The magic of bay leaf is another profound opportunity for me to demonstrate how disconnected we human beings have become from the living and powerful Nature, and its capacity to communicate via fragrances.
The article was originally written for and published in the issue 2019/4 of Aromatika Magazin, an online publication in Hungary to support holistic living, the practice and professional education of aromatherapy, phytotherapy, naturopathy and related subjects. My special thanks and gratitude goes to Gergely Hollódi, editor-in-chief of this beautifully constructed aromatherapy periodical, for his always encouraging support. Hope you enjoy the English version in this post. The original copy of the electronic magazine in Hungarian is available for download from the website of Aromatika Magazin. Further issues are also available in English.
Imagine a world, where our biggest fights were being in noble battles with our own selves, intended to become the better version of ourselves. If we were to understand more of the many contextual facets of winning, and the nature of egoistic desires. What if we could move on from wanting ‘the best’ to a more ‘noble best’? If we could lead our lives on the etheric information superhighway, while the only automatic pilot out there was our great guiding Spirit that helps us coordinate goodwill, sense and sensibility?
If we found true value in the symbolism of laurel crowns to remind ourselves to our accomplishments, and everything that yet to be brought about. Often, our breakthroughs manifest through physical challenges, mental summons, as well as spiritual aspirations where inspiration fills up the gaps to move us forward. Not a simple path, and perhaps the taste of an inspired life is not attractive to everyone, while echoes a sort of ongoing effort to be back in the Garden of Eden.
Working with bay
Whenever I work with bay laurel and I show the essential oil to my clients, they are surprised by its gorgeous sweet, warming, spicy smell. At first, many don’t even find it reminiscent to the greyish brown dried herb they perhaps use in cooking occasionally. As if bay leaf was Cinderella who got exiled to work unnoticed in the kitchen! What a shame for this beautiful humble servant…
So, what do I do? I turn to my herb jars, pinch a leaf of bay, tear it apart and let the curious nose of my visitor experience what’s coming out… there you go, fresh aroma released from the plant followed by an AHA moment. We love that! In today’s prêt-à-porter world, somehow, very few people actually appreciate the true origin of natural ingredients. The time we spend with plants and herbs can literally be touching, and a lot of joy and understanding is missed out by skipping the process of preparation. Beyond what may please our taste buds and stomach, the beautiful shapes and textures of nature’s gifts are delight to the eye and fascination to the nose, while an infinite potential of invisible qualities awaits us to discover and experience.
When inhaling the warm and sweet scent of bay essential oil, I now feel like tapping into the collective energies of seeking self-worth and individual voice, while crying for validation. Although, it might be a personal perception, but this plant indeed brings me back to my early ages when I either felt disconnection and solitude, or being ‘overly’ connected and one with the rest of the world. I felt very empathetic and sometimes, in my attempt to fall asleep I was taking account of the people I knew and cared for. It was like the bed-time practice of counting sheep, you know. However, my mental-spiritual exercise was a rather long thread, shaping up and expanding into a spiral circle as I went along with thinking about all these individuals one after the other.
Today I interpret this as being tuned into oneness. A term that may first sound mystical for a path seeker, but bears meaning in various spiritual practices all over the world. Often defined by its counter opposite as separation, describing it with synonyms oneness would bring in unity, solidarity, union, togetherness, and harmony.
This bay oil I am sniffing is coming from Albania, and it feels like a fortifying sweet liquor that tones the mood. While I am recollecting my words to express what I feel, let me also give credit to my beloved guest teacher here. Philippe Mailhebiau, as always, gives the most perfect portrait of the oil, and goes like this: “Laurus nobilis, an essence commensurate with an exceptional character, can encourage each person to discover his power, to take responsibility for himself both mentally and physically, and objectively helps the individual to shake off emotional turmoil and mental torpor. A life-enhancing essence, it fights anything putrid, septic and degenerating… an ineffable presence which lightens up human existence, Laurus transcends the ordinary and raises awareness by its powerful aura, strengthens the weak and heals the old.”
Uniqueness within the Universe
Plants – just as human beings – are displaying a number of various characters in terms of their sexuality. What is totally accustomed by natural laws in the plant world, however, could be a huge matter of argument and intolerance in the human globe. In that term bay, that is a member of the Lauraceae family, could easily fit in the divided nature of human society, as it is a dioecious being, having the male and female reproductive organs in separate individuals. On Crete, the beautiful male flower clusters bloom in yellowish colour, while the female ones are rather greenish.
As an evergreen shrub, bay could possibly be harvested for distillation at any time of the year. However, when it is collected around the summer months, we might get the energy of the young shoots and the ripening berries, while later in the year we would include the richness of the ripe fruits, and with them comes a slightly different chemical composition and fragrance profile. The bay leaves that I distilled in Crete for hydrosol was collected in springtime and included some very young, still pepper-size berries. The distillation surprised me by an aromatic water with super intensive aroma, and as it showed later, fairly long shelf-life that is not what you mostly find in descriptions.
When you inhale an aromatic water or essential oil, the scent molecules can deliver multitudinous information. Depending on the individual capacity, talent, knowledge and wisdom, that information can be evaluated on various scales from psychological to physiological effects, inspiration to imagination, chemical understanding or actual reading of the plant intelligence. Combined with the custom nature of timing and circumstances, that can be a wealth of customised universal information that is very often not understood until personal experiences are gained.
As I inhale that bay essential oil from Albania again, the sweet notes are immediately flooding out together with the camphoraceous and cineolic storm. That eucalypus-like scent of what is called 1.8-cineole, also known as eucalyptol, a natural organic compound that is clearly present within the oil in a fairly significant amount, and adds to the cooling experience I am having. Interesting dualistic union, isn’t it? The coolness combined with the warmth that possibly comes from another agent (Z)-3-hexenal. I’m starting to feel as if I am counting the characters of Star Wars… Oh, well, essential oil chemistry is considered important part of aromatherapy, so let’s make it fun to give compounds such names of fame!
