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Botany Photo of the Day
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Laurus nobilis

Laurus nobilis

Connor Fitzpatrick continues his work on this series:

The second of four entries featuring underutilized species from the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized species is Laurus nobilis. Thanks Hannes and Paul!

Laurel is an extremely resilient evergreen forest tree that grows in all Mediterranean areas. In Syria, laurel grows wild above 200 meters over sea level along the coastal area. It is resistant to extreme temperatures and to coastal conditions. Its fruits are very dark, small, round berries that ripen between October and December.

In Syria, age-old methods handed down from generation-to-generation are used to produce unique products that are then sold in local markets. Although the local demand has remained stable for decades, export demand has grown recently, creating new income-generating opportunities for the local population. Laurel has been used for centuries in traditional cosmetic products such as laurel oil and laurel soap. Known for its unique perfume, it nourishes, softens, refreshes, and cleanses skin while acting as an antiseptic. It is especially recommended for sensitive and damaged skin. The oil is also used extensively in cosmetics and moisturizing products. In addition, dried laurel leaves are an important ingredient in Syrian and Mediterranean cooking. The leaves are also used in traditional medicine; dried leaves are brewed as an herbal tea and used to treat rheumatism, joint pains, schizophrenia, stress, to stimulate the appetite and as a sedative. The oil extracted from the berries is used as a cure for irritated skin, earache, asthma and urinary ailments.

For generations in Syria, the livelihoods of the community members in two coastal and mountain areas and of the traders in major Syrian cities have depended heavily on the production and marketing of traditional laurel products. Traditional collection and processing of wild laurel leaves and berries accounts for about one-third of their total yearly income. The market chain is made up of collectors, traders, soap producers and consumers. The collectors dry leaves and/or process the berries into oil; the traders buy the oil from the collector/processor and sell it to the soap makers who then produce traditional soap for the local market and for export.

In Syrian mountain communities, villagers collect laurel berries and manually extract the oil using traditional, multi-staged methods. The whole berries are boiled in water for six to eight hours in a metal container over a wood fire. As the oil rises to the surface, it is skimmed off with a wooden spoon then filtered and bottled. Sixteen kilograms of laurel berries produce about one litre of laurel oil. The quality of laurel oil depends on the fatty acid content which varies according to the variety of laurel used.

Laurel soap is believed to have been developed in Syria some 2,000 years ago. There are about 50 privately owned small-scale soap factories that use traditional soap-making methods. Most of the factories are located in the Aleppo Province. The soap is made with laurel oil, olive oil, and caustic soda using a process called saponification. The oil mixture is blended with an aqueous solution containing the soda in large cauldrons. This mixture is then heated to over 200 °C and stirred until the oil is reduced to glycerine and sodium salts. The caustic soda solution is drained from the cauldron and the soap mixture is left overnight to cool slightly; the excess water is then drained off. Once a solid block has formed, the soap is cut manually into square bars, stamped and stored in a dry place for at least six months. The process of making soap is carried out from November to April. From May to November, soap storage and trading activities are carried out.

A few retailers/producers/distributors include:

20 Comments

Knox commented:

Most interesting and well written. Thanks for expanding my knowledge horizon.

These articles are much appreciated.

max commented:

Fascinating stuff.

Of course, you will also find it in your kitchen, in the jar marked "bay leaf".

Eric in SF commented:

We have both the California Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica and introduced Laurus species growing as garden subjects and street trees in San Francisco. My amateur cook friends are always on the lookout for someone with a Bay Laurel tree in their backyard.

John murtaugh commented:

I have a six year old potted bay tree in the house and use the dried the leaves for cooking.

I never considered making a herbal tea. With so many stated benefits, I think I will try some tonight, although I am not sure which of my conditions needs help.

I do appreciate the current series which are most informative.

Katherine commented:

And in stores that carry fancy, hand-made or natural soaps (Whole Foods springs to mind), you can find laurel or bay soap. Smells wonderful.

