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8 forms of capital active hope agroecology agroforestry alder buckthorn Amazon anxiety apples arthritis back yard beans Bec Hellouin beech tree bees beneficial berries biochar biodigester biodiversity blackberries blackthorn book review brain brassica cage budget build building campesino capital card deck Celtic festivals change changes chemical-free chickens christmas circular clay pot cleansers cleansing milks climate change climate emergency climate grief climate solutions climbers climbing cob comfrey community compost compost teas connection consciousness conservation container cooking coppice coppicing cordial cosmology courgettes crafts crisis crop protection Cross Quarter Festival cultural emergence culture cycles degraded design diary diversity DIY do it yourself dryland earth care Earth's energy ecoculture economics ecopoetry ecosystem ecosystem restoration camps ecosystems edges edible edible flowers education efficiency elder elderflowers elements elixir energy equinox ethics face mask fair shares Fairtrade farming feedback feminine ferns figs film firewood flower essence flowers food food forest food garden footbath forage foraging forest garden forest gardening forests fruit fruit leather fruit trees fungi future future care gardening garlic gift economy gin Give Nature a voice Glennie Kindred global poverty glut grapes greenhouse grief groundcover grow grow food grow your own growing guilds habitat habits handcream harvest harvests hawthorn hazel hazelnut healing shrubs healing trees health healthy soil heart health hedgerow hedging herbal herbal remedies herbal teas herbalist herbs holistic holistic planned grazing home homeless homemade wine homestead hope Hugelkultur humanure hummus hungry gap IBC tanks Imbolc incense increase yields Indigenous inexpensive influence inspiration International Womens Day jam keyline kitchen garden lacto-fermentation Lammas land landscape landscapes life lifestyle limeflowers livelihood livestock living labs logs lotion low cost low-impact Lush Spring Prize macerations Mangwende Orphan Care Trust market garden market gardening marmalade marshmallow mass heater meadowsweet medicinal microbes microfarm mimic mindset mitigation money moringa Mother Earth mulch multifunctional mushrooms native plants natural natural building natural fertiliser natural skincare natural swimming pool nature nature connection nitrogen no dig no waste no-dig November nutrition nuts observe oca October off-grid oil cleansing orchard orchards organic organic gardening outdoor shower oven oxymel oyster pallets pasture-fed patterns people people care peoplecare perennials permaculture permaculture design permaculture magazine award permaculutre permayouth pesto pests philippines pine tree pips pizza oven plant profile plants pollinators pollution polyculture polycultures preserving principles propagating protection pruning prunings psycho-spiritual awareness psychospiritual transformation rainforest rainwater raspberries recipe recipes reduce reed beds regeneration regenerative regenerative agriculture relative location relative matter remedy renewable renewable energy resources restoration reuse revolution rhythms rootstock rootstocks roundhouse roundwood runner beans sage salad salve Samhain schools Scotland scotts pine seasonal seasons seeds selfcare Sepp Holzer september septic tanks sewage treatment shade sheet mulching shrubs skincare sloes slugs small solutions small-scale smallholding social justice soil health solar solutions sowing spiritual spring squash stacking functions stock-free straw straw bale summer sustainable Sweet Bay syntropic systems temperate terraces thistles thrutopia timber timber framing tincture tonic toolkit tools transformation trees upcycle urban veg garden vegan veganic vermicomposting vinegar walnuts waste water water cleansing watering weeds wellbeing wetland wild edges wild food wild garlic wildflower wildlife wine recipes wings winter winter greens winter salads wood stove woodburner woodland woodland management woodlands worms yarrow year-round food yield young people youth zai pits zone 00 zoning

