Bay Leaf Tree & Laurel Plant Explained: Leaves Poisonous or Sweet? (Eat or Not)

Image of a bay leaf tree in a oval frame with a green background showing laurel tree for anyone asking are laurel leaves the same as sweet bay tree and how to identify a bay leaf tree.

The Bay Leaf Tree is a beautiful addition to any garden, and bay leaves are essential ingredients for flavoring many dishes.

But what is a Laurel plant exactly, and are the leaves poisonous or sweet? Many people wonder, can you eat them?

One of the oldest cultivated tree species, the Bay Leaf Tree has been a regular addition to traditional foods for centuries, its leaves and berries adding a distinct flavor to dishes around the world.

But, there are some things you should know about this lovely Laurel plant before you add it to your home garden.

Let’s strip back the bark and see what lies beneath the rough exterior of the Bay Leaf Tree that has made it such a sought-after ornamental tree.

Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis) How To Identify a Bay Leaf Tree

Historically, Bay Leaves were fashioned into crowns for warriors and heroes, and as symbols of wisdom, and in some customs, they were a sign of good fortune.

But also throughout history, they have been packed alongside fruits and foodstuffs to deter pest infestations.

They grow best in humid climates and USDA hardiness zones 8-10 and, if trimmed aggressively, they can be grown successfully indoors in pots or planted outside to grow to their full potential.

Their appeal indoors and in gardens is the fresh minty aroma that the tree emits from its evergreen leaves year round.

But the majority of Bay Leaf Tree growers do so to harvest the leaves for cooking, not for eating.5

Bay Laurel

(Laurus nobilis)

Image of Bay Leaf Tree in an oval frame with green background.
  • Characteristics: Known for its leaves rather than its ornamental nature
  • Family: Lauraceae
  • Genus: Laurus
  • Leaf: Dark green with a glossy, leathery texture. 1-3 inches long
  • Bark: Dark gray and fissured
  • Seed: One tiny seed per fruit
  • Blossoms: Pale yellow flowers, green and white. Blooms in spring
  • Fruit: Small, blackberry
  • Native Habitat: Mediterranean
  • Height: 10 - 60 feet
  • Canopy: 5 - 20 feet
  • Type: Evergreen

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Can You Eat a Bay Leaf? Are The Leaves Poisonous?

Leaves from the Bay Leaf Tree have been included in stews, chicken and fish dishes, soups, baking bread, and even for making herbal teas.

Because of its aromatic flavor, the leaves infuse the foods with a subtle fragrance that enhances the taste profiles on many levels.

Often finely ground down, they can be sprinkled over vegetables and marinated with fruits, but whenever whole leaves are included in foods, they are generally removed before serving.

Graphic that shows the Bay Leaf Tree Identification Chart with bay leaf tree leaves, bay leaf tree flowers, bay leaf tree, bay leaf tree fruit, and bay leaf tree bark in circle frames on green background.

The leaves taste peppery, often bitter, and are not edible, although they can bring a sweet honey-like taste to pastries.

Despite their complex flavorings, bay leaves aren’t eaten.

Are Bay Leaves Poisonous? (Laurel Leaves and Bay Leaf Tree Problems)

Because they are not eaten when included in foods, rumors abounded that eating the Bay Leaf would be poisonous to humans.

That is not true.

Not exactly. If eaten by accident, the only adverse reaction would be at worst an unpleasant taste left on the tongue.

If eaten in quantities, they are hard to digest and can cause intestinal problems.

The same cannot be said for cats and dogs.

Partially consuming any of the leaves from the Bay Leaf Tree has proven to be toxic to them due to an ingredient called eugenol.

If there is a Bay Leaf Tree in your garden and your dog starts exhibiting certain symptoms, seek medical advice from a veterinarian. Those signs would be:

  • Retching
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Intestinal blockages
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Bacterial infections
  • Possible liver damage

Treatments would involve an intravenous drip to administer some fluids in case of dehydration in mild cases.

In more serious instances if an entire leaf has been consumed, a feeding tube may need to be inserted down the esophagus as one of the symptoms is a lack of appetite.

Bay Leaf Laurel Tree

The irresistible flavors that the leaves1 from the Bay Leaf Tree infuse into recipes are hard to resist.

Store-bought or home-grown varieties are safe and acceptable but leaves plucked from a random Laurel Tree in the woods should be eyed with caution.

Not all Bay Laurel Trees are the same and would benefit from having a health warning stamped into the trunk.

