In Ancient times, bay leaves (Laurus nobilis), also known as laurels, came to symbolize wisdom to the Greeks and Romans, who crowned kings, poets and athletes with intricate wreaths of its glossy, feathery leaves. High achievements today are still associated with laurels. For example, a poet laureate is an accomplished poet, and graduates from college are awarded baccalaureates (baca lauri, Latin for "laurel berry").
Reportedly, both the leaves and the fruit of Laurus nobilis are often used for matters of women's health. These include increasing fertility, inducing menstruation, contraception and speeding up childbirth. Improving digestion and relieving gastrointestinal discomfort are also common reported uses, which may be due to components with diuretic, antispasmodic, antibacterial and purgative properties. Cultures throughout the world have traditionally used bay leaves to treat various conditions. However, while some initial research has indicated possible benefits, further clinical evidence supporting the use of bay leaf for any human indication is needed.
Ayurveda: In Ayurvedic medicine, Laurus nobilis has been used as a component of remedies for paralysis, gas, abdominal cramping and antidotes to poison.
Central Asian medicine: In Afghanistan, bay leaf may be mixed with anise and Casuarina equisetifolia, then inserted into the vagina to facilitate pregnancy. In Iran, the dried fruit may be decocted and taken orally to improve appetite and digestion. Also, an infusion of the dried leaf taken orally is considered to ease many ailments, including gas, cramps, amenorrhea and inflamed mucous membranes. This infusion may have diaphoretic, diuretic, and emetic activity.
Indian medicine: In Indian medicine, the leaf and fruit are believed to facilitate menstruation when taken orally. The fruit may also treat diarrhea and conditions of abnormal vaginal discharge. The oil is included in topical treatments for dandruff and rheumatism. The leaves may be used to prevent or treat infections, as a digestive aid, to induce sweating, as a sedative and as a gargle to soothe a sore throat.
Mediterranean medicine: In Greece, a hot water extract of the leaf may serve as an oral contraceptive. In Israel, the essential oil of the bay fruit may be used topically for wounds and for pain due to rheumatism or neuralgia. Also, a steam bath using dried bay leaves and other plants may be used to treat colds or to maintain overall good health. In Morocco, bay leaves are chewed to clean the teeth and may also be taken internally in cases of liver ailments. In Tunisia, dried bay leaves are taken orally for their potential sleep-inducing effect and are also used topically to ease symptoms of rheumatism.
Middle Eastern medicine: Jordanians may drink a decoction of bay leaves to stimulate appetite and treat diarrhea. In Israel, a hot water extract of dried bay leaves may serve as a component of an intravenous treatment for respiratory ailments. In general, the essential oil may be used in aromatherapy or topically for bruises, sprains or rheumatism.
European medicine: The leaves may have been burned to fend off plagues. For sprains, a poultice of the leaves steeped in oil may have been considered to relieve pain. The fruit is purportedly taken orally to speed childbirth. In England, a hot water extract of the fruit has been reportedly used to stimulate menstruation. In Italy, there are many reported uses for bay leaves and fruits. An infusion of the leaf may be drunk to improve digestion or sleep. Drinking an ethanol and water extract is believed to treat an upset stomach. The fruit might be used as a laxative. The essential oil may be used topically to soothe bruising and hemorrhoids. A blend of olive oil and dried bay fruit soaked in alcohol might be applied to painful joints. A decoction of the dried leaves may be a topical treatment for inflammation. A poultice of bay leaves might be applied to insect bites. A leaf infusion may also act as an antispasmodic, sedative and digestive.
American/American Indian medicine: In the United States, drinking a decoction of dried bay leaves has been considered useful as an astringent, as a treatment for gas, and as a digestive aid.
Latin/South American (Amazonian) medicine: In Argentina, dried bay leaves are prepared in a decoction for oral use to treat infections of the respiratory and urinary tracts. Reportedly, the fruit is eaten to hasten childbirth. To promote menstruation, 3-4 drops of leaf juice are put in water, which is then taken by mouth. In Peru, dried bay fruits or leaves are prepared in hot water and the extract is then taken by mouth to promote circulation or applied topically to help treat growths and sores.