Topics

8 forms of capital active hope agroecology agroforestry alder buckthorn Amazon anxiety apples arthritis back yard beans Bec Hellouin beech tree bees beneficial berries biochar biodigester biodiversity blackberries blackthorn book review brain brassica cage budget build building campesino capital card deck Celtic festivals change changes chemical-free chickens christmas circular clay pot cleansers cleansing milks climate change climate emergency climate grief climate solutions climbers climbing cob comfrey community compost compost teas connection consciousness conservation container cooking coppice coppicing cordial cosmology courgettes crafts crisis crop protection Cross Quarter Festival cultural emergence culture cycles degraded design diary diversity DIY do it yourself dryland earth care Earth's energy ecoculture economics ecopoetry ecosystem ecosystem restoration camps ecosystems edges edible edible flowers education efficiency elder elderflowers elements elixir energy equinox ethics face mask fair shares Fairtrade farming feedback feminine ferns figs film firewood flower essence flowers food food forest food garden footbath forage foraging forest garden forest gardening forests fruit fruit leather fruit trees fungi future future care gardening garlic gift economy gin Give Nature a voice Glennie Kindred global poverty glut grapes greenhouse grief groundcover grow grow food grow your own growing guilds habitat habits handcream harvest harvests hawthorn hazel hazelnut healing shrubs healing trees health healthy soil heart health hedgerow hedging herbal herbal remedies herbal teas herbalist herbs holistic holistic planned grazing home homeless homemade wine homestead hope Hugelkultur humanure hummus hungry gap IBC tanks Imbolc incense increase yields Indigenous inexpensive influence inspiration International Womens Day jam keyline kitchen garden lacto-fermentation Lammas land landscape landscapes life lifestyle limeflowers livelihood livestock living labs logs lotion low cost low-impact Lush Spring Prize macerations Mangwende Orphan Care Trust market garden market gardening marmalade marshmallow mass heater meadowsweet medicinal microbes microfarm mimic mindset mitigation money moringa Mother Earth mulch multifunctional mushrooms native plants natural natural building natural fertiliser natural skincare natural swimming pool nature nature connection nitrogen no dig no waste no-dig November nutrition nuts observe oca October off-grid oil cleansing orchard orchards organic organic gardening outdoor shower oven oxymel oyster pallets pasture-fed patterns people people care peoplecare perennials permaculture permaculture design permaculture magazine award permaculutre permayouth pesto pests philippines pine tree pips pizza oven plant profile plants pollinators pollution polyculture polycultures preserving principles propagating protection pruning prunings psycho-spiritual awareness psychospiritual transformation rainforest rainwater raspberries recipe recipes reduce reed beds regeneration regenerative regenerative agriculture relative location relative matter remedy renewable renewable energy resources restoration reuse revolution rhythms rootstock rootstocks roundhouse roundwood runner beans sage salad salve Samhain schools Scotland scotts pine seasonal seasons seeds selfcare Sepp Holzer september septic tanks sewage treatment shade sheet mulching shrubs skincare sloes slugs small solutions small-scale smallholding social justice soil health solar solutions sowing spiritual spring squash stacking functions stock-free straw straw bale summer sustainable Sweet Bay syntropic systems temperate terraces thistles thrutopia timber timber framing tincture tonic toolkit tools transformation trees upcycle urban veg garden vegan veganic vermicomposting vinegar walnuts waste water water cleansing watering weeds wellbeing wetland wild edges wild food wild garlic wildflower wildlife wine recipes wings winter winter greens winter salads wood stove woodburner woodland woodland management woodlands worms yarrow year-round food yield young people youth zai pits zone 00 zoning

How to Grow, Maintain and Use Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)

Medicinal herbalist, Anne Stobart shares the herbal benefits of Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), how to grow it and how to care for it.

Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen tree with glossy green spicy leaves and berries, used for supporting digestion since classical times and effective against respiratory infections. 

Alternate names Bay tree, common bay 

Parts used: Berries and leaves 

Sweet bay is a small to medium evergreen tree slowly growing to 10m tall (up to 20m in warmer climates) by 10m wide. It has dark green leathery leaves with pointed tips and a spicy aroma. Clusters of small yellow flowers are produced in April-May and pollination is by bees. Since male and female flowers grow on separate plants, both sexes are required for production of berries. 

Habitat 

Sweet bay originates from southern Europe and grows amongst damp rocks and ravines. 

Related plants 

L. nobilis angustifolia has narrower leaves and may be more hardy. Caution in confusing the sweet bay with other plants named as cherry laurels, which are in a different family and are potentially toxic. 

