What is Laurel?

Laurel is an aromatic, perennial, evergreen Mediterranean plant belonging to the Lauraaceae family, Genus Laurus, Species L. nobilis; the binomial nomenclature for laurel is Laurus nobilis.

NB. laurel leavesThere are other related species of laurel, such as California bay, West Indian bay, and (toxic) laurel.

Botanical Description

The bay laurel is a tree that can reach 20 meters in height, but is frequently adopted as a “hedge plant” and kept in a shrubby form; the bark is asparagus-gray in color while the leaves, oval in shape, are shiny and deep green on the surface (while on the back they appear dull and pale green). Laurel’s flowers are yellow, appear in spring and subsequently originate small drupes initially green and then black.
Laurel is a plant which prefers a temperate and typically Mediterranean climate; it grows spontaneously and luxuriantly in the coastal areas of the basin (also in Italy, where it is considered a typical product of Sicily) and in Asia Minor. In cultivation, laurel tolerates well any kind of soil and survives even in more continental climates, such as the Po Valley.

Laurel in Cooking

Laurel, as an aromatic plant, is widely used both in cooking and in herbal medicine.

From a gastronomic point of view it is successfully associated (both in leaves and in ripe drupes) to white, red and black meats (or game) and to offal (famous are the “Fegatini alla marchigiana”, wrapped in a lamb net with a laurel leaf), as well as to some varieties of fresh and salt water fish (excellent for the “Tinca alla bresciana” or for the “Sarde alla Fanese”). How to forget the “laurel liqueur”, prepared with 90° alcohol, water, granular sugar and fresh laurel leaves.

Laurel can be successfully used in the formulation of aromatic salt, varying the intensity of the scent and flavor according to the choice between early leaves (laurel buds, tender, pale green, delicate and light) or mature leaves (dark green, thick, hard and particularly intense).

Video Flavored Salt (with or without laurel)

Flavored Salt for Vegetables, Meats and Fish

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Nutritional Properties

Being an aromatic herb, laurel is not used in such quantities as to modify the nutritional contribution of the various preparations to which it is added (without considering that, generally speaking, it is NOT eaten by the diner).

By way of information, the energetic contribution of bay leaves mainly comes from carbohydrates and lipids; it also contains considerable quantities of dietary fiber and it is a real and proper concentrate of mineral salts; among these we can mainly distinguish: iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and selenium.

From the vitamin point of view, laurel contains mainly riboflavin, niacin and retinol equivalents (β-carotenes).

Laurel Herbalist

Laurel is not one of the aromatic herbs of which it is possible to preserve the dried leaves because, after dehydration, they totally lose their organoleptic and taste characteristics (moreover, being an evergreen, the laurel plant provides fresh leaves throughout the year). Laurel is instead a natural preservative for cold cuts; finely chopped together with: rosemary, pepper, hot pepper, fennel and other spices, it helps food preservation by virtue of its antibiotic capacity.
In herbal medicine, laurel is used in digestive decoctions, antiseptics and against the symptoms of diseases affecting the airways. Pure bayberry oil is still used externally to relieve bruises and muscle contractures or, more rarely, against otitis; it is also used in herbal compresses against rheumatism.

NB. Laurel essential oil is used more and more rarely because of its narcoleptic and sedative properties (molecule responsible: methyleugenol).

Other Uses

All readers will be familiar with the famous “laurel wreaths”, used in the ornamental and symbolic composition for certain anniversaries such as, for example, the achievement of a university degree; from the earliest times, the laurel symbolizes glory and conquest. Moreover, curiously, it is said that the laurel plant is the only tree that is NEVER struck by lightning (obviously, this is a popular legend).
In association with or as a substitute for camphor, bay leaves can help keep moths away from clothing (it goes without saying that you should like the aroma, as your clothes will smell of it for a long time, to say the least).


  • Enciclopedia of the essential oils – G. Lawless – Tecniche Nuove – pag. 59.