Planta Med 2017; 83(12/13): 1058-1067
DOI: 10.1055/s-0043-103963
Natural Product Chemistry and Analytical Studies
Original Papers
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Which Bay Leaf is in Your Spice Rack? – A Quality Control Study[*]

Vijayasankar Raman1, Rainer W. Bussmann2, Ikhlas A. Khan1, 3
  • 1National Center for Natural Products Research, School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, University, MS, USA
  • 2William L. Brown Center, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO, USA
  • 3Division of Pharmacognosy, Department of BioMolecular Sciences, School of Pharmacy, University of Mississippi, University, MS, USA
Further Information

Publication History

received 25 December 2016
revised 27 January 2017

accepted 08 February 2017

Publication Date:
01 March 2017 (eFirst)


The accurate identification of bay leaf in natural products commerce may often be confusing as the name is applied to several different species of aromatic plants. The true “bay leaf”, also known as “bay laurel” or “sweet bay”, is sourced from the tree Laurus nobilis, a native of the Mediterranean region. Nevertheless, the leaves of several other species including Cinnamomum tamala, Litsea glaucescens, Pimenta racemosa, Syzygium polyanthum, and Umbellularia californica are commonly substituted or mistaken for true bay leaves due to their similarity in the leaf morphology, aroma, and flavor. Substitute species are, however, often sold as “bay leaves”. As such, the name “bay leaf” in literature and herbal commerce may refer to any of these botanicals. The odor and flavor of these leaves are, however, not the same as the true bay leaf, and for that reason they should not be used in cooking as a substitute for L. nobilis. Some of the bay leaf substitutes can also cause potential health problems. Therefore, the correct identification of the true bay leaf is important. The present work provides a detailed comparative study of the leaf morphological and anatomical features of L. nobilis and its common surrogates to allow for correct identification.

* Dedicated to Professor Dr. Max Wichtl in recognition of his outstanding contribution to phytotherapy research.

Supporting Information

A list of plants that are rarely substituted or potentially confused with bay leaves (Table 1S) and a list of 30 samples that were utilized in this study (Table 2S) are available as Supporting Information.