Are Bay Leaves poisonous?

Yesterday I ate at a Seafood restaurant which everyone raved about. I ordered two of my favorite cajun dishes: A shrimp poboy and dirty rice.

The poboy was delicious but two bites into the dirty rice, I pulled out a bay leaf! Now I know you aren’t supposed to eat bay leaves and they are to be removed before serving. I told the server and got a free meal out of it. I was content with this and the poboy filled me up.

However, on the way home I recalled a time when I was a younger boy and I thought my mother had mentioned that bay leaves were poisonous. Is this true?

What would have happened if I accidently ate the leaf?

You’d probably have real trouble chewing it, that’s all. Never heard about them being posionous and if you think about it, it probably wouldn’t be to good to cook with then. I had always heard that the edges could get so sharp that the leaves would slit your throat on the way down. My chef laughed at that one. The bay leaf just adds a nice bit of flavour to many different kinds of dishes.

I need to try complaining about finding one next time! Free food is good!

They are just about entirely indegestible. It is possible that that might cause, or contribute to some minor intestinal blockage. Most folks would just poop it out, whole after a while. The pointy end is sharp, but not likely to cut you, inside or out.


I’m surprised you got a free meal out of it. The standard is that whoever gets the bay leaf gets to kiss the cook.

pooping out sharp objects doesn’t make me want to do anything nice to the cook!

Actually, that was only part of why we got the free meal. We showed up somewhat near closing time and the waiter was in an obvious hurry to get the hell out of work as I’m sure he had plans for his friday night. The bayleaf was actually my secondary complaint. The first was the waiter. He cleared our table off before the restaurant was closed and in the middle of our meal. He took the salt and pepper off of the table… followed by the hotsauce, followed by the butter, sugar, ketchup and other condiments and this all started about two bited into our meal.

Talk about annoying and inconsiderate! There is nothing more irritating than wanting to use salt and realizing the waiter had just taken it off of your table then having to wait five more minutes for him to bring it back.

As mentioned, a bay leaf is pretty much unchewable and indigestible. The main reason for removing it from the food is that the central spine of the leaf is quite stiff, and pointy on the end. If swallowed, there is a risk of the leaf becoming lodged in the throat or intestines, and even puncturing an intestine. Not good!

I have a book somewhere on my shelves that claims that powdered bay leaves were banned from sale in the UK because they caused male sterility; I’ve heard or seen this repeated in a few places, but it appears to be totally false.

I don’t make the folk rules, I just report 'em.

The risk of bay leaf causing medical problems is really very small. One bay leaf will not poison or hurt you. Kissing the cook might hurt you, depending on the cook.

One of the dishes I make calls for bay leaves to be crushed into the sauce before cooking. They don’t get removed, obviously. No problems so fa…

*Food Lover’s Companion * only comments, “They’re generally removed before serving.”

Same for Bittman’s *How to Cook Everything. *

Nothign except realizing that while you were taking your turn at shooting pool, the stuipid waitress showed up, after not showing up to take drink orders for the last hour, and threw away your $8 Nicaraguan cigar. :mad: (I rarely smoke cigars as it is, and they’re usually the very cheap ones).

Sorry, didn’t mean to hijack, but your waiter story reminded me of that one. The bartender, who I had been ordering drinks from directly, got a $6 tip (on a $14 tab), partially because he was quite prompt, helpful, and cool, and partially because there was a $20 minimum on credit card charges. And because the Sox won during the 30 seconds that I happened to glance at the TV in the bar.

As I recall, Bay Leaves are from Laurels. Some Laurels are toxic because they are loaded up with things like Glucoside (Mountain Laurel) and Cyanide (Cherry Laurel) - however I doubt Bay Leaves have anything that nasty in them since they signally fail to make you as sick as a dog, even when the little crumbly left-over scraps are used in large quantities when cooking by e.g. me.

However the Bay Leaf = Laurel = Toxic link probably accounts for the note of caution struck by your mother.

It is worth mentioning that these other plants are not closely related to Bay Laurel.

The bay leaves from northern California and Oregon contain umbellulone which can cause headaches, among other things. But I don’t think they find their way into food products anymore.

Hey, if we take two completely different plants that look vaguely similar and give them extremely similar names, what could possibly go wrong? :wink:
Gotta love that persistent trend of naming things after the stuff back home. But yes, from wiki the true Laurel (bay leaves) is reasonably closely related to Camphor and Cinnamon bushes and the California Laurel mentioned by Roog, whereas most of the toxic ‘Laurels’ are Cherries, Rhodedendrons and so on.

**Roog ** - your link has an extra http:// on the front and is broken- it should go here [Hazard: PDF] - which brings up a good point. The OP’s answer would partially depend on whether they are the real deal, dried leaves of Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis or an inferior substitute.

that doesn’t sound so good.

There’s also the usual rumour among classicists, that they’re psychotropic in some way (the Pythia was supposed to have done something with laurel leaves). I haven’t tried it myself, but I have it on good authority that nothing happens if you chew a lot of them.