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Bay leaves - Cultivation, production and processing, Functional properties


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Bay leaves

1     Introduction

The commodity, traded as sweet bay leaf, and true, Roman, or Turkish laurel, is derived from the leaves of Laurus nobilis L. (Family Lauraceae). Because of the similarity in the leaves, several other trees are also variously known as: West Indian bay tree (Pimenta racemosa),  Cherry  laurel  (Prunus  laurocerasus),  Portugal  laurel  (Prunus  lusitanica), Laurel  of  the  southern  states  (Prunus  caroliniana),  the  Laurel  or  Mountain  laurel  of California (Umbellularia californica). However, the leaves of true L. nobilis must not be confused  with  other  laurels.  L.  nobilis  is  a  native  of  the  Mediterranean  and  grows spontaneously in scrubland and woods in Europe and in California. It is widely cultivated in Europe, America and in Arabian countries from Libya to Morocco (Bailey 1963, Anon.


The flavouring  properties of L. nobilis have  been  known since antiquity. In biblical times, the bay was symbolic of wealth and wickedness, and in the classical world heroes and victors were decorated with a laurel wreath. In addition to being a very well known culinary  herb,  the  leaves  and  fruits  of  L.  nobilis  are  used  medicinally  throughout  the world.   Infusions   or   decoctions   made   from   these   materials   have   diaphoretic   and carminative  effects  and  also  serve  as  a  general  gastric  secretion  stimulant.  Laurel  oil or  butter  obtained  from  the  fruits  (berries)  of  L.  nobilis  is  a  vital  ingredient  of  laurin ointment, a popular medicine for rheumatism and gout and for the treatment of spleen and liver diseases. It also finds application in veterinary medicine (Anon. 1962; Duke 1989; Wren 1975; Francesco and Francesco 1971).

L. nobilis is an evergreen shrub, or more rarely a tree attaining a height of 15–20 m. The smooth bark may be olive green or of reddish hue. The luxurious, evergreen leaves are  alternate  with  short  stalks,  lanceolate  or  lanceolate  oblong,  acuminate,  58  cm  or longer and 3–4 cm  wide, coriaceous,  pellucid-punctate, and with revolute, entire  wavy margins;  the  upper  surface  is  glabrous  and  shiny,  olive  green  to  brown  and  the  lower surface  is  dull  olive  to  brown  with  a  prominant  rib  and  veins.  The  flowers  are  small, yellow  in  colour,  unisexual  and  appear  in  clusters.  The  fruits  (berries)  are  cherry-like, succulent, purple to black in colour, ovoid, coarsely wrinkled and contain a single seed

with loose kernel. The dried fruits are drupaceous, ovoid, about 15 mm long and 10 mm wide. The outer surface is glabrous, shining, nearly black and is coarsely wrinkled owing to the shrinkage of the narrow succulent region beneath the epidermis. The remains of the style appear as a small point at the apex and a small scar at the base marks the point of attachment of the fruit to the thalamus. The endocarp is thin and woody and the testa is adherent to its inner surface. The entire pericarp is about 0.5 mm thick. The kernel of the seed  consists  of  two  large  plano-convex  cotyledons  and  small  superior  radicle;  it  is brownish-yellow, starchy and oleaginous, with an aromatic odour and aromatic and bitter taste (Bailey 1963; Wallis 1960; Francesco and Francesco 1971).

The cross-section of the leaf shows epidermal cells with thick cuticle; the epidermal cells in surface view are sinous, pitted and thick walled. The lower epidermal walls are more  curvilinear  and  distinctly  beaded.  The  stomata  are  present  only  on  the  lower surface,  singly  or  in  pairs.  The  mesophyll  of  the  leaf  is  distinctly  represented  by  two layers of parenchymatous palisade cells and a region of spongy parenchyma containing scattered spheroidal oil reservoirs, fibro-vascular and collenchymatous tissues. The leaf has  characteristic  fragrance  when  crushed  and  its  taste  is  bitter  and  aromatic  (Wallis

1960; Bagchi and Srivastava 1993).

2     Cultivation, production and processing

Sweet bay is propagated by seeds or preferably by cuttings. From a well ripened wood, cuttings of about 7.5 to 10 cm length are put in sharp sand either under bell-glasses or in glass cases. The rooted cuttings are placed in small pots containing fairly rich sandy loam with good drainage, and then can be put in a hot bed, with gentle bottom heat where they will  make  a  good strong  growth.  L.  nobilis  stem  cuttings  produce  roots  better  in  July/ August,  under  Mediterranean  conditions,  than  in  other  seasons,  although  the  optimal rooting  period  can  be  extended  by  bottom  heating  from  May  until  September  (Raviv

1983a). Ligneous, subapical stem cuttings of bay laurel have a higher rooting percentage than  herbaceous  apical  cuttings,  probably  due  to  water  deficit  in  the  latter,  moisture sufficiency  may  be  critical  due  to  the  very  long  rooting  period  of  four  to  five  months

(Raviv 1983b).

