As someone who is passionate about holistic health and wellness, I am always looking for new and exciting ways to spice up my daily routine. I am an avid user of smudging - burning sage and palo santo to help cleanse my apartment of bad juju. Occasionally, playing that little ditty - bring on those sweet, good vibrations. With that being said, I am happy to discover that I have a very valuable and medicinal herb sitting in my kitchen spice collection, and you probably do too - bay leaves!
I am sure most of you have used bay leaves in your home cooking to add a pop of flavor to your delicious stew or other home-cooked meals. I was excited (maybe a little too much) to find out that these leaves have a long history of being used in folk medicine and can be utilized for a much different purpose other than for flavoring if burned.
Ever heard of the expression “to rest on one’s laurels” or “to assume the laurel”? The Greeks and Romans worshipped the bay laurel tree, known as the tree of the Sun God. Beautiful bay leaf crowns were made to adorn philosophers, poets, athletes and other members of society who had earned the honor. Similar to the practice of burning sage sticks and palo santo, for centuries, bay leaves were burned in people’s homes and temples of worship to help increase focus and meditation.
Bay leaves contain fatty oils, pinene, cineole, elemicin compounds and perhaps most interestingly linalool. The leaf’s oils assist with digestion, respiratory enhancement, boosting the immune system. They can also be used to relieve symptoms of fatigue and is said to increase mindfulness. Let’s take a closer look at how some of the chemicals can be beneficial.
Linalool is perhaps the most interesting compound in the bay leaf. It’s effects on the body are believed to include: anxiety reduction, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-epileptic and contain analgesic qualities. Plants and shrubs, like the leaves of the bay laurel, that contain linalool often have strong pleasant floral and sometimes spiciness scents. This is thought to be a protection mechanism used to deter herbivores.
It is a naturally occurring fragrant essential oil, also known as a terpene alcohol, that can be found in varying concentrations in different flowers and spices. It is complex mixture of chemicals which are responsible for assigning distinctive aromas and flavors to plants like lavender, mint, coriander, cinnamon, citrus trees, as well as over 200 other plant species and fungi.
Since ancient times, humans have inhaled scents of plants for stress reduction. There have been many scientific studies researching the beneficial uses of linalool. Recently, in 2009, a study was conducted by the Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Science at The University of Tokyo to study the effects of reducing stress in lab rats by inhaling R)-(−)-Linalool. The study resulted in an abstract that showed how rats that were exposed to inhaling R)-(−)-Linalool during stress tests exhibited significant levels of stress-reduction.
Another beneficial chemical found in bay leaves is cineol. Researchers conducted studies on patients who were undergoing coronary angiography, a procedure that determines blockages in coronary arteries by using dye and x ray imagery. A control group inhaled plain distilled water, while secondary group inhaled essential oils containing cinerol. The secondary group that was exposed to aromatherapy reported to have less levels of anxiety and pain before and after their procedures in comparison to the control group. The study’s conclusion is that the use of aromatherapy including cineol assist in preventing pain causing hormones to be released in your body.
In another study, researchers asked separated groups of patients undergoing a nerve procedure to inhale different essential oils. One group inhaled almond oil, another eucalyptus and lastly cineol. The group that inhaled cineol containing essential oils reporting to having less anxiety than all other groups.
These are just a few examples to illustrate the numerous scientific studies in the past few decades on the health benefits of oils that are contained in bay leaves. Burning of bay leaves have been used for centuries. The inhalation of the these combined chemicals in the smoke induces a calm mind and body. Those who practice this regularly state that it can sometimes be slightly psychedelic and calming, while at the same time stimulating and awakening. The leaf’s chemicals containing pinene, cineol and elemicin help to stimulate alertness and fight fatigue when the smoke is inhaled. Others say that it can enhance social interactions within just 10 minutes of inhaling.
Bay leaves have also been known to help with cleaning up respiratory systems and remove mucus and phlegm. The leaves contain myrcene and eugenol, which are compounds that are terrific for use as anti-inflammatory. These compounds become airborne when the leaves are burned, which can be helpful during allergy season or when someone is experiencing a bad cold.
Eugenol is another magical chemical found in bay leaves that is said to treat arthritis and act as an anti-inflammatory. This is also the chemical that is responsible for the leaf’s antioxidant properties, helping to boost the immune system in addition to other vitamins in the leaves. Some practitioners have said to burn bay leaves and also use them in meals when they are sick. In addition, bay leaves contain a rich amount of vitamins A, C and zinc, calcium, iron, copper and manganese, which are all good boosters for your immune system, teeth, bones, hair, eyes and skin.
A 2008 study published in the US National Library of Medicine indicated that consuming 1-3 grams of bay leaves every day resulted in more regular insulin levels for subjects with Type II diabetes.
If any of these amazing health benefits interest you in trying your own bay leaf burning, here are some tips for getting started:
Take a few dry bay leafs and light them together the same way you would with incense, palo santo or a sage stick. Remember that the smoke may set off a smoke detector, so be mindful of your location. Let the leaves burn out and fill your environment with the smoke, but remember to breath the smoke indirectly. You may want to use an ashtray, metal tray or some sort of aluminum foil to keep the leaves on. Please keep in mind that you should never leave the burning leaves unattended as they are fire hazards.
Others have used the oils to massage their temples to relieve headaches. The oil can also be used to treat dry skin and dry scalps (applied for 1-2 hours), as well as help with cuts, insect bites and rashes due to its antibacterial properties. Alternatively, you can also boil the leaves in water (1 part leaves to 4 parts water) and let it sit for up to a few hours, inhaling the steam.