Essential oil of Laurel Noble, Hermès plant

This tree has been venerated since ancient times among the Greeks and Romans who adorned the head of their emperor with a laurel wreath . Dedicated to Apollo , it represents vitality, beauty and victory. A laurel berry wreath ( bacca laureati ) was also offered to young medical graduates, a tradition that would become the famous baccalaureate sanctioning the end of secondary studies.

The leaves are appreciated as a flavoring in cooked dishes, hence its name of laurel-sauce. The oil obtained from the berries is used, along with olive oil and salicornia (vegetable soda), in the manufacture of Aleppo soap and gives it its “surgras” quality. It is the oldest soap, produced 3500 years ago. Today, there is not a single guide who omits to mention it, nor a single shop who would do him the insult not to count it among its aromatic contingent.

A little bit of mythology

Laurel is above all a Hermès plant ! Isn’t the color of the aura of its essential oil blue? Doesn’t blue refer to the throat chakra, seat of eloquence in all its forms? Doesn’t the laurel have some hooks with the Muses – poetry, song, music – among others? Why then do we mention so little Hermes when it comes to the laurel and that full merit is granted to another deity, Apollo ? Undoubtedly because it was not Hermès who pursued the nymph Daphne with her amorous inclinations.

And this is where we get to the heart of the matter. Ovid , in the Metamorphoses (Book I), tackles the question of the genesis of the laurel: a nymph, Daphne , daughter of Peneus , is the subject of Apollo’s love affair , after the latter made fun of Eros who , in revenge, unleashed the treacherous sting of love in the heart of the god of too seductive beauty. Her relentlessness pushed the nymph to the last extremities, she begged the gods to transform her in order to escape the insistent pleas of Apollo . Daphne thus became roots, trunk, branches, foliage… laurel.

It is said that the Pythia and her priestesses indulged in the manducation of bay leaves in order to promote their visions. Either way, the visionary power of the laurel will continue. For example, the daughter of the soothsayer Tiresias , Manto , was also nicknamed Daphne . Theocritus , in her second Idyll , describes to us the magician who seeks to detect omens in the crackling produced by burning bay leaves, a technique passed in the popular augury where the leaf which burns loudly is a sign of a good harvest, and bad otherwise.

A little history

Although it hems the rim of the Mediterranean Sea like a pair of eyelashes, it has not always been so. The laurel progressed mainly on the initiative of men from a point thought to be located in Asia Minor. From the time of Hesiod , that is to say in the 8th century BC, it was common in Boeotia and formed the main vegetal adornment of the valley of Tempé in which the river Pénée flows.

So it may have been implanted over 3000 years ago by a pre-Hellenic society. Then the Greek colonists imported it to the south of Italy probably in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, since we know that it was very common in Italy around the 4th century. The Romans moved it at the same time as them, in Narbonne, as well as in the Iberian peninsula and in the north of Africa.

Today, all you have to do is open your eyes to see that the laurel has greatly exceeded the 45th parallel, since it is found both in Finistère and in the Paris region. However, these trees, planted and not on their own, generally do not bear fruit. Despite everything, over the course of this peregrination, the laurel has spread in many ways, medically and symbolically among others.

From Hippocrates , we learn that the use of laurel was not unknown to him: the frictions of its oil weakened tetanus, its leaves calmed postpartum pain. Theophrastus , who is not a doctor, concedes an interest in him, being a botanist, but the use he makes of it denotes certain therapeutic knowledge about him: he “thinks he is removing any contagious impurity from him by walking all day in the garden. city, the day of the festival of Choes, with a branch of laurel between the teeth, after having purified the hands and sprinkled with lustral water ”.

What are the pharmacological properties of bay leaf essential oil ?

Antimicrobial properties:

The essential oil of laurel is immunostimulant, bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal . It is in fact anti-infectious with pulmonary tropism and ENT with antibiofilm activity against Staphylococcus aureus. Also antibacterial vis-à-vis Escherichia coli , Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella typhimurium , bay leaf has shown an antiviral action , whose inhibitory activity vis-à-vis the replication of the SARS-CoV and HSV-1 viruses could be demonstrated.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory property:

The anti-inflammatory effect of 1,8 cineole has been demonstrated in vitro on white blood cells (monocytes) against inflammation inducers such as interleukin-1β. Mediators of the inflammatory reaction such as arachidonic acid metabolites, leukotrienes B, thromboxane-B and prostaglandins E are significantly reduced in the lungs, as is TNF-α ( tumor necrosis factor ). Eugenol and MT carbides are also involved.

Its analgesic, antineuralgic and anti-inflammatory effects are therefore comparable to morphine and piroxicam .

Antispasmodic properties:

Antispasmodic (complementary), 1,8 cineole and terpenyl acetate that the essential oil of laurel contains have an action on the smooth muscles of the trachea vis-à-vis acetylcholine. ST lactones thus slow gastric emptying.

Insecticidal property:

The insecticidal properties of bay leaf have been demonstrated against lice, mites and the flour beetle. It is also a moth repellant .

Properties on the nervous system:

Neurotonic and brain stimulating, bay leaf essential oil regulates the vegetative nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) with digestive tropism, as well as Ʃ +

Other properties:

  • Anti sclerosing
  • Lymphatic regulator
  • Vaso-coronaro-dilator
  • Antidiabetic by inhibition of alpha-glucosidase
  • Antioxidant and antiproliferative against leukemia cells (chronic myeloid leukemia), antiproliferative activity against breast cancer cells ( breast adenocarcinoma)
  • Decontracting especially by local route
  • Anti degeneration and antiputrid
  • Expectorant and mucolytic by stimulation of the exocrine glands of the respiratory mucous membranes

Does laurel essential oil require precautions for use?

  • Contraindicated in pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • For adults only (risk of seizures in children)
  • Do not inhale, diffuse, or put in the bath water
  • Do not combine with cortisone, risk of drug interaction, ask your pharmacist for advice
  • Contraindicated in asthmatics
  • Forbidden to animals
  • Contraindicated in case of history of seizure
  • Caution in case of antiepileptic treatment


Medical bibliographic sources and clinical trials :


Clementine. M.
Naturopath – Aromatherapist / Herbalist – Phytotherapist
Consultant in Clinical Phyto-aromatherapy and Ethnomedicine

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