Are bay leaves dangerous to (unwittingly) eat?

  • When I first started working as a cook, I was instructed in no uncertain terms to only use whole bay leaves when cooking so that when the leaves were removed, still whole, one could be sure that no pieces had broken off and remained in the stew (or whatever).

    I was told that eating dried bay leaves was akin to eating broken glass in their potential effects on the digestive system.

    Yet, just the other day I was eating a rabbit pie and I discovered a whole bay leaf in it. I asked the server, and she said that it was common practice for that restaurant to leave bay leaves in situ.

    I guess they can't be that bad for you if restaurants can serve them hidden in the middle of a pie?

    Brings to mind the old "swallowing toothbrush bristles causes appendicitis" urban legend. But if you're wolfing down your food fast enough to swallow a whole bay leaf, I imagine they could present a choking hazard...

    That policy probably has more to do with the unpleasant taste of whole bay leaves.

    @Knives : I blame my military school upbringing for the fast eating ... but I've gagged on a bay leaves quite a few times growing up, to the point where for decades I refused to cook with them. Now, I just make sure to keep a count, so I can remove 'em.

  • rumtscho

    rumtscho Correct answer

    9 years ago

    There is no reason to worry. The worst thing which can happen is that a piece of bay leaf, being somewhat hard, can lodge somewhere in your digestive system, necessitating a trip to ER. But a medical paper on the topic starts its discussion section with the sentence "Reports discussing ingestion of bay leaves have been exceedingly scant". They only cite 10 references in the period 1950-1990, and most of these are general studies of foreign bodies in the esophagus, not specific studies of bay leaf ingestion.

    Given how often bay leafs must find their ways into people's digestive systems (they feature in our food), it is safe to conclude that only a tiny fraction of ingested bay leafes cause problems, else there would be more studies mentioning such cases. The same is true for side effects different from mechanical obstruction: if this had happened, somebody would have published it.

    The paper I mentioned is "Bay Leaf Impaction in the Esophagus and Hypopharynx" by Stephen K. Buto, MD; Tat-Kin Tsang, MD; Gerald W. Sielaff, MD; Laurie L. Gutstein, MD; and Mick S. Meiselman, MD. Sadly, it isn't freely available (I could read the full text because my uni has a subscription).

    I guess that if you are working as a cook, your workplace may decide that even if the chance for a customer choking on a bay leaf is something like one in a million, they'd rather instill removing bay leaves from dishes as a policy. Probably prudent, although there are more important risks to care about.

    "There is no reason to worry. You may have to go to the ER."

    @dn3s if you get out of bed in the morning, the worst thing that can happen is that you misstep, fall down and have to go to ER with complicated fractures. In fact, I personally know somebody to whom it happened. And yet, if you ask me "is it dangerous to get out of bed", I will tell you to not worry and just do it.

    And staying in bed is *also* potentially dangerous - bed sores, falling ceilings, stray cannon fire, crashing airplanes...

  • Bay leaves are definitely edible. I have always heard the same warning, but after seeing flaked bay leaves for sale at the store, I concluded they were safe.

    This wiki summarizes it as they are safe (if you can stand the flavor), except they are often still stiff after cooking and could potentially cause choking or scratching.

    Having dealt with them in the past, they are no where near as bad as glass would be.

  • Broken glass is perhaps tipping it a bit strong, but the thick central stem of bay leaves does mean they stay quite rigid even when cooked, so there is potential for scratching the intestinal lining if a whole one was swallowed.

    I don't think small fragments would do much damage however - certainly no more than a bit of un-chewed potato chip or boiled sweet. I have several recipes that call for shredded or ground bay leaf (in curry pastes for example) which obviously can't be removed.

  • Today I ate soup and it had a bay leaf in it. It got stuck in my throat and I couldn't breathe or talk. Lucky my 12 yr old daughter had the sense to ring the ambulance, I believe I have a guardian angel. I barely managed to pull it out. I was told to sip water and eat soft foods only, my esophagus is cut all over and my throat is really sore to swallow. All bay leaves have been removed from my cooking methods starting today. I was told that the bay leaf is like swallowing glass, I'm so so lucky.

  • I was rushed to the ER after swallowing 2 small pieces of bay leaf that were in a salad served at the Long Beach Diner and lodged in my esophagus cutting me like a rasor blade. It resulted in hours of violent hacking and spitting up blood, xrays, a catscan, and a painful camera probe through my nose and down my throat. Hospital suggested surgery to remove it but I finally managed to dislodge one of the pieces as a result of my violent hacking. Two weeks later the second piece finally passed into my digestive track. Very frightening. Very painful. My digestive system has been in distress for months as a result of the trauma.

    That sure doesn't sound safe to me!

    This is probably fake. Doctors don't camera probe via the nose. People eat food with hard bits all the time without issue

    @TFD Nasal endoscopy is actually a common procedure, and this would be a perfect example of a reason it would be done.

    What really makes this sound fake is that the bay leaf was in a salad.

    @Jolenealaska through the mouth is far more common unless the mouth is unavailable (read, blocked). Bigger opening, less chance of things going wrong.

    Dr's do, in fact, use cameras that go through the nose to look at the throat. I have had this procedure and it is not a pleasant one.

    This post was put up for deletion. Whether it is fake or not the symptoms do relate to perfectly valid experiences with eating bay-leaf. Salad's as in the leaf and mixed raw vegetable mixes may not have bay leaf added, I can imagine some chef adding some to boiling new potatoes and not getting all the bits out.

    Agreed: I have no intention of deleting this, or the other horror story answer. If they're fake or wrong, we can handle it with voting, but they're still answers.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM