There are two essential oils that are both sometimes labelled “Bay essential oil” without any further description beyond the botanical name. So far, so not unusual. This sort of thing is why I bore everyone rigid by insisting on quoting the latin name of every herb used in aromatherapy and herbal medicine.
The two essential oils in question here are Bay Laurel (or Laurel, Sweet Bay, or just Bay), Laurus nobilis and West Indian Bay (or just Bay), Pimenta racemosa. While there is some overlap between them so far as properties are concerned, there are also many differences.
West Indian bay is the oil that was used in men’s hair oil. My dad used to have some, called “bay rum”, though it didn’t have any rum in it so far as I know, and didn’t smell much like rum either. I’ve seen the scent described as “spicy and sexy”, but trust me. I never found it in the least bit sexy. On the other hand, it was my dad, after all.
Probably its most well known property is as a hair restorative (though whether it works or not I can’t say – my dad had plenty of hair, though). It is both antifungal and strongly antibacterial as well as being a decongestant, so it’s helpful for colds and flu, catarrh and sinusitis. It also relieves the pain of arthritis, cramps, headache, joint and muscle pain including sprains, and neuralgia. On top of all that, it’s also beneficial for mental exhaustion and is a memory aid.
Traditionally used as an insect repellent (particularly effective against moths), it blends well with orange, geranium and rosemary.
West Indian bay can be irritant, so should always be diluted at a rate of 1 drop max. to each 2ml carrier oil before use on the skin, and shouldn’t be used on sensitive skin or areas. For the same reason, avoid using it on children under 12.
An aromatherapist called Robert Tisserand says it may interact with pethidine, MAOIS, SSRIs and anticoagulant medications, so if you’re taking any of these, it’s probably best to use something else.
You should also avoid using West Indian bay if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or you are taking anti-coagulants/blood thinners, or if you suffer from cancer or kidney problems.
As it is toxic, it should never be taken internally, but I advise against using any essential oil internally anyway.
Bay laurel is from the same tree we get bay leaves to use in cooking. It is analgesic, antiseptic, antibiotic, expectorant and anti-spasmodic. These properties make it helpful for coughs, colds and flu, cramps, period pains, rheumatism, muscle pain including sprains, neuralgia and skin infections. It’s also a tonic, gallbladder stimulant and sedative, helpful for stressful situations and a confidence booster. Finally, it is a useful insecticide, and blends well with ginger, juniper, lavender, orange, rosemary and ylang ylang.
When used on the skin, bay laurel essential oil must always be diluted at a rate of 1 drop max. to each 2ml carrier oil. It may cause irritation and/or sensitisation, so don’t use it on sensitive skin. It is not suitable for use by children under 12, pregnant women or cancer patients.