Rapid and efficient rooting of L. nobilis occurs at a root medium temperature of 20sC to  30sC,  especially  during  the  winter  when,  if  not  heated,  both  the  medium  and  air temperatures are less than 15sC in the Mediterranean region (Raviv and Puticvsky 1983). After that, they may be planted in nursery beds with rich sandy soil and good drainage. In one  growing  season,  the  plants  may  attain  a  height  of  1  to  1.5  m.  At  the  end  of  the growing  season  and  long  before  the  cold  season  the  young  plants  together  with  their stakes  are  kept  in  well  lit  and  ventilated  sheds,  and  temperature  is  kept  just  above freezing.  These  plants  are  kept  in  close  rows  and  watered  once  or  twice  a  week.  The plants are taken out during the spring season and either potted or plunged in nursery. The rich peaty soil with plenty of water and congenial moist atmosphere near the sea coast are favourable conditions for fast and luxriant growth (Bailey 1963). It also grows well under the partly shaded conditions in gardens or orchards.

The  leaves  of  L.  nobilis  are  plucked  and  dried  under  shade  for  use  as  a  flavouring material  in  a  variety  of  culinary  preparations, especially  in  French  cuisine.  The  leaves contain  an essential  oil  of aromatic, spicy  odour and  flavour  which  can  be  isolated  by steam  distillation.  The  oil  is  a  valuable  adjunct  in  the  flavouring  of  all  kinds  of  food products,  particularly  meats,  sausages,  canned  soups,  baked  goods,  confectionery,  etc.

The oil replaces the dried leaves to great advantage because it can be dosed more exactly and therefore gives more uniform results than the dried leaves (Guenther 1953).

Laurel berries  contain  about  1% of an aromatic  volatile  oil  and  25 to  30% fat.  The separated fat is the Olecum lauri expressum of commerce. The pure fat is of dull green colour,  granular  and  has  an  aromatic  odour.  The  expressed  oil  is  used  in  stimulating liniments and in veterinary practice (Wallis 1960).

Currently, two types of essential oils are traded internationally under the name ‘bay oil’, although they are entirely unrelated to each other. The West Indian bay oil or bay leaf oil is distilled from the leaves of the tree of Pimenta racemosa, which is found on the various islands of the West Indies, but most particularly in Dominica. The Turkish bay oil or laurel leaf oil is distilled from the leaves of L. nobilis. The sources of the bulk culinary bay leaves are Turkey and the Balkan countries, and in small quantities from France. The annual production level of the genuine L. nobilis oil is only about 2 tons. It is marketed mainly in Western Europe, largely in Germany and the Netherlands (Anon. 1986).

3     Chemical composition

A good deal of work on physico-chemical characterisation and chemical composition of essential oils of different parts of L. nobilis have been reported. The reported values of physico-chemical  constants  and  chemical  constituents  identified  are  provided  in  Table

1. The studies carried out so far on the bay oil indicate the influence of geographical origin  of  variety  and  harvest  season  on  the  chemical  composition.  The  chemical composition  of  the  flower  essential  oil  is  quite  different  from  other  parts  of  the  plant, namely leaves, stem bark and stem wood (Fiorini et al. 1997). The earlier studies were mostly carried out by chemical methods (Nigam et al. 1958) but recent GC-MS and GLC analyses has made possible the isolation and characterisation of a number of compounds more accurately  and  efficiently (Nigam  et al.  1992; Fiorini  et al. 1997). The  chemical structure of some of the important constituents are provided in Figure 1. The presence of 1,8 cineole in appreciable amounts makes the oil of bay leaves an important perfumery item (Pruidze 1971).

4     Functional properties

Although the dried bay leaves and their essential oil are mainly used as a spice and food flavouring agent, the bay oil also finds use in folk or traditional  medicines of different countries, for the treatment of a number of diseases. Recent studies have shown that it has the following functional properties:

   antimicrobial and antifungal characteristics

   hypoglycaemic properties (in the control of diabetes)

   antiulcerogenic properties.