The trees similar to the Bay Leaf Tree that would cause no adverse reactions in humans if ingested accidentally are:

  • Indian Bay Leaf (Cinnamomum tamala)
  • California Laurel (Umbellularia californica)
  • Mexican Bay Leaf (Litsea glaucescens)
  • West Indian9 Bay Leaf (Pimenta racemosa)
  • Indonesian Bay Leaf (Syzygium polyanthum)
  • Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana)
  • Red Bay (Persea borbonia)
  • Swamp Bay (Persea palustris)
  • Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lasianthus)
  • Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

All of these leaves can be used safely in cooking and baking, but none of them are recommended for consumption.

There are two types of Laurel Trees that have toxic leaves that should never be eaten as they may cause respiratory problems, and a painful burning sensation on the lips and throat caused by a substance called Grayanotoxin.

  • Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

The California Laurel Tree, although safe to add to food as a seasoning, contains a toxin called umbellulone.

This substance has unsurprisingly caused this type of Bay Tree as the ‘’headache tree.”

Close up image of the bay leaf with small flowers on it.

(Image: Sonja-Kalee11)

The leaves have a very intense flavor, which is excellent for cooking, but definitely not for eating.

Consuming any of the leaves can also cause dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, and in extreme cases cyanosis.

Growing Zones for Bay Leaf Tree: Where to Grow? (When To Plant Bay Leaf Tree for the Best Yield)

The USDA hardiness Bay Leaf Tree growing zone is fairly narrow as the climate needs to be humid and within elevations from 0 to 5,000 feet.

They have been cultivated to grow as low as zone 3 but Laurel Trees such as the Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree thrive best in zones 8-10.

Name of cultivarHardiness zoneDescription
Willow-leaf Laurel
(Laurus nobilis f. angustifolia)
3 – 10Leaves are fairly narrow and have a pleasant texture
Golden Bay
(Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’)
8-11Bright yellow and aromatic leaves
Laurus nobilis ‘Undulata’7-10Wave edges are rippled like a wave
Laurus nobilis ‘Saratoga’8-10Leaves are slighter rounder and prized for seasoning foods

The outstanding features of Bay Leaf Trees are their pyramidal shape, and what landscapers and keen home gardeners love about this tree10 is that it is low-maintenance and very versatile.

An attractive feature is that they can be pruned to remain as a Bay Leaf Tree indoors with a height of 2-4 feet, or grown as a Bay Leaf Tree in pot outdoors.

So whether growing a Bay Leaf Tree from a cutting or growing a Bay Leaf Tree from a seedling, they afford the grower a lot of flexibility in where to plant, how tall they want it to grow, and in what shape they want it to be.

The best time to plant cuttings or seedlings is at the end of spring or later as long as the ground has thawed and the frost has melted away.

Growing Bay Leaf Tree from a seed is somewhat problematic and is a bit of a process, however. They initially need to be planted in a pot at the start of winter for stratification so they can germinate in spring.

That germination period can take up to 6 months and it is at this time that Bay Leaf Tree care is important by making sure the soil is composted well, and that the pot can be brought back inside for protection whenever the nighttime temperatures drop below 20°F.

As it grows, the tree can be transferred into larger containers, or transplanted into a sunshine location in the garden where the soil has been turned over properly or has been mixed with potting soil.

Whether kept in a pot or in the ground, the Bay Leaf Plant can be coaxed into myriad shapes and designs, limited only by the imagination of the sculptor and their clipping skills.

Best Growing Conditions for Bay Leaf Tree (How Long It Takes To Grow Bay Leaf Tree)

The leaves of Bay Trees have made these trees a much sought-after possession for commercial purposes.

Countries like Algeria, Portugal, Morocco, West Indies, North America, Turkey, Spain, and Mexico as well as others have the perfect climate for growing the Bay Leaf Tree.

Bay Leaf Tree growth chart on a line graph with Bay Leaf Tree age on the x-axis and Bay Leaf Tree height on the y-axis.

Canyons and ravines are traditionally the Bay Trees’ natural habitat where up to 6 hours a day of direct sunlight can be absorbed.

A clay soil that drains well is best as too much water is not appreciated and can be problematic for the roots. But even if water is scarce for long periods of time, the tree is hardy enough to weather the drought.

The watering needs for Bay Leaf Plants are important to maintain the health of the tree or shrubs8 and to ensure that the roots do not dry out or get overwatered.

Test the soil by inserting your finger 2 knuckles deep at the base to test the moisture content.

Apart from pruning and occasional watering and regular fertilizing, it won’t take a high level of attention in nurturing these types of trees, just time.

