Bay leaves, of which there are numerous types, are often placed in stews and soups, but removed before anyone consumes the dish, and there is a widespread belief that bay leaves are dangerous and even toxic to both humans and animals, particularly dogs.
Fortunately, this belief is just a myth, because bay leaves are not toxic to either humans or dogs.
Why Use Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves come from any number of plants, including:
- Bay laurel (typical American bay leaf)
- California bay leaf
- Indian bay leaf
- Indonesian bay leaf
- Mexican bay leaf
- West Indies bay leaf
Believe it or not, each of these comes from a different plant, which means their taste and aroma may be different as well. Bay leaves are used for two main purposes: to improve the taste of the food, particularly foods that simmer or cook for long periods of time; and to improve the aroma of the food.
Although most people use whole bay leaves in their dishes, bay leaves can come crushed as well. The reason people use the leaves in whole form is because they tend to have a much-better flavor and aroma than the crushed variety does.
What is the reason people throw the bay leaf away before anyone eats the soup or stew? It is simply because a whole bay leaf usually has a pungent and bitter taste.
If you use bay leaves already crushed by a commercial manufacturer, you won’t have to worry about an unpleasant taste because the manufacturer always makes sure it tastes good before putting it on the market.
However, you should never crush up a whole bay leaf and put it in your dish, because the taste will still be unpleasant and you won’t be able to remove all of the tiny pieces before serving the food.
Why Do People Think Bay Leaves Are Unsafe?
People have thought that bay leaves were unsafe for consumption for many reasons. In some cases, it is because certain plants that are similar to the plant used for bay leaves – including the mountain laurel and the cherry laurel – are, in fact, poisonous to both humans and animals.
Because of this, people often confuse these plants with the bay laurel, which is where bay leaves are derived from, but in fact the plants are completely different. The bay laurel plant is not dangerous or poisonous, but the cherry and mountain laurel plants are.
Fortunately, when you purchase bay leaves from a supermarket, there is nothing to worry about because the companies that make the spice always use the correct plant and, therefore, it is completely safe for you to consume.
Does this mean you should go ahead and eat the bay leaf instead of throwing it away? That is up to you, but since the flavor of the bay leaf is not a pleasant one, most people find that bay leaves are better placed in the trash once they are done with seasoning the food.
There are other reasons for not eating a bay leaf. For starters, even after a bay leaf has been cooking for long periods of time, it will remain stiff and hard. This, coupled with the fact that it has a pointed tip, means that if swallowed, it might harm your digestive tract, which can be very unpleasant.
In some rare instances, you can even choke on a bay leaf, which is never a fun thing to experience.
In dogs, a bay leaf will not kill them or cause any serious damages, but it may very well upset their stomachs and cause digestive problems that include vomiting. If your dog accidentally eats a bay leaf, you can expect it to feel much better in a day or two, but it can be painful for you to watch in the meantime.
Finally, some people have actually gotten bay leaves stuck in their throat or esophagus, as well as perforating the intestines, although this is rare.
The Advantages of Bay Leaves
Unbeknownst to many people, there are many advantages to using bay leaves that have little or nothing to do with flavor and aroma.
For starters, bay leaves contain essential oils that have antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. This is why they have been used for centuries as a type of medicine.
You can also sprinkle bay leaves around your pantry to get rid of pests that include moths, cockroaches, silverfish, mice, and flies. In addition, scientists often use crushed bay leaves in killing jars, which are glass jars used to quickly and effectively kill insects in the lab.
Many people also make a tea out of bay leaves, and this type of tea certainly produces some medicinal benefits, including:
- Better digestion
- Improvement of respiratory problems
- Reduced inflammation
- Better heart health
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Certain anticancer properties
- Relief from migraines
Bay leaves are filled with vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and magnesium, among others, so they have excellent benefits for your overall health.
You can also get benefits related to the strength and look of your hair. If you steep bay leaves in hot water, you can rub the concoction on your scalp after you shampoo your hair and eliminate dandruff and dry scalp, as well as improve the condition of your hair follicles for much healthier, more beautiful hair.
As if all of this weren’t enough, studies have shown that when diabetics consume one to three grams per day of bay leaf, they can better control their blood sugar and even their cholesterol numbers.
Scientists are also working on ways bay leaf can be used for other purposes, including improving conditions such as brain disorders, kidney stones, and wound care. These are still in the experimental stages, of course, but the results so far are promising.
Still Afraid of Bay Leaves?
Okay, so we’ve determined that bay leaves are completely safe to eat for both humans and dogs, but are you still hesitant to use this spice in your dishes?
Don’t be, because even if you’ve already determined that you don’t like the taste of bay leaves, the solution is simple – just buy whole bay leaves, not the crushed type, and the problem is solved.
Although bay leaves greatly improve the taste of many stews, soups, and even meats, they are on the nasty side when eaten alone. If you buy and use whole bay leaves, they are super easy to remove from the dish before you start to eat it.
In fact, even if you do accidentally get the leaf in your mouth, all you have to do is spit it out and you’re all set.
Bay leaves are healthy and have many different health benefits, and the good news is, they are completely safe to eat. This rule applies to both humans and dogs, but since the whole leaf can be somewhat bitter, it is not recommended that you eat the leaf but rather, remove it before consuming the dish it was used to flavor.
If you research bay leaves some more, you will likely discover even more advantages to including this spice in your diet, but at least now you won’t have to worry about suffering ill effects from consuming this amazing food.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies…I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.