Are some bay leaves toxic?
The answer is yes, but not all of them are poisonous. There are several types of bay laurels, which have different toxicity levels. One type contains oxalates, while another one does not contain any harmful substances at all. So it depends on the type of bay laurel you eat or drink what kind of effects will occur to your body.
What do I mean by “bay laurels”?
Bay laurels are small trees found along the coastlines of Europe and Asia. They grow up to 10 feet tall and produce large, dark green leaves with purple spots. These leaves have been used for centuries as decoration in China, Japan, Korea and other countries. The leaves are edible when dried properly. However, they can cause severe allergic reactions if eaten raw or undercooked due to their high concentration of oxalic acid (a naturally occurring substance).
How can I tell whether my bay laurel is poisonous?
You may want to avoid eating bay laurels altogether. If you are unsure about the toxicity level of your favorite tree, then contact a professional arborist. You may consult with him/her before deciding on which tree to choose for your home or garden. He/she can inspect the tree and determine whether it is safe for consumption or not. But do remember that even non-toxic bay laurels have a lot of oxalic acid in them; eating too many leaves may lead to kidney stones; so stay within the limits!
Are all types of bay leaves poisonous?
No, there are some types of bay leaves which do not contain any toxic substances. These leaves are edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked. You may either buy these leaves from the market or grow them in your yard. They have a sweet and slightly bitter taste with a hint of lemon flavor (although not as strong as regular bay leaves). You can use them the same way you would use regular bay leaves, for example, while cooking soups and stews.
Why are non-toxic bay leaves not popular?
These types of bay leaves look almost exactly like regular bay leaves. They have the same shape and color. The only difference is that they are smaller in size. Due to their indistinguishable characteristics, it is difficult for buyers to identify them.
Are bay leaves edible?
Yes, but not all of them. Make sure you buy edible leaves from a reliable market, or grow the non-toxic variety in your garden (although this may be difficult as well).
What should I do if I ate a toxic bay leaf by mistake?
Do not panic. Stay calm and look for medical help immediately. Do not try to induce vomiting, unless instructed by a physician.
Symptoms Of Eating A Toxic Bay Leaf:
Burning sensation in the mouth and throat
Difficulty in breathing
How to treat skin irritation:
Wash the affected area with mild soap and water thoroughly.
Gently pat dry the area with a soft towel.
Apply a corticosteroid cream on the affected area. One such example is 1% hydrocortisone cream. Alternatively, you can also apply calamine lotion or any other anti-itch cream available over the counter.
If the burning sensation is severe, take an over-the-counter anti-acid medication, like heartburn relief pills.
Sometimes the burning sensation continues for several days. In this case, you may also take aspirin. However, before taking aspirin speak to a physician first, as it may worsen the condition for some people.
Prevention Of Skin Irritation And Further Allergic Reactions:
Do not chew on the leaves.
Do not crush dry leaves and leave them near your nose.
Wear gloves while handling bay leaves to avoid direct skin contact.
Wash your hands thoroughly after using gloves or removing them.
After handling bay leaves, wash your hands with mild soap and water to get rid of any leaf residue.
If you don’t wish to handle bay leaves directly, use kitchen gloves, or simply purchase pre-cut and pre-packaged bay leaves from the market.
Avoid burning the leaves, as this may release more smoke and cause further irritation.
Where Can I Buy Edible/Non-Toxic Bay Leaves?
You can find many types of bay leaves in Indian Grocery stores. Here are some common types of edible bay leaves that you may find in your local store:
Sweet Bay Leaf or Laurel Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
Also known as the true bay leaf, this is the one that commonly grows wild in Greece, Italy and Spain. It is also the type that is generally dried and used for cooking. While it is known to have a sweet flavor with a hint of spice, it is also the type that contains the highest amount of toxins.
The leaves are dark green in color and shiny on the upper side, with a duller and rougher texture on the lower side. The size of the leaf may vary from 2-6 inches in length and 1-2 inches in width.
The aroma is not as strong as in other types, but still detectable.
It is also sometimes referred to as Turkish Bay Leaf.
Laurier Rose (Laurus nobilis)
Also known as Sweet Bay, this is the variety that is grown for ornamental purposes. While its use in cooking may be limited, it can also be used as a substitute for the common bay leaf.
It has a sweeter flavor than the others, due to the fact that it is younger and tends to be picked when it is still green.
The leaves are almost identical to the sweet bay leaf, but browner in color due to the lack of sun exposure. It can also sometimes be mistaken for the laurel leaf.
This type of bay leaf is more expensive than the others, due to its limited growth area (only the island of Corsica). It is typically used in slow-cooked recipes such as stews and soups.
It is also sometimes referred to as Sweet Laurel.
Laurel Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
Also known as Bay Leaf, this is the type of bay leaf that is grown for cooking. While it may not be as sweet as the other types, its flavor can be stronger due to it being older.
The leaves can vary in color from dark green to brownish green. The younger leaves are typically picked while still green, while the older leaves are picked when they start to turn brown.
The flavor tends to be stronger and more bitter than the other types. The aroma is also stronger, but some of the aroma can be lost during the drying process.
This type of bay leaf is the most commonly found in supermarkets, and is the least expensive.
Scented Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
This type of bay leaf is typically used for decoration more than cooking. It tends to not be as strong or as bitter in taste as the other types, and is also picked while still green.
The aroma can be stronger than the other types, and its flavor is perhaps closer to that of the sweet bay leaf.
Where Can I Buy Bay Leaves?
You can find bay leaves in most Indian Grocery stores. If you can’t find them there, you can also look for online vendors that sell them. You may be able to find them in certain health food stores or even in some regular grocery stores as well.
It is best to buy the whole leaves as opposed to the ground version, as the ground version tends to lose its flavor much quicker. The dried leaves can easily be stored for up to a year as long as they are kept in a sealed container away from sunlight.
What’s the Best Way to Store Them?
As mentioned earlier, it is best to buy whole bay leaves and then crush just the amount that you need for each recipe. Using a mortar and pestle works best, but you can also break them with a heavy spoon if needed.
The left over crushed leaves can be kept in the freezer in a sealed bag or container for up to 6 months. You can also place them in a cup of water (like how you keep herbs in a kitchen cabinet), and this will help keep them from drying out as well.
They can also be ground up and placed into a glass, tin, or plastic container with a secure lid (this is ideal for cooking recipes that require a lot of bay leaves).
Bay leaves aren’t just for cooking.
Did you know they can do all this?
So if you are looking to buy some bay leaves, make sure you get the right ones for your needs. The differences may be small, but they can definitely change the taste of a dish.
Sources & references used in this article:
Systemic allergic dermatitis caused by sesquiterpene lactones by E Paulsen – Contact Dermatitis, 2017 – Wiley Online Library
Open-source food: Nutrition, toxicology, and availability of wild edible greens in the East Bay by PB Stark, D Miller, TJ Carlson, KR De Vasquez – Plos one, 2019 – journals.plos.org
The semantics of Greek names for plants by RM Dawkins – The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1936 – JSTOR