It can take up to 2 years before any of the leaves are viable to be plucked and used to add aromatic flavors to your favorite foods.

Planting Tips for Bay Leaf Tree (Sweet Bay Tree)

The Sweet Bay Tree, as well as others, are capable to be both an indoor and an outdoor plant, both situations require similar yet slightly different planting protocols to get the best results from your project.

Below we can see the process when growing from a branch for both scenarios.

Indoor Planting Tips From CuttingOutdoor Planting Tips From Cutting
Dip the end of the cutting in a rooting compoundDip the end of the cutting in a rooting compound
Fill a small container with potting mix and place the cutting in the centerFill a small container with potting mix and place the cutting in the center
Cover with plastic to contain moisture conditions and place in indirect sunlight on a window ledgeCover with plastic to contain moisture conditions and place in indirect sunlight outside if the temperature is above 60°F
After a few months, shoots will sprout and gradually new leaves will appear. Place outside to receive direct sunlight for 30 minutes, and bring it back inside, increase exposure over the next few days.After a few months, shoots will sprout and gradually new leaves will appear. Relocate the container so it can receive direct sunlight for 30 minutes then increase exposure over the next few days.
As the seedling starts to grow, transfer your new houseplant3 into a bigger containerTransplant into its permanent location in the ground as it outgrows its container
Prune aggressively from the top down to maintain a height between 4-8ftMulch and add fertilizer around the base regularly as the tree grows. Remove dead leaves to prevent the onset of any diseases
May require regular repotting as the roots continue to outgrow the containerPruning can be done to regulate the height or it can be allowed to grow into its traditional pyramidal shape

Once the cutting has fully grown up and the leaves are ready to be harvested, the next item on the list is to protect your precious crops in your Bay Leaf garden against those pesky pests and unwanted diseases.

Common Pests of the Bay Leaf Tree and Natural Pest Control for Bay Leaf Tree

To keep your Bay leaf tree healthy, it requires three things.

Vigilance. Control. Elimination.

This is the only way to deal with any infestations to prevent undue damage and possible defoliation.

Close up image of the Bay Leaves while still on its tree.

(Image: PublicDomainPictures12)

Fortunately, due to the density of its foliage, the Bay Leaf Tree isn’t overly plagued by pests.

Generally, only persistent aphids and psyllids are bothersome so they have to be dealt with harshly.


These are the doom-mongers for leaves. They arrive en masse and can range in color from black, red, white, brown, and even a camouflaged green.

Sucking the last drop of sap from the stems or the leaves is their goal – and they have a voracious thirst.

If allowed to have their way unchallenged, the entire plant will suffer.


Also known as the jumping plant lice, the psyllid is also a prolific sapsucker. It also secretes a sticky substance that promotes the growth of sooty mold.2

This causes further damage to any leaves that haven’t sucked dry of sap by inhibiting photosynthesis.

Bay Suckers

Rather than focusing solely on the sap of the leaves, Bay suckers devour the undersides of the leaves. They hide completely out of sight and go unnoticed by casual inspections, munching away to their heart’s content.

Although not lethal to the plant, leaves will eventually fall off.


Organic, long-lasting insecticides can be purchased from stores to be sprayed liberally over the leaves. Alternatively, homemade remedies can be made from water mixed with dishwashing soap.

Bay suckers can be picked off and infected foliage should be trimmed away.

There are other pests to be wary of, such as thrips and borers, who themselves can cause some diseases to take root rot.

Phytophthora Fungus

Gardeners tend to look as mortified as their plants look sad when this fungus is spotted. This is due to the fact that it is hard to diagnose, the tree appearing wilted similar to when it is lacking water.

The leaves turn brown at the edges, droop, and curl up.

If undiagnosed, there is a risk of overwatering in a drive to revive the thirsty-looking plant, but this will only exacerbate the problem and increase the stress on the tree.

Eventually, with continued watering or no treatment administered, the damage can become too great and the tree can wither away to nothing.


Removing soil around the base is the main form of treatment. It will expose the roots so they can dry out naturally, and the sunlight to help eliminate this fungus.

Or at least slow it down. Alternatively, phosphite can be applied in the hope that it will suppress the pathogen enough so that the natural defense system of the tree will be able to fight off the weakened disease.

Companion Plants for Growing Bay Leaf Tree (Bay Leaf Tree for Sale)

A potted Bay Leaf Tree can be purchased from garden centers where Bay Leaf Plants for sale can be found at reasonable prices.

At this stage of growth, the tree can be transplanted directly into place in your garden to save time growing from a seed or a cutting.