The essential oil of L. nobilis has been found to be active against Staphylococcus aureus,

Escherichia coli, Shigella flexnerii and Salmonella typhi, pathogens of the intestinal tract

(Syed et al. 1991). The L. nobilis has also been noted to possess anti-fungal activity (ies),

(Rahari Velomanana et al. 1989; MacGregor et al. 1974).

The hypoglycaemic activity of bay leaf extracts has also been reported (Ashaeva et al.

1984). Bay leaves potentiated  the action  of insulin in glucose metabolism (Khan et al.

Table 1    Physico-chemical properties and chemical constituents of essential oil extracted from different parts of Laurus nobilis of varying geographical origins

S. No. Geographical                    Plant part                                 Physical characteristic(s)                 Chemical constituent(s) identified               Reference(s)

origin of the  and its          determined

resource        essential oil

material         content

1.        NAa                              NA               Yellowish brown unpleasant odour,                                               -pinene, eugenol, phellandrene            Rattu and Maccioni (1952)

d 0.9278 (   )22  d                        120s, hd 1.4730, soluble in ethyl alcohol 1:90

2.        NA                Fruits, 1%                                                pinene, cineole, lauric acid, alcohols and  Rattu et al. (1953)



20  0.9218, (   )D          cineole (12.8%), free alcohols 10.7%,       Nigam et al. (1958)

18.9s, acid no. 5.92, sap. no. 67.94         esters (chiefly Mecinnamate 17.9%), free cinnamic acid (1.3%), free phenols (2.0%), terpene hydrocarbons (15.4%), and different carbonyl compounds and sesquiterpenes.

4.        Idzhevanskii,                    Leaves                                     d 2.5–3.3, (   ) 3.8–3.1.                          Melkumyan and Khurshundyan

Armenia,                                                                    (1959) Noemberyam-                                         d 0.924–1.4687, nD  0.9416–1.4664

skii, Armenia

20  C.9218, (   )d         Carbonyl compounds 11.48%, alkali         Nigam et al. (1958)

18.9s. Acid value 5.92, sap. value          soluble (by vol) 9%,    -pinene, citral

67-94, sap. value (after acetylation)          terpineol, Me-cinnamate, cinnamic acid,

99.80                                       caryophyllene, sesquiterpenes hydrocarbons

           NA                Information  NA                                            -pinene, camphene, sabinene, limonene,  Teisserie (1966)

on plant part                                               carene and 1,8-cineole (35%)

not mentioned


Table 1    Continued

S. No. Geographical                    Plant part                                 Physical characteristic(s)                 Chemical constituent(s) identified               Reference(s)

origin of the and its          determined

resource        essential oil

material         content

7.        NA                NA               NA                                            -pinene, camphene,    -pinene, sabinene,  Teisserie et al.   (1966)

3-carene,    -phellandrene,    -terpinene, myrcene,    -limonene,    -phellandrene,    - terpinene, p-cymine, terpinolene and ocimene

8.        Czechoslo-    Leaves         NA                                            -pinene, camphene, myrcene, limonene,   Chow et al. (1965)

vakia                                                                                p-cymene,    -phellandrine,    -selinene, and   -cadinene

9.        Kazakistan    Shoot, 0.5% NA                                            -pinene,    -pinene, camphene, l-sebinene,           Goryaev et al. (1966)

-myrcene, and    -phelandrene, 1- limonene, p-cymene, 1-8-cineole, acetic, propionic, butyric, caproic, caprylic, pelargonic and enanthric acid in phenolic in terpens fraction eugenol,

10.      Greece          Leaves,        NA                                            -pinene, camphene,    -pinene, sabinine,  Giuliana and Stancher (1968)

1.0%                                                           myrcene,    -phellandrene, d-limonene, cineole,    -terpinine, p-cymene,

Turkey          Leaves,        NA                                          terpinelene, camphor, linalool,    -terpineol,

0.8%                                                           terpenyl acetate,    -selinene, methyl eugenol, terpin-eugenol and acetyl eugenol

11.      NA                NA               NA                                            -pinene,    -thujene, camphene,    -pinene,           Kekelidze et al. (1977)

sabinene, myrcene,    -phellandrene, limonene,    -phellandrene, 1,8-cineole,    - terpinene, p-cymol, linalool, terpinene-4- ol, eugenol, methyl eugenol, trepenyl formate

12.      Italy              NA               NA                                            -thujene (5.9%),    -pinene (20.1%) 1,8   Hector and Retamar   (1978)

cineole (37.3%) p-cymene (traces),    - terpineol (2.2%), terpenyl acetate (10.6%), methyl eugenol (0.3%)

