Can You Eat Bay Leaves?

Is this flavorful herb dangerous to ingest?

It can be jarring to end up with a bay leaf in your mouth while dining on a luscious soup or hearty stew. The moment your tongue finds this jagged and unappetizing leaf, you may panic, wondering, Can you eat bay leaves or should I spit this out?

That’s because of a longstanding rumor that bay leaves are toxic, thanks to their visual similarity to other members of the laurel family—such as mountain laurel or cherry laurel—that are poisonous to humans and livestock. Read on to discover the truth about that bay leaf.

Can You Eat Bay Leaves?

No, you shouldn’t eat bay leaves. Even after hours and hours of simmering in a pot, bay leaves are still shockingly tough and pointy. They seem to defy all cooking logic, and don’t soften or become tender. As such, ingesting a bay leaf will result in an unpleasant sensation in your mouth, may scratch your mouth or esophagus, and could end up becoming a choking hazard. Therefore, you should not eat bay leaves or serve one to your family or dinner guests.

Are bay leaves poisonous?

Bay leaves aren’t poisonous or toxic. However, if you bite into a bay leaf, you’ll immediately want to expel it from your mouth because it’s nearly impossible to chew or swallow, no matter how long it’s been cooked.

What To Do with Bay Leaves

Bay leaves add just the right flavor note to many slow-cooked dishes, from stews and soups to braised meat dishes. But because nobody wants a surprise bay leaf in their mouth, it’s best to discard them prior to plating.

To make this task easier, keep bay leaves whole and remember how many you included in your recipe, so you know how many to remove. For a foolproof method that won’t require a fishing expedition in a big vat of soup, add your bay leaf to a bouquet garni (herbs held together with kitchen twine or bundled together in cheesecloth).

What do bay leaves taste like?

While sniffing a dried bay leaf may yield suspiciously little aroma, there is plenty of flavor packed inside. You just need a cooking liquid and some heat to coax it out.

A bay leaf has an almost minty flavor, with subtle notes of pine and black pepper. It’s one of those flavors that you may not be able to identify in a dish immediately, but if you dig into a soup or stew that failed to use a bay leaf, you’d notice “something” was missing. This unassuming ingredient will make all the difference in Vegetable Turkey Soup, Country Chuck Roast with Mushroom Gravy and Crawfish Etouffee.

Jill Schildhouse
Jill is an award-winning writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience. She covers a range of topics like health and wellness, food science, travel and healthcare for sites like Taste of Home, Reader’s Digest, Travel and Leisure, Fodor’s and USA Today. She loves tracking down the best sources possible to back up her writing, such as medical professionals, registered dietitians and scientists. An avid traveler, Jill has eaten her way through 38 countries—some of her favorite experiences include making gelato in Italy, catching and eating Dungeness crab in Alaska and pub-hopping in Ireland.