As it grows over the next year or so, companion plants can be planted around and underneath to improve the tree’s growth potential, and to repel pests.

Close up image of Bay Leaves along with perpper corns on a brown table.

(Image: vojtech Havlis13)

The right companion plants can attract pollinators,7 insects, and birds who just happen to enjoy snacking on some of the pests that have their beady eyes locked on your luscious leaves.

To also take advantage of available space and add diversity, consider installing these plants:

  • Beans
  • Coriander
  • Rosemary
  • Yarrow
  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Anise
  • Asparagus

Bay Leaf Tree Not Growing Leaves in Spring

The sweet Bay Leaf Tree is sometimes mistaken for the Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree. This most often occurs if leaves from the Bay Leaf Tree not growing leaves in spring.

Causes of the leaves refusing to bloom can point to overwatering, nutrient deficiencies, or a drop in the temperature. Identifying the cause will rejuvenate the leaves to start to appear again fairly quickly.

This absence of leaves can occur in other trees that also do not appreciate a deluge of water.

One of the first lessons to learn when either studying a Magnolia Tree care regimen or the care for any other type of tree is to determine what its hydration requirements are.

Too much water can be just as detrimental as too little.

Bay Leaf Medicinal Uses

The leaves of the Bay Leaf Tree have more uses than just boosting the flavors of stews and soups. They have been used to make:

  • Teas
  • Essential oils
  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Drinks
  • Dental products
  • Treatments for rheumatism
  • To alleviate fevers
  • For skin rashes
  • Liquors
  • Diarrhea
  • To stop vomiting
  • Used as an anti-inflammatory medication

Bay rum is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages distilled from the berries of the West Indian Bay Tree and is famous the world over.

In ancient times, people made teas from the leaves, not just for a refreshing drink but also to treat colds, headaches, and coughs, as well as many other ailments.

A dressing was made from the leaves to treat skin infections after being soaked in hot water and applied topically.

Even without scientific studies behind them, they appreciated the benefits of the Bay Leaf Tree.

Close up photos of young laurel leaves while being partially shone with sunlight on its background.

(Image: Hans14)

Science has confirmed that the tree is jam-packed full of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium as well as others, and there are several benefits to having them as houseplants.6

A treasure trove of health benefits, and as a flavor-enhancing seasoning, the Bay Leaf Tree is a great addition to any garden, you just have to be careful about planting them around pets.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bay Leaf Tree

Where Do Bay Leaves Come From Originally?

The Mediterranean and Turkey are the regions originally associated with this aromatic plant.

How Far Apart To Plant Bay Leaf Tree? Bay Leaf Plant?

If grown outside, plant between 6 – 12 feet apart

How Quickly Do Bay Leaf Trees Grow?

A Bay Tree leaf grows between 10-20cm a year.

How Much Sunlight Does Bay Leaf Tree Need Each Day?

Up to 6 hours a day is required for a Bay Leaf Tree.

What Do Bay Leaves Do for Cooking?

The appeal to chefs using Bay leaves is the additional flavors they add, and their ability to enhance the taste of the dishes so they can be even more enjoyable with that Bay leaf flavor.

The Bay Tree and How To Stop Bay Leaf Tree Disease?

The best treatment to stop infestations and diseases is prevention and checking for common problems. Regular spraying with fungicides or homemade insecticides will go a long way in protecting how many bay leaves to use you have left to use in your cooking.


1Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. (2015, August 13). BAY LEAVES: WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW TO USE THEM IN COOKING. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

2Gillman, D. (2011, September). Sooty Mold. University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

3Kelley Ph.D., K. (2023, March 14). Repotting Houseplants. Penn State Extension. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

4National Park Service. (2022, September 30). Species Spotlight – Oaks. National Park Service. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

5NC State University. (2023). Laurus nobilis. NC State Extension. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

6Roberts, C. (2018, December 18). Four Benefits of Houseplants. South Dakota State University Extension. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

7Schmotzer, C. (2018, April 26). Pollination and Pollinators. Penn State Extension. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

8University of Minnesota. (2021, April 14). Best Practices for Planting Trees and Shrubs. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

9Wikipedia. (2022, December 1). West Indian. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

10Wodonga Institute of TAFE. (2018, December 12). The Bay Tree. WODANGATAFE. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from <>

11Sonja-Kalee. Pixabay, Retrieved from: <>

12PublicDomainPictures. Pixabay, Retrieved from: <>

13vojtech Havlis. Unsaplash, Retrieved from: <>

14Hans. Pixabay, Retrieved from: <>