13.      Turkey          Leaves         NA                                          Cis-thujzen-4-ol (a new compound)           Novak (1985)

14.      Greece          Leaves         NA                                          1,8 cineole and    -terpenyl acetate (major Tucker et al. (1992)

component) pinocarvone and (E)- pinocarveol (new compounds)

15.      Uttarkhand,   Fruits, 5%    d36  0.923, nD                                 28s       1,8 cineole (28.4%), methyl cinnamate,     Nigam et al. (1992), Appendino

India                                 5.73s, acid value, 3.34 and ester                                                    (20.1%),    -phellandrene (10.1%),    - et al. (1992)

value, 25.86, ester value after                     pinene (9.3%),           terpenol (5.8%), sabinene

acetylation 54.68                 (4.9%),    -thujene (3.8%),    -humulene

(3.3%), linalool (2.3%), camphor (2.2%), and    -gurujunene 2.2%

1         India             Petroleum     NA                                          10-hydroxyoctacosanyl tetradicanoate, l-   Garg et al.   (1992)

ether extract                                                do co sanol tetradecanoate and 11-

of fruits                                                       gaveeramanthin, dehydrocostus lactone, costunolide, zalu zanin and sesquiterpene alcohol

17.      Toulouse,      Flowers,       NA                                          (E)-ocimene and sesquiterpenic       Fiorini et al. (1997)

France          0.18%                                                         compounds     -carophyllene, viridio- florene,    -clemene, germacrene-D-4-ol and germacrene-D

Leaves,                                                        1,8 cineole, linalool, methyleugenol and    -

0.57%                                                         terpenyl acetate

Stem bark                                                    1, 8 cineole


Stem wood,                                                   -terpinyl acetate, methyl eugenol and    -

0.07%                                                         copaene

a = NA, information, not available,

Fig 1    Structures of some important chemical constituents of essential oil of bay leaves

1990) and reduced glucose transport (Gurman et al. 1992). The administration of 200 and

600 mg/kg  doses of  the  ethanolic  extract  of leaves of  L. nobilis produced  a  significant decrease in blood glucose levels in diabetic rabbits (Yanardag and Can 1994).

The possible antiulcerogenic activity of L. nobilis seeds was tested on experimentally

(ethanol) induced gastric ulcers in rats. The results indicated antiulcerogenic activity for

20 and 40% aqueous extracts as well as for the oily fraction of the seeds. In acute toxicity studies, the aqueous extract was found safe with LD50 compared to oil LD50 at 0.33 ml/ kg body weight (Afifi et al. 1997).

Bay has also been reported as having a number of other properties. The methanolic extract  from  the  leaves  of  L.  nobilis  inhibited  the  elevation  of  blood  ethanol  level  in ethanol   loaded   rats.   The   bioassay-guided   separation   resulted   in   the   isolation   of costunolide,  dehydrocostus  lactone, and  santamarine  as  the  active  constituents.  The                                                                                           - methylene-  -butyrolactone structure was found to be essential for the preventive  effect on  ethanol  absorption.  In  addition,  the  retardation  of  gastric  emptying  seemed  to  be partially involved in the preventive effects (Matsuda et al. 1999).

The effects of aqueous extracts of leaves and flowers of L. nobilis on adult snail and embryo  (Biomphalaria  glabrata)  have  been  studied.  Results  obtained  have  shown  a degree  of  toxicity  on  the  embryos  starting  at  a  concentration  of  125  ppm.  The  flower extract appeared to be more effective. Cephalic and shell malformations were found in embryos treated with both leaf (50 ppm) and flower (25 ppm) extracts. The LD90 value on adult snails was estimated as 340 ppm for flower extract and 1900 ppm for leaf extract

(Rey and Kawano 1987). Cockroach repellant activity has also been found in bay leaves

(Verma and Meloan 1981).

The  antioxidant  properties  of  bay  have  been  discussed  by  Lagouri  and  Bouskou


5     Toxicity and allergenicity

Bay leaves and their essential oil do not appear to have any significant toxicity. However, sporadic  reports  have  indicated  that  bay  leaves  may  cause  allergic  contact  dermatitis

(Asakawa et al. 1974; Cheminat et al. 1984; Goncalo and Goncalo 1991) perhaps induced by one or more sesquiterpene  lactone. Certain bay leaf samples of Mexican origin had been detected to be infested with gastrointestinal disease causing Clostridium perfringens spores @ <100 to 450 Cfu/g (Rodriguez-Romo et al. 1998).

6     References

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