Bay Leaf: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Bay leaf (also known as laurel) is a spice commonly used to flavor soups and meat dishes due to its light, herbal flavor. It is sometimes sold in stores in a powder or as a fresh leaf, but it is most commonly found as a dry, whole leaf. The bay leaf is added during the cooking process and taken out before a dish is served since the leaf itself is difficult to chew and digest. Contrary to popular myth, the bay leaf is not poisonous.

There are many species in the bay leaf family, but all share a similar taste and nutrition profile. Varieties of the bay leaf can be grown everywhere from the Caribbean to India, and it is found the spice aisles of grocery stores around the world.

Health Benefits

The humble bay leaf can pack a mighty punch when it comes to health benefits. While adding minimal calories, bay leaf increases the amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to a dish.

Some notable health benefits of bay leaf include:

Immune System Health

Bay leaf is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. These vitamins are all known to support a healthy immune system.

Digestive Aid

Bay leaf tea can help ease bouts of upset stomach. The tea is also very aromatic, which can help relieve sinus pressure or stuffy nose.

Reduces Type 2 Diabetes Risk Factors

One study showed that consuming 1 to 2 grams of bay leaf per day for thirty days helped reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, research about bay leaf’s effect on diabetes is still in the early stages, so make sure to consult with your doctor before beginning to use bay leaf as a diabetes control method. 

Nutrition

Bay leaf is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, and manganese.

Nutrients per Serving

A crumbled tablespoon of bay leaf contains:

  • 5.5 calories
  • Protein: .1 g
  • Fat: .1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 1.3 g

Things to Watch Out For

Bay leaf can add something extra to most savory dishes, and it makes an aromatic tea. However, it should not be eaten raw or in large quantities on its own since it can be hard to chew and digest. 

In addition, there have not been adequate studies on the effects of using bay leaf as a medicine during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

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How to Use Bay Leaf

Bay leaf can be found in most grocery stores. Usually it comes in a dried whole leaf form. However, dried powders and fresh leaves may also stock the shelves, so feel free to experiment with all three kinds in your recipes. Both dried, powdered bay leaf and fresh bay leaf tend to have a stronger flavor than whole, dried bay leaf, so make sure to use a bit less if subbing in for a recipe.

Here are some ways to use bay leaf in recipes:

  • Add to a soup as it cooks for a savory, spicy flavor
  • Make some very aromatic bay leaf tea to help settle your stomach
  • Try a garam masala recipe using Indian bay leaf
  • Include in a bay leaf in marinade for beef or chicken
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Bon Appetit: “Do Bay Leaves Actually Taste Like Anything?”

Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection: “Bay Leaf.”

Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition: “Bay Leaves Improve Glucose and Lipid Profile of People with Type 2 Diabetes.”

NHS Public Access: “Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage.”

USDA: “Spices, bay leaf.”

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