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Bay Leaves, Shakespeare and Serendipity
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Bay Leaves, Shakespeare and Serendipity

Category: Herbs | Posted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 10:11 pm

Two Bays or Not Two Bays, That is the Question
Whether 'tis Nobilis......Laurel nobilis only, or whether California Bay Laurel is also a safe herb.
For two years, I searched the nurseries for a healthy Bay Laurel plant, and had to purchase dried Bay Leaf at the grocery. "Spice Island" which I thought was a good brand, was selling the California Bay leaf as Bay Leaf. I had read somewhere that California Bay was toxic, and so I finally am looking into this question.

The real question is how much coumarin is safe. And I "opened a can of worms" when I started looking into it. The German government even got into this debate a few years ago. Coumarin is a chemical in some plants, that can have some medical benefit, but is toxic in higher doses. Bay Laurel is sweet and does not have coumarins such as umbelliferone. California Bay Laurel or Myrtle, Umbellularia californica, does. In too high of doses, it is bad for rat livers and us.

Similarly the German government tested some Christmas cinnamon cookies, and found such a high level of coumarin in some cookies, that it could have harmed a child or small adult that overindulged. The government initially tried to ban the cookies, then just recommended people not each much. Anyone heard about true cinnamon versus "not true" cinnamon? I had assumed, wrongly, that it was just not as flavorful. The important difference is they have different amounts of coumarins. The Ceylon (Sri Lanka, Serendip) cinnamon, or Cinnamomum verum, and Indonesian cinnamon, or C. burmannii do not have coumarin in them and are safe in any quantity. C. cassia or Chinese cinnamon, does have high levels and can reach toxic cookie levels.

I remember hearing that chamomile is not safe for pregnant women, and the reason is: coumarins. Low levels of coumarin, thought to be safe in general when used for teas or flavoring wines, are chamomile, sweet woodruff, and sweet grass. They can, however, cause a worse headache than the wine alone per one citation. Clover is considered toxic due to coumarins, and one of the clover fungus can convert this into a blood thinner, causing Sweet Clover disease in cows, as well as the discovery of Coumadin to prevent blood clots.

So, my personal answer to this question is 'tis Nobilis. I have posted information, so people can decide their own levels of comfort. I finally, after two years, found another healthy Bay Laurel Tree, and am trying to be very careful it does not get infected. (My last one got some sort of leaf sucking bug on it, that I just could not get rid of with washing the leaves, and it slowly dwindled away.) I am also going to be very persnickety about my cinnamon. Since I don't like chamomile, I have no problem with avoiding it. My sweet woodruff did get into one bottle of wine, but is looking better as a groundcover. No wonder I planted it in my flower garden rather than my herb garden. That is serendipity.

To be or not to be, that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Last edited: Fri Sep 09, 2011 10:24 pm

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SongofJoy57 wrote on Sat Sep 10, 2011 10:37 am:

Thanks so much for the information. This is very thought provoking!

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