Cultivation and harvest 

Cultivation 

Sweet bay is hardy to USDA zone 7 (UK zone 7), and needs a sheltered position in most areas. It can grow in sun or dappled shade, and tolerates a range of soils so long as they are well drained. It may be best grown in a container to form a small shrub which can be brought indoors in temperatures below -5oC (23oF), or protected with fleece. In the ground the sweet bay tree can tolerate lower temperatures, especially if not pruned back to a bare stem. Sweet bay can be planted out at a spacing of 3m by 3m and is readily pruned for a harvest of leaves in spring or summer. 

Pests and diseases 

It is resistant to honey fungus, insects and rodents but can be susceptible to root rot and leaf spot fungus or infested with sap suckers or scale insects. 

Propagation 

Remove the fleshy berry outer casing from ripe fruits and sow seed as soon as possible in the autumn as seeds lose viability rapidly. Soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours and sow in a shady mulched seed bed. Prick out the seedlings when large enough to handle and grow on in the first year. Plant out in the second summer and protect in the first winter. Softwood cuttings can be taken in early summer, though are not always successful. Hardwood cuttings with a heel can be taken in November-December. Layering is possible. 

Harvesting 

The leaves are harvested in spring and dried in a single layer for several weeks. Drying reduces bitterness in the leaves. The berries are harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use. 

Therapeutic use 

Traditional 

Sweet bay leaves have been used since classical times as an infusion for digestive, respiratory and urinary complaints and the berries used to promote appetite. The leaves and berries have also traditionally been used for ague, arthritis and rheumatism, skin rashes and boils. Sweet bay has a longstanding reputation as an emmenagogue, and the berries have been used to promote expelling of the afterbirth in livestock. 

Medicinal actions and uses 

Sweet bay leaves are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant and emmenagogue. The essential oil is analgesic, antispasmodic, antibacterial and antifungal. It can be used as an insect repellent. 

Clinical applications and research 

There have been few clinical studies of sweet bay, apart from the effects of the essential oil of bay. Extract of sweet bay leaves has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, and it is suggested that sweet bay extracts could help to prevent oxidative stress and the production of free radicals in diabetes. 

Sample preparations and dosage 

The leaves can be steam distilled to produce an essential oil. Infusion of the leaves or a few drops of essential oil in hot water can be used as an inhalation for respiratory complaints. Use a leaf-infused oil, or mix five drops of essential oil per 5ml of carrier oil (such as almond or olive oil), as an application for swollen or painful joints. 

Constituents and commerce 

Key constituents 

The leaves contain flavonoids (especially epicatechin). The essential oil of sweet bay contains 1,8-cineole, pinene, sabinene, 1-linalool, eugenol, eugenol acetate, and other esters and terpenols. 

Commerce 

Sweet bay berries and leaves are collected in Mediterranean countries especially Turkey, and also cultivated in the Canary Islands, Morocco, south-eastern US and Mexico. Grown commercially in southern Europe on a coppice system, especially if irrigated, the annual yield of leaves is 5-12 tons/acre.

Safety 

Not for internal use except under the advice of a professional clinical practitioner. Although used as a culinary spice, the leaves are emetic in large doses. The essential oil should not be used undiluted on the skin as it can cause dermatitis. Not for use with children or in pregnancy or breastfeeding. 

Other uses 

Food flavouring. Hedging. Seed oil is used for making soap. Veterinary uses. Insect repellent in storage of foods. 

This is an extract from Anne Stobart’s The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook, an extensive handbook with practical information on growing, harvesting and using medicinal trees and shrubs sustainably in a temperate climate, whether for self-sufficiency or profit.

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Further Resources

Watch

The Medicinal Forest Garden

Books

The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook
by Anne Stobart

Letting in the Wild Edges
by Glennie Kindred

Vital Skincare
by Laura Pardoe

Articles

Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and its Medicinal Benefits

Benefits of Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

Drying Herbs & Herbal Recipes with Glennie Kindred

About the Author

Anne Stobart is a medical herbalist and herb grower based in Devon, UK.

She is the author of The Medicinal Forest Garden Handbook and runs various medicinal courses.