Tag Archives: Litsea glaucescen

Natural Healing — Laurel Silvestre

 Photo credit: Ernestolapeña 

I discovered another herbal treasure nugget that brought me pure bliss the other day. I picked up a packaged tea that contained laurel, canela (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), and limón (Citrus aurantifolia) but it didn’t have any information on what it could be used for. Since I’ve already done research on limón and canela, there was nothing to it but take a look at laurel. 

I started off wrong-footed in my research. I mistakenly assumed that laurel was Laurus nobilis, bay laurel, and had come with the Spanish conquerors to Mexico. Nope. While the term “laurel” did come from Europe, the leaves most often used in culinary delights and remedies are from a native Mexican tree Litsea glaucescens. Those Spanish priests that were interested in herbology superimposed the name “laurel” on this plant because it resembled the laurel that they were familiar with. 

I wasn’t done with my discovery quite yet. I had noticed previously that the laurel I purchased from different sources tended to be just a little bit different from place to place. That made more sense when I found out there were seven, yes 7, different varieties of Litsea glaucescens in Mexico. 

My next trail of investigation was on discovering the proper name for “laurel.” Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is properly known as lauro or laurel de castilla. Litsea glaucescens is Mexican Bay or False Laurel in English. In Nahuatl, it’s ecapatli or expatli de Chietla. It was used in remedies for wounds on the feet, as a digestive aid, to treat respiratory issues, and nervous disorders. Loosely translated, the term ecapatli means “wind or air medicine.”  Laurel continues to be used as a medicine and in religious festivals in Mexico particularly in the Doming de Ramos (Palm Sunday) ceremonies. Unfortunately, over-collection has pushed the species to the endangered classification. 

Different native language speakers refer to to the Mexican bay with different names. Among the Raramuri, it is known as aureli. Other groups use the names canelillo, sufricalla or sufracago, izitzuch in Tseltal, laurelillo, laurel chico, laurel de la sierra or laurel silvestre. Yet other names include cu-ju-e or lipa-cujue-e in Chontal and arrayán. In Mixteco, this tree is known as wixi tika´a,  tu Káa, or yucú ñesachoetiaá and in Mazahua, sanshiño.

It’s often used to treat cold and flu symptoms including congestion, cough, and sore throat. It’s also a digestive aid and prescribed for irregular periods. As a food flavoring, it is often combined with tomillo (Thymus vulgaris), mejorana (Origanum majorana), and oregano. The leaves are almost always used dried. Fresh leaves tend to be somewhat bitter. When burnt, it makes an aromatic smoke. It’s used in several rituals for postpartum cleansing along with other herbs. Manteca de laurel, the essential oil, is harvested by simmering crushed leaves and fruit for 30 minutes. Allow it to cool and skim the oil off the top. It is used as a rub for sore muscles or to relieve rheumatism.  

For digestive issues, laurel silvestre leaves are brewed for a tea in Chiapas and added to a licor de caña in Oaxaca. Laurel (Litsea glaucescens) has antidepressant properties supporting its use for nervous disorders. It has proven antioxidant, antiproliferative, and antimicrobial activities. It also has antihypertensive potential.


Interested in discovering a path to wellness through traditional medicine? Discover Mexican herbalism with common remedies used today in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.

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Filed under Health, Native fauna and flora, Natural Healing