I have to give a mention of my other bay essential oils coming from Slovenia and Greece, adding great company to the Albanian one and enriching the current section of bottles that help interested visitors to learn about the versatility of essential oils makers. Each vial is a true treasure of sophisticated craftsmanship from artisan distillations. This is something that not only feels, but comes through the understanding of the work and personal connections to their authentic makers.
The essential oil from Histria Botanica (today known as Bonistra) was born through the hands of Jana Bergant, who collects and processes aromatic herbs in an amazingly rich environment in Slovenia. Jana wholeheartedly crafts her unique distillates with an amazing energetic imprint. The cineol compounds are perhaps richly complemented by the linalool and other sedative-balancing constituents in her bay laurel oil, and rounding off the fragrant story, Jana’s essential oil is softly penetrating the heart with its delicate balm. Laurel, the all-rounder. Laurel, the one who inspires, who brings life into circulation, who goes under your skin, and makes you shed your old layers without feeling naked. It whispers you are complete, it encourages you to go shamelessly bold. Just listen to your true calling, just show up on your stage. Dare to be yourself and follow your bay dreams!
Needless to say, my Greek bay laurel essential oil is a local one, coming from the distillery of Wild Herbs of Crete. How would I describe it? Perhaps it’s the raw, green notes that are making it somewhat closer to the oil from Albania, while its light floral nature is rather something similar I find in the Slovenian bay oil. But, it is like a kaleidoscope that draws a different picture every time I perceive it through my sensors. This specific bay essential oil is one of the main ingredients of Janina Sorensen’s artisanal nourishing hair shampoo, no surprise, since they distill the oil themselves. Generally speaking, bay laurel has a regenerative-stimulating effect on the body’s functional systems, and it specifically strengthens the scalp and the hair, naturally making it healthy and beautiful.
When it comes to hair-related applications, I need to mention another useful experience. I am known to be free from using ‘commercial’ cosmetics for long years, and I don’t use hair conditioner in the usual, commercial sense after shampooing. What I occasionally do, let’s say when I fancy a little extra tuning, is spraying my hair with the bay laurel hydrolat I distill myself. Due to my generally healthy lifestyle, my hair is usually shiny as is, but adding a little from my hydrolat and massaging it all over the scalp is pleasant, and an act of self-care in itself. With an extra outcome, that it promotes circulation and gives body to my hair. Not to mention, it smells nice too, evaporating the divine scent of the laurel hydrolat.
Bay beyond magic
Another very useful application of the bay hydrolat may be cleansing the lymphatic system. Suzanne Catty writes in her Hydrosols book that ‘Bay laurel should be taken in a tree-week internal protocol at first sign of swelling or congestion in lymph nodes anywhere in the body. The effect is dramatic and rapid.’
Bay leaf, its hydrolat and essential oil is also a great choice when it comes to digestive problems, from oral hygiene all the way to the carminative end. It also aids the lungs, and is superior expectorant and mucolytic. In general, its key properties include such as antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal, and these qualities already make bay extremely versatile in use.
Due to these outstanding features, bay goes beyond its offerings to direct human applications, as it does an incredible help in chemical-free settings for producing our clean food. I have found a beautiful description in the book The Garden of Eden by Gill Bruce where she writes: “Within a garden, a bay tree will do a great deal to balance the ecology, and seems to regulate pests, as it collects information from other plants – its Deva is a kind of think tank and has associations in other realms to help the other plants’ evolution and ecological problems.”
Whether we talk about a Garden of Eden on the physical pane, or we look at desired mental states we tend to experience through emotions, these obviously overlap in several situations. Not surprising then, that I really appreciate bay’s combined emotional and physical support and make great use of its capabilities adding its essential oil to many of my aromatherapy formulations. Great emotional sedative-antispasmodic in blends and has already served many people in the form of sitz baths, various massage and body oils, and can provide a good support as an additional element in breath-aiding aroma inhalers. It is also a key ingredient in one of my popular botanical perfumes Feminine Flow, where bay creates wonderful synergy with many other essential oils including rose geranium, yarrow, rose, jasmine and mandarin.
Closing with the beautifully Greek relevancy, here to mention the ancient sanctuary of Delphoi, part of our global cultural history that stands still as a heritage for seeking out guidance. It was known as the most influential centre for prophecies in ancient times, with a rich history on its operation, role and mythological rulers over times. Originally a place of worship for Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life, where there was said to have built a small structure from bay laurel branches. Later on it became the temple of Apollo with large stone columns, and a pilgrimage site where the Oracle got consulted. The priestesses were considered using bay laurel to inspire prophecies, by chewing it, as well as burning it while the smoke helped invocation and channeling visions. At the end, this reinforces the image we have for bay laurel to assist inspiration, divine spark, imagination and creativity, supporting pure spiritual perception and experience. I believe these qualities come forward through the temple’s strongest and long standing advice craved on the stone walls: Know thyself!
PS: If you are on this journey of self-discovery, healing and empowerment and feel the call of the magical power of the plant world, you may want to check out what else I have for offer on my signature website as a Holistic Guide to Life. With love, Ildiko
Philippe Mailhebiau (1995). Portraits in Oils. C.W. Daniel.
Fielding J., Turland N. (2005). Flowers of Crete. Royal Botanical gardens. Kew. UK.
Jennifer PeaceRhind (2014). Fragrance and Wellbeing. Singing Dragon.
Suzanne Catty (2001). Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy. Healing Arts Press
Valerie Ann Worwood (1999). The Fragrant Heavens. Bantam Books.