Nutritional and Health Benefits of Indian Bay Leaf

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Nutritional and Health Benefits of Indian Bay Leaf

Nutritional and Health Benefits of Indian Bay Leaf

-T V Venkateswaran

Called also as Indian cassia, Indian Bay-leaf or Tejpatta is strongly aromatic, somewhat reminiscent to cinnamon or cloves. In appearance, it is similar to the other bay leaves, but is culinarily quite different. Said to be indigenous to south slopes of the Himalayas, leaves of this plant, which belong to Lauraceae (laurel family) are used to flavour food. Occasionally the bark may be used as an inferior substitute of cinnamon or cassia. The leaves of this tree is the spice having clove like taste and a faintly pepper like odour.

Indian Bay-leaf or Tejpatta

Etymology

The Sanskrit name tamalapattra means “dark leaf”; and the name of this spice in other Indian languages appears to be motivated by Sanskrit and thus Marathi tamal patra or Tamil t alishapattiri . However in modern times the name of this spice in Hindi and some related tongues, is tejpatta or “pungent leaf”. In the Arabic Materia Medica the leaf is called as sadhaj or sadhaji Hindi.

Greek traders in the ancient times took that name to their own language, but falsely identified the Sanskrit word as a plural form: (ta) malabathra . Therefore they reasoned that the singular form to be malabathron. Thus the name by Romans as malabathrum or malobathrum . The leaves are mentioned in the 1st century CE Greek text Periplus Maris Erytraei as one of the major exports of the Tamil kingdoms of southern India.In ancient Greece and Rome, the leaves were used to prepare a fragrant oil, called Oleum Malabathri , and were therefore valuable. This spice was well known to the Romans and used both for perfumery and in cooking; in recipes, they were often just referred to as folia “leaves”. Indian bay leaves were still available during the middle ages and used for beer brewing till the 16.th century but later they fell victim to the multitude of new spices available, and were forgotten.

In fact when Portuguese landed on the West Coast of India they took, perhaps not unnaturally, the pan or betel-leaf for the malabathrum of the ancients! Dean Vincent in his well-known work on the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients , justified this in part. The name of the betel is tambul , which is taken from Sanskrit: Tambula ; therefore as betel is Tambula hence betel-leaf is tambula or tamala-pattra so went the line of reasoning! However betel and Indian Bay-leaf has nothing in common.

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Botany

Indian bay-leaves are the leaves of a tree closely related to cinnamon. The tough, three-veined leaves are very popular in Northern India, but are little known elsewhere. Cinnamomum tamala is a moderate sized evergreen trees which is the source of tejpat leaves and the Indian cassia bark. The tree has height up to 7.5 mtr with zigzag branching, trunk up to 95 cm girth, bark rough, dark grey to reddish brown in colour. It is distributed in tropical and sub-tropical Himalayas, Khasi and Jaintia hills and in Eastern Bengal. Plants are raised from seeds sown in nursery beds in March-April. Seedlings are transplanted to the field in rows of 2m apart with a spacing of 3 – 3.5 m between plants. Leaves- opposite or sub-opposite,5-7.5 by 12.5-20 cm. glabrous and are scaly, shining above. They are 3-nerved from the base to the apex. Flowers are small, and unisexual. Perianth lobes are 6, oblong and silky. Fruit oblong, dry or slightly fleshy,13-17 cm. long and dark purple in colour. The leaves are harvested when the tree attains an age of 10 years, which continue for a century. Leaves are collected in dry weather every year from vigourous plants, dried in the sun and tied up into bundles for marketing.

Main constituents

In the essential oil from the leaves, mostly monoterpenoides were found: Linalool (50%) is the major compound, whereas á-pinene, p-cymene, â-pinene and limonene range around 5 to 10% each. Phenylpropanoids appear only in traces: Newer work reports 1% cinnamic aldehyde and no eugenol, wheras older literature speaks of traces of both compounds. The leaves contain an essential oil, eugenol, terpin and cinnamic aldehyde. Outer bark on distillation yields an essential oil (similar to cinnamomum oil) having a pale yellow colour. Cinnamic aldehyde is the chief constituent of bark oil. Roots contain an oil which has eugenol, saffrol, benzaidehyde and terpin.

Culinary use

Today, Indian bay-leaves are a spice used almost exclusively in the kitchens of Northern India, especially in the famous Moghul cuisine that was developed at the Imperial courts in Delhi and Agra. Befitting the grandeur of the Moghul empire and delicate Moghal architecture that contain elements derived from Arabic and Persian, the Moghul culinary and cooking too has elements of complexity and perfection with traces of Persian and Arabic cookery. Sweet and aromatic spices are pronounced in Moghul cooking style with a dash of spices such as Indian bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom whereas chilli and other pungent and hot spices are used rather less as compared to rest of India. Indeed Indian bay leaf is a must in biriyanis and Moghul kormas of Meat or occasionally vegetables braised slowly but for long time in rich, fragrant sauces. Indian Bay leaf is used in ground form only in the preparation of garam masala otherwise it is used as full leaf.

It is used in Indian system of traditional medicines. It possesses carminative, astringent and digestive properties and forms an ingredient of many formulations prescribed for gastrointestinal disorders and the spice is diuretic. It is widely used in pharmaceutical preparations because of its reported hypoglycemic, stimulant and carminative properties. The oil distilled from leaves is a powerful stimulant. It is used to reduce halitosis. It is also used as a clarifier in dyeing industry.
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