Since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, bay leaves have been considered a valuable, medicinal herb. Nowadays, we mainly use them to spice up our home cooking, but centuries ago these leaves served a much different purpose.
As we typically burn sticks or cones of incense now, bay leaves were once (and in some places, still are) burned in homes and places of worship. Some reasons were religious, some even fantastical, but others were based on the scientific fact that bay leaves contain a hodgepodge of chemicals beneficial to the body.
1. Relieves Anxiety
Bay leaf burning has been used a way to relieve stress for centuries. The combination of chemicals (specifically the chemical linalool) in the leaves creates a smoke that, when inhaled, calms the body and mind. People who burn bay leaves regularly note that the smoke puts you in a “psychedelic state,” but it doesn’t make you tired; the smoke can calm your body while simultaneously perking you up.
The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists conducted a recent study that found linalool to greatly reduce anxiety and likewise enhance social interactions between those under the influence of it. The study deduced that subjects felt the leaves effects in under 10 minutes of inhaling fumes.
2. Reduce Inflammation
Some of the medicinal properties of bay leaves include reducing inflammation in the body, especially within your joints. This healing effect comes from the chemical eugenol, which is found in bay leaves and acts as an all-natural anti-inflammatory cure.
3. Boost Immune System
Eugenol also has anti-oxidant properties and bay leaves themselves are packed full of other vitamins and minerals necessary for a high-functioning body. Because of this, burning and ingesting bay leaves has the capacity to boost your immune system.
Try burning some leaves or adding some as seasoning to dinner the next time you can’t shake a cold!
4. Cope with Diabetes
For this benefit, experts suggest consuming 1-3 grams of bay leaves a day to see the best results, as proven in a study published in the US National Library of Medicine. Consuming this amount of bay leaves for 30 left the subjects insulin levels decidedly more regular than before the study, leading researchers to believe that the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help relieve some symptoms of Type II diabetes.
5. Increase Alertness
As we mentioned earlier, bay leaf smoke may have a calming effect, but it also increases alertness. In fact, burning bay leaves are often used to combat chronic fatigue! Some of the chemicals in bay leaves such as pinene, cineol, and elemicin fight feelings of tiredness and give a pleasant energy boost to those who inhale the smoke.
6. Open Respiratory System
Bay leaves are a natural remedy that can help treat clogged, backed up respiratory passages and lungs. It acts naturally to help break up and remove the nasty mucus and phlegm that’s causing all the problems. Instead of burning the leaves, soak fresh ones in clean water or pick up a small vial of bay leaf oil and use it in a humidifier to create a steamy vapor which you then breathe in. You can also simply boil the treated water on the stove top or rub the oil on your chest area to alleviate respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma.
7. Increases Mindfulness
Since bay leaves put you in a more heightened state of calmness AND awareness, using the leaves as an incense during meditation is said to be especially effective. There is no medical research on this claim, however, frequent users do associate bay leaf smoke with a more mindful meditation practice.
This train of thought goes all the way to the ancient Greek story of Apollo and Daphne. Mythology says that Daphne transformed into a bay laurel tree to escape the eager advances of the god Apollo, and the Greeks henceforth associated the leaves of the bay tree with spiritual properties. The leaves have been burned in temples for centuries to help increase focus on prayer and meditation.