TC commented:

Max, you took the words right out of my mouth...er...I mean keyboard.

elizabeth a airhart commented:

i have the flu will the above cure me

this is a good series thank you

Elizabeth Revell commented:

Bay Leaf - under-utilised? Really ...???
I'm staggered. It has always been a total standby in most of our family stews, casseroles etc in New Zealand for many years while Garlic was considered a bizarre, outlandish, dare I say it FOREIGN ingredient. No, Bay Leaf was normal, acceptable, ok.
Herbal tea? weeellll, maybe a bit stretching it.
Aren't the different international viewpoints intriguing? We don't realize how different our post-TV cultures are until someting like this crops up.

Old Ari commented:

Not to be confused with the (Cherry) Laurel which contains prussic acid.

Jeremy commented:

When people say that bay leaf is not underused, they are correct, from their perspective. But how many people who regularly stick a leaf or two in their stew even know that Laurus produces berries, that the berries are high in oil, and that the oil can be used to make soap and cosmetics?

I find it interesting that in Syria, many Laurus trees have leaves that are almost free of scent, because selection there has been for high-oil berries, rather than high-aroma leaves.

Nice series. Thanks.

Margaret-Rae Davis commented:

This is all very interesting. I always have a Bay Plant in the house in the winter and in a pot in the garden each summer. I use the leaves in soups and stews as the inpart a very nice taste. And of course remove them before serving. I really enjoyed a the information.
Thank you,
Margaret-Rae

chris commented:

I have been using the oil extracted from the leaves in a massage oil. Not only is the smell unbelievably lovely it seems to assist patients with nervine type conditions.
i think that it is a totally under utilised plant.

iqbal commented:

thanking alot for the information that i gain but the quiestion now how we can extract the oil from the leaves and fruit in detailes please so i need it
thank u again
iqbal

iqbal commented:

in addition to that i need applicable method in drying leaves

Tina Mae Wipf commented:

Thank-you, I live in Ohio America, visited the University of Vancouver. I am a first or fiftyith generation America-Canadian.
I signed up for Botany in the local grade 9-12 for botany, I did not learn how to make soap, or what was edible of indigenous plants, neither did I recieve a book.
I signed up for Biology again I did not learn what animals I could eat, how to become self-sufficient.
How many other people did this happen to, unfortunatly we were then told to take classes in Physics, so now there are Missiles and Atomic bombs.
I was not my idea but the Government(s), I believe some are criminals.

steve Apelian commented:

I am really thankful to all those who have provided the valueable information about Bay or laurel.It is indeed classified as underutilized plant species. I was at an international workshop in Italy representing My country Syria as one of the most successful manufacturer and marketer of Laurel soap .And as one of the most reliable source of information about this miraculas plant, even Syrian Ministry of Agriculture gets much experienced knowledge from our resources as LAURAPEL Co.We have a history of 66 years in this field . We would be much pleased to assist in any kind of help in our profession to promote this economically important plant.
For more information please visit our website
www.laurapel.com
please do not hesitate to ask anything related to this subject by email or direct contact.
Reference person Steve Apelian

Omar commented:

Hi.
my question is :what is the average production of laurel leaves [NOT DRYED and after DRYING]
in kilo can produce a laurel tree (about 3 years old).
Thank you in advance
Omar

Mary Ann, in Toronto commented:

Apart from all the great information on this page, it's also an extremely interesting photo! Behind the bowl of laurel, some kind of crystalline substance on the left, then fruits, seeds, seedpods... blue beads, even, in the background... unusual containers...

I'd love to see this array in the flesh. I imagine the sights and smells would be wonderful.

patrick Shannon commented:

Do you know where I can purchase a Laurus Nobilis tree (Bay Laurel) in Vancouver?

Natural handcrafted soap commented:

THE BEST ONE IS FROM Syria BUT NOW is hard to get on this time ..

Comments are closed.

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