California Laurel (Umbellularia californica)

Laurus regalis. L. regia. Oreodaphne californica. Tetranthera californica.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
California Laurel
Umbellularia californica

The leaves are used as an insect repellent, they are especially effective against fleas[62, 92, 94, 95, 169]. They have disinfectant properties and contain small quantities of camphor[95, 169]. The leaves are burnt as a fumigant to get rid of fleas[257].

The leaves have been hung in bunches to freshen the air[257]. The aroma of the leaves gives some people headaches[K].

An essential oil is obtained from the leaves by steam distillation[11, 46, 61, 82].

Beige and green dyes are obtained from the fruits (used without the seeds). Very aromatic, the dye retains its fragrance for many years[168].

Wood – hard, close grained, heavy, strong, takes a high polish. A beautifully textured wood, it is used for high quality cabinet making, panelling etc[61, 82, 94, 229].

  • Medicinal Use

    California laurel was employed medicinally by some native North American Indian tribes who used it particularly as an analgesic to treat a variety of complaints[257]. It is still occasionally used in modern herbalism, being valued for its beneficial effect upon the digestive system.

    The leaves are analgesic, antirheumatic, nervine and stomachic[92, 94, 95, 238, 257]. Although the aroma of the leaves is known to cause headaches, they have also been used as an infusion and a poultice to treat this affliction[92, 94, 95, 238, 257]. The leaves are also used internally to treat neuralgia, intestinal cramps and gastro-enteritis[238]. An infusion has been used by women to ease the pains of afterbirth[257]. Externally, an infusion has been used as a bath in the treatment of rheumatism[257]. A decoction of the leaves has been used as a wash on sores and to remove vermin from the head[257]. They are harvested as required and can be used fresh or dried[238].

    A poultice of the ground seeds has been used to treat sores[257].

    The seeds have been eaten as a stimulant[257].

  • Edible Use

    Seed – cooked[257]. It can be roasted and eaten or can be ground into a powder that is used with cereal flours in making bread[62, 105, 177, 183]. A bitter quality in the seed is dispensed by roasting or parching the seed[92, 161].

    Fruit – raw or cooked[257].

    The leaves are used as a condiment in cooked foods. They are a bayleaf substitute but with a much stronger flavour[2, 94, 238]. Used for flavouring soups, stews etc[183].

    A tea is obtained from the leaves[2].

    A coffee substitute is obtained from the root bark[161, 183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    The foliage can cause skin irritations[1, 11]. A volatile oil in the leaves can cause sneezing and headaches if inhaled[11].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – it has a limited viability and is best sown as soon as it is ripe in the autumn in a greenhouse[200]. Stored seed should be sown as early in the year as possible in the greenhouse. In the wild the seed germinates as soon as it falls to the ground in the autumn[82]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 7 – 10cm with a heel, July/August in a shaded frame. Pot up in spring. Good percentage[78, 200]. Layering.
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive lime-free soil in a sunny position[200]. Prefers an abundant supply of moisture in the growing season[82]. Older plants are hardy to about -15¡c when growing in a position that is sheltered from cold drying winds, but young plants require some frost protection[200]. Even mature plants can be damaged in severe winters[1]. The leaves are harvested commercially in California and sold as a bay-leaf substitute[183]. The leaves emit a powerful camphor-like scent when bruised[245]. So strong is the aroma that it can cause headaches and dizziness[245]. A very large and beautiful tree fruited regularly at Kew, producing viable seed, until it was blown down in the severe storms of October 1987[K].
South-western N. America – California to Oregon.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.