to the production date if available.

Best probiotics foods

  1. Sauerkraut
  2. Pickles
  3. Kimchi
  4. Kombucha
  5. Natto
  6. Miso

A note of caution: Probiotics are live organisms, consumed in large quantities can lead to less beneficial effects including diarrhoea. To increase the benefits of probiotics ensure that you consume sufficient amounts of prebiotics.

Eschew artificial sweeteners

We all know that excess sugar is not good for health in general and is rather unbeneficial for gut health. So, we can access the lesser alternative: fewer calories, same taste. But it turns out that this is far from being the helper we wanted. The “sugar free” products are not always the healthier choices one can make (Ruiz-Ojeda et al, 2019). Some of them, sucralose, can disrupt the digestive health system simply because the body does not recognises it as food! Dr Axe expands on more reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners.

Ditch processed foods

Processed foods like include packaged breads and pastries, frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, sugar-sweetened sodas, potato chips. Most of them include artificial substances (food colorings, artificial flavours) or contain food components (hydrogenated fats) that are designed to trick the taste and be effective addictive “go to” comfort foods.

Processed foods break down into compounds that are detrimental to the good bacteria and feed the bad bacteria. More often than not they disrupt the digestive system causing irritation and inflammation.

Interesting fact. Recent research just published in May 2020, in Cell Reports, shows that the nose has its own microbiome that affects our health in a similar way as the gut microbiome (Boeck et al 2020). Furthermore it shows that a specific strain probiotic, Lactobacillus casei, is beneficial for the nasal cavity although snorting yogurt is not yet an option. This is the subject for another blog though.

My story with the gut microbiome is one of overcoming pain. As a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, I went through the highs and lows of health recovery: one in which applied nutrition knowledge led to managing this state without a shadow of a doubt. Re-stablishing the gut microbiota was the key.

Resources

Berni, R., Cantini, C., Guarnieri, M., Nepi, M., Hausman, J. F., Guerriero, G., Romi, M., & Cai, G. (2019). Nutraceutical Characteristics of Ancient Malus x domestica Borkh. Fruits Recovered across Siena in Tuscany. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 6(1), 27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30781616/ https://doi.org/10.3390/medicines6010027

De Boeck et al, 2020, Lactobacilli Have a Niche in the Human Nose, Cell Reports, 31, 107674, https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(20)30627-6

Ertem, H., & Cakmakci, S., (2017). Shelf life and quality of probiotic yogurt produced with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Gobdin. International Journal of Food Science & Technology. 53. 10.1111/ijfs.13653.

Food and Nutrition Board 1988 – Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.

Holmes, A., Rosewarne, C., (2019)Gut Bacteria: The Inside Story, Australian Academy of Science https://www.science.org.au/curious/people-medicine/gut-bacteria

Gibson G. R. (1998). Dietary modulation of the human gut microflora using prebiotics. The British journal of nutrition, 80(4), S209–S212.

Megan Ware, The Health Benefits of Bok Choy, Medical News Today, August 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/280948

E. Mani-López, E. Palou, A. López-Malo,. (2014), Probiotic viability and storage stability of yogurts and fermented milks prepared with several mixtures of lactic acid bacteria, J. of Dairy Science, 97(5): 2578-590, https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2013-7551. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030214002549

Ruiz-Ojeda, F. J., Plaza-Díaz, J., Sáez-Lara, M. J., & Gil, A. (2019). Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(suppl_1), S31–S48. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy037

Wassermann, B., Rybakova, D., Müller, C., & Berg, G. (2017). Harnessing the microbiomes of Brassica vegetables for health issues. Scientific reports, 7(1), 17649. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17949-z https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5732279/