Saturday, May 10, 2014
BAY LEAF-Laurus Nobilis
Also known as: bay laurel, sweet bay, noble laurel, indian bay, roman laurel
Parts used: leaves, berries, bark
Meridians/Organs affected: heart, spleen, digestive, kidneys, bladder, pancreas, reproductive, urinary, immune
Properties: stimulant, emmenogogue, carminative, emetic, diaphoretic, aromatic, stomachic, astringent
Bay is a member of the Lauraceae family. It is a frost-hardy, evergreen type tree that can get up to 50 feet tall. It has leathery, oval-shaped leaves and cream colored flowers that appear in the spring in clusters followed by dark purple berries. Commonly found in the Canary Islands, the Far East, Italy, France and parts of England and the Americas. It does better in a sub tropical climate.
This plant has quite a lengthy history. It was one of the most celebrated plants by early poets and athletes. The leaves were used in crowns and dedicated to gods of music and poetry. (This was back when poets were highly thought of and people aspired to be one). Laurel crowns were placed on the heads of Olympians, and doctors were honored with a laurel crown upon graduation. Court poets were even given the title of 'laureate'. This gave rise to the term 'baccalaureate' which comes from 'bacca-laureus' meaning 'laurel berry' and has become an academic standard.
In Greece, the leaves were chewed by priestesses before reading oracles. It was also believed that if you kept a bay leaf in your mouth you would be protected from misfortune and if you wore it on your head it would keep you from being struck by lightning. (Don't ask me how people come up with this stuff...) The older herbalists viewed bay as a virtuous tree. Parkinson stated that it is "..both for honest civil uses and for physic, yea both for the sick and the sound, the living and the dead." Culpeper wrote that, "The berries are very effectual against all poisons of venomous creatures, and the sting of wasps and bees, as also against the pestilence or other infectious diseases..." He also recommended it for "..diseases of the bladder, pains in the bowels by wind and stopping of urine." Culpeper was a very superstitious man who believed that bay was a "...tree of the sun and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently..." Even Shakespeare wrote of it in Richard II saying that, "Tis thought the King is dead, we will not stay, the bay trees in our country are all wither'd." which was considered to be a bad omen. The Greeks dedicated the bay tree to Apollo and believed it to be an emblem of the sun god. It was believed to protect one from evil.
The leaves of the bay tree are diaphoretic and emetic in large amounts. Bay oil distilled from the leaves and berries was used for bruises and sprains and in the ears for earaches. Bay tea was used to relieve indigestion, gas and to improve one's appetite. Jethro Kloss said that the bark is great for kidney and bladder stones as well as the spleen, pancreas and liver. He said that an infusion of the berries was good during serious epidemics such as measles, smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid, etc. The berries have been used for menstrual issues and the child-birthing process. A tea from the berries was believed to be good for the flu, colds, fevers, chronic coughs, asthma, worms, to clear out the brain, the eyes and the lungs. The oil has been used for eczema and itching, arthritic and rheumatic joints as well as bruising. It is also said to be good for sunburns. The berries have been used to remove obstructions in the system, and as an abortifacient so should NOT be used by pregnant women.
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