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Prunus laurocerasus - L.                
                 
Common Name Cherry Laurel
Family Rosaceae
Synonyms Laurocerasus officinalis. Padus laurocerasus.
Known Hazards All parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
Habitats Woods in Britain[17].
Range E. Europe to W. Asia. More or less naturalized in Britain[17].
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Care
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun

Summary       

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of shrub
Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen Shrub growing to 6 m (19ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 7. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Apr to June, and the seeds ripen in September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera.It is noted for attracting wildlife.


USDA hardiness zone : Coming soon


Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Prunