Indian Laurel

Litsea glutinosa

Herbs gallery - Indian Laurel

Common names

  • Bolly Beech
  • Brown Beech
  • Brown Bollygum
  • Brown Bollywood
  • Indian Laurel
  • Soft Bollygum

As the name of this plant implies, the Indian laurel (botanical name Litsea glutinosa) is said to have its origin in India. However, this herb can also be found in several other countries including Australia, southern China, Malaysia as well as the Western Pacific islands. In fact, the Indian laurel is found growing all over Asia, including Hainan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan and Fujian in China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. Over the years, the Indian laurel has been introduced as well as established in several other countries, including Mauritius, Mayotte, Réunion in addition to South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.

Like in the case of nearly all species of laurel, even the Indian laurel can prove to be extremely evasive plant, particularly in places where the climate as well as the soil is favourable for its growth and flourishing. When Indian laurels are grown in such optimal conditions, the plants will not only thrive well, but also produce a "laurel forest". In fact, when the conditions are conducive for their growth, soon clusters of tall, large Indian laurel trees usually populate large tracts of any landscape.

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The Indian laurel plants are typified by their rather slim, partially-hairy leaves when they are young, but become coarse and textured as they become mature. Moreover, these plants are set apart by their small yellow flowers that appear in umbels growing at the base of each leaf. The fruits of the Indian laurel are small, spherical, berry-shaped growths containing several seeds. These fruits have a bitter flavour. In several places where the plant grows, people use its fruits for therapeutic purposes. However, Australia is an exception, as people here only use the herb as an element for landscaping and also as a firewood source.

The Indian laurel can be described as both evergreen as well as deciduous tree. Generally, these trees grow up to a height of anything between 3 meters and 15 meters. The Indian laurel is a polymorphic species (a species with more than one form) and its leaves appear alternately on the stem. The shape of the leaves may vary from being oblong to elliptical. They are velvety, especially when they are young) or glabrous. Each umbel of the Indian laurel comprises several small yellow-hued flowers and the male flowers have about 8 to 20 stamens each. These plants are in bloom from March to June, while their fruits appear during the period between September and October. The Indian laurel bears berry-like fruits that are round and measure up to 8 mm across. This tree often has vegetative reproduction, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the stems produced. They are mainly produced from root-suckers of the tree.

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The Indian laurel is a versatile, rapidly-growing tree. People in northern regions of the Philippines chop the leaves and soak them in water to prepare a plaster. The wood of the Indian laurel has a poor density and, hence, it does not make good timber. It is mostly used in the form of fuel. During the middle of the 19th century, the wood of the Indian laurel was introduced in the Comoros archipelago as a firewood source with the view to meet the increasing demand for fuel for the sugar cane distilleries in the region, and afterward for the area's ylang-ylang, cinnamon and citronella distilleries.

In India, the Indian laurel is also employed in traditional medicine. People in this country use the leaves and bark of the tree in the form of a demulcent as well as a mild astringent for treating conditions like dysentery and diarrhea. The roots of the plants are made into a paste and applied in the form of a poultice for healing bruises and sprains. On the other hand, people in China use the oil extracted from the seed for making soap. In fact, 50 percent of the seed of this plant comprises the oil. In very recent time, researchers discovered that the plant is a source of arabinoxylans, essential oils as well as other compounds possessing antiseptic attributes.

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The natural habitat of the Indian laurel is different in different countries. For instance, in the northern regions of the Philippines, the Indian laurel is considered to be an endangered helpful and versatile tree and several initiatives have been undertaken to conserve it. On the other hand, Litsea glutinosa is not considered to be a very invasive plant worldwide. Nevertheless, this plant has the potential to be highly invasive and it can displace restoration of many native plants, especially in environments that are quite disturbed. While people in China's eastern coastal region consider the Indian laurel to be an opportunistic plant. It is considered to be an invasive species in places like KwaZulu-Natal and the numerous islands in the Indian Ocean, including Mauritius, Mayotte, and Réunion. However, people in other islands of the Indian Ocean such as Seychelles think otherwise. The use of this plant as a fodder lessens its pest status somewhat. It is worth noting that the invasive attribute of the Indian laurel has a positive side - it can be utilized for reforestation purpose, especially on soils that are damaged.

Parts used

Roots, bark, leaves, seeds.

Uses

In most regions of Asia, especially the Philippines, Litsea glutinosa is a common therapeutic herb. Like most of the medicinal herbs found in Asia, all the parts of the Indian laurel can be used for therapeutic purposes. Different parts of this herb possess different therapeutic properties and, hence, are used for different curative purposes. In spite of this feature of the plant, the leaves of the Indian laurel are the most extensively used part. The leaves of this herb are used in an assortment of ways for curing various ailments and health conditions.

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The easiest as well as the most common means of using the leaves of the Indian laurel for therapeutic purposes is to boil them or prepare a decoction with them and use the formulation for treating diarrhea and dysentery. In addition, extremely potent decoctions made from the leaves of this herb can be used in the form of a natural astringent to treat skin disorders/ problems, such as in the form of an antiseptic for trivial cuts, bruises and wounds. This potent decoction can also be employed for treating intestinal parasites. The decoction can be used independently or combined with a decoction made from the guava plant leaves. A less potent decoction or an infusion prepared from fresh or dried leaves of the Indian laurel can also be used for alleviating the symptoms related to nausea caused by menses. It can also be used to provide relief from vomiting.

Aside from the above mentioned therapeutic uses of the Indian laurel leaves, they may also be used in the form of a natural antimicrobial agent, usually together with the other parts of the plant, for instance the roots and bark, which also possess astringent properties. The leaves can also be used to make a poultice and used for treating minor bruises and sprains. However, it is thought that the leaves are more effectual when they are mixed with the roots of the herb in equal proportions.

Less potent decoctions made from the Indian laurel leaves may also be employed to suppress nocturnal discharges in young boys. This decoction can also be taken internally in the form of a tea to treat insomnia and neurosis (also known as psychoneurosis). However, it is worth mentioning here that the ability of the Indian laurel leaf decoction to treat neurosis is not backed by any scientific evidence.

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Fresh leaves of the Indian laurel yield a juice when crushed. This juice can be used for treating sore eyes as well as conjunctivitis. However, it is important to sterilize the leaves as well as the juice extracted from them before applying the latter to the eyes to ensure its effectiveness in curing the problem. The leaf extracts possess antiseptic and antimicrobial properties and they are often used in herbal shampoos as an ingredient. It is said that applying such herbal shampoos helps to prevent hair loss as well as premature greying. In fact, this claim is backed by the fact that traditional herbal medicine in Malaysia and the Philippines uses decoctions prepared from the leaves of the Indian laurel to rinse hair as well as to combat dandruff and put off hair loss.

The bark of Litsea glutinosa is used for different purposes in different countries in Asia. Usually, the bark of the Indian laurel is used to make a decoction, which taken internally in the form of a tea to treat diarrhea. On the other hand, a paste prepared with the bark and any suitable oil (generally avocado, coconut or sesame oil is used for this purpose) and applied directly to open wounds in the form of an antiseptic as well as to accelerate the healing process. In fact, this practice is most widespread in Ayurveda, India's ancient medical system. An extremely potent decoction prepared from the bark of this tree is often used in the form of an antiseptic. It is especially applied to sores, open wounds and scabies. Alternatively, one may also drink this potent decoction for treating common intestinal problems. People of many cultures are of the belief that drinking the decoction prepared with the bark of this tree may also be effective as an aphrodisiac. It is interesting to note that this property of the bark's decoction is just the opposite of the decoction prepared from the tree's leaves. The decoction prepared from the Indian laurel's leaves actually helps to suppress one's libido or sexual craving.

You can also use the roots of Litsea glutinosa for therapeutic purpose. They can be used in the form of an emmenagogue (a medicine that promotes menstrual discharge) or as a poultice to cure common aches and pains, bruises and sprains. When employed as a poultice, the roots may be used individually or along with the leaves of the herb. In addition, the seeds of this herb also have therapeutic properties and you can prepare a paste with the seeds and use it for curing boils. Alternatively, you may crush the Indian laurel plant's seeds with a view to extract the oils enclosed by them. These oils can be used in the form of an essential oil and also as an ingredient to make astringents and soaps.

A decoction prepared from the bark of the Indian laurel is used to treat intestinal catarrh. People in Singapore pound the seeds of Litsea glutinosa and apply them to boils. The leaves of the herb are used in the form of a poultice in the Dutch Indies, while people in Bangladesh use the leaves for curing dysentery and diarrhea. In addition, the leaves are used for treating neurosis and insomnia. The oil extracted from the berries is employed to treat rheumatism.

The bark of the Indian laurel tree is used for alleviating pain as well as enhancing sexual power. It is also employed in the form of an astringent. Pounded fresh bark of the tree is also directly applied to bruises and wounds. Alternatively, the dried bark is pulverized into a powder and a paste is prepared from it. This paste is applied as plaster to broken hands and legs. The leaves of the tree are used in the form of an emmenagogue, while the roots are employed for treating rheumatism.

In the Western Ghats of India, people extract the aromatic oil of Litsea glutinosa seeds and use it for treating rheumatic pain.

Habitat and cultivation

The Indian laurel is generally found growing at altitudes of anywhere between 500 meters and 1900 meters above the sea level. In addition, this herb is also found growing along the banks of streams, margins of forests, in thickets or sparsely populated forests. The Indian laurel has the potential to spread rapidly and colonize all open areas provided the condition is favourable for their growth. However, this plant can also survive in shaded areas. Often, the Indian laurel trees are also found growing naturally in undisturbed forests. The Indian laurel or Litsea glutinosa grows in Mayotte in places receiving over 1200 mm annual rainfall.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the Indian laurel seeds has shown that they enclose somewhat fragrant, tallow-like (fatty) oil. About 80 percent of this oil is laurostearin, while the remaining is olein.

The main elements of the Indian laurel leaf include caryophyllene (about 21.50%), phytol (22.42%), thujopsene (12.1%) and some amount of B-myrcene (5%). The oil extracted from the leaves contains lauric acid (44.84%), α-cubebene (6.84%), 3-octen-5-yne, 2,7-dimethyle (28.72%) and caryophyllene (5.04%). Interestingly, the main element of the leaf phytol is completely absent in the fruit. On the other hand, the fruit oil contains lauric acid, while this element is absent in the leaf oil.

During studies, scientists have isolated d-xylose and l-arabinose (which is basically an arabinoxylan soluble in water) from the Indian laurel's mucilaginous bark. In addition, they also extracted mucilage polysaccharides from the leaves. Mucilage polysaccharides comprise 12.0% of the Indian laurel leaves.

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