144. Laurus nobilis, Linn.—The Sweet Bay.
Sex. Syst. Enneandria, Monogynia.
History.—The "green bay-tree" is mentioned, though erroneously in our translation of the Bible; [Psalms, xxxvii. 35, 36.] the Hebrew word, translated bay, meaning native. [Carpenter's Script. Nat. Hist.] Hippocrates [Opera, pp. 267, 623, 621, &c. ed. Foes.] used both the leaves and berries of the bay-tree (__) in medicine. Bay-leaf is analogous to the malabathrum of the ancients. [Royle, Hindoo Med. pp. 32 and 85.]
Botany. Gen. Char.—Flowers dioecious or hermaphrodite, involucrated. Calyx 4-parted; segments equal, deciduous. Fertile stamens 12, in 3 rows; the outer alternate with the segments of the calyx; all with 2 glands in the middle or above it. Anthers oblong, 2-celled, all looking inwards. Female flowers, with 2 to 4 castrated males, surrounding the ovary. Stigma capitate. Fruit succulent, seated in the irregular base of the calyx.—Umbels axillary stalked. Leaf-buds with valvate papery scales. leaves evergreen (Lindley).
Sp. Char.—The only species.
A bush or small tree. Bark aromatic, rather bitter. Leaves alternate, lanceolate, acute, or acuminate, wavy at the edge, somewhat coriaceous. Flowers yellowish. Fruit (called by Nees a 1-seeded flesh berry, by De Candolle, a drupe) bluish-black, oval, size of a small cherry. Seed pendulous; funiculus compressed, ascending from the base of the fruit, and attached at the top of the testa; testa papery; tunica interna very thin; embryo exalbuminous, composed of two large oleaginous cotyledons inclosing superiorly the radicle.
Hab.—South of Europe. Cultivated in gardens.
Description.—Bay leaves (folia lauri) have a bitter aromatic taste, and a somewhat aromatic odour. Their infusion reddens litmus. Dried bay berries (baccae lauri, offic.) are covered externally by a dark-brown brittle coat, which is produced by the epidermis and succulent covering of the fruit.
Composition.—In 1824, bay berries were analyzed by Bonastre, [Journ. de Pharm. x. 10.] who found the constituents to be—Volatile oil 0.8, laurin 1.0, fixed oil 12.8, wax ([stearin) 7.1, resin 1.6, uncrystallizable sugar 0.4, gummy extractive 17.2, bassorin 6.4, starch 25.9, woody fibre 18.8, soluble albumen traces, an acid 0.1, water 6.4, salts 1.5.—The ashes (amounting to 1.2) consisted of carbonate of potash and the carbonate and phosphate of lime.
1. Volatile Oil or Laurel Berries; Oil of Sweet Bay.—Obtained from the berries by distillation with water. The crude oil is pale yellow, transparent, readily soluble in alcohol and ether. By redistillation it yields two isomeric oils (C20H16O); one having a sp. gr. of 0.857, the other 0.885, while a brown balsamic matter remains in the retort. [Brandes, Pharmaceutisches Central-Blatt für 1840, S. 314.]
2. Laurin; Camphor of the Bay berry.—A crystalline solid, fusible and volatile. Has an acrid bitter taste, and an odour analogous to that of the volatile oil. It is soluble in ether and in boiling alcohol. Sulphuric acid renders it yellow; nitric acid liquefies it. Alkalies are without action on it. It is extracted from bay berries by rectified alcohol.
3. Fixed Oil of Bays (see below).
Physiological Effects.—The berries, leaves, and oil are said to possess aromatic, stimulant, and narcotic properties. The leaves, in large doses, prove emetic. [Mérat and De Lens, Dict. Univ. de Mat. Méd. t. iv. p. 62.]
Uses.—Bay berries or leaves are rarely, if ever, used in medicine in this country. They might, therefore, with great propriety be expunged from the Pharmacopoeia. The leaves are employed by the cook on account of their flavour. Both leaves and berries have been used to strengthen the stomach, to expel flatus, and to promote the catamenial discharge.
Administration.—Both berries and leaves are used in the form of infusion.
OLEUM LAURI; Oleum Lauri expressum; Oleum Laurinum; Laurel Fat; Oil of Bays.—This may be obtained from either the fresh or dried berries. Duhamel [Traité des Arbres et Arbustes qui se cultivent en Franee en pleine Terre, t. i. p. 351.] states that it is obtained from the fresh and ripe berries by bruising them in a mortar, boiling them for three hours in water, and then pressing them in a sack. The expressed oil is mixed with the decoction, on which, when cold, the butyraccous oil is found floating. From the dried berries it is procured by exposing them to the vapour of water until they are thoroughly soaked, and then rapidly subjecting them to the press between heated metallic plates. By the latter method they yield one-fifth of their weight of oil. [Soubeiran, Nouveau Traité de Pharmacie, t. ii. p. 32, 2de éd.] Oil of bays is imported in barrels from Trieste.
In 1839, duty was paid on 1737 lbs. of it. It has a butyraceous consistence and a granular appearance. Its colour is greenish; its odour is that of the berries. It is partially soluble in alcohol, completely so in ether. With alkalies it forms soaps. It is occasionally employed externally as a stimulating liniment in sprains and bruises, and in paralysis. It has also been used to relieve colic, and against deafness. [Murray, Apparatus Medicam. vol. iv. p. 533.] Its principal use, however, is in veterinary medicine.
Oleum Lauri aethereum nativum; Native Oil of Laurel, Hancock, Trans. of the Medico-Bot. Society of Lond., p. 18, 1820; Laurel Turpentine, Stenhouse, Mem. of the Chemical Society, vol. i. p. 45, 1843.—Imported from Demerara: obtained by incision in the bark of a large tree, called by the Spaniards "Azeyte de Sassafras," (Ocotea cymbarum? -Henriette) growing in the vast forests between the Orinoco and the Parime. By Dr. Hancock this tree was thought to belong to the nat. ord. Lauraceae; but Dr. Stenhouse thinks that it is a species of pine. The oil is transparent, slightly yellow, and smells like turpentine, but more agreeable, and approaching to the oil of lemons. Its sp. gr. at 56° F. is 0.8645. The commercial oil consists of two or more oils isomeric with each other and with oil of turpentine, C20H16. Its yellow colour is due to a little resin. A volatile acid (formic acid?) is also present in very small quantity. In its medicinal qualities it resembles turpentine; being stimulant, diuretic, and diaphoretic. It has been used externally as a discutient in rheumatism, swellings of the joints, cold tumours, paralytic disorders, &c. It is an excellent solvent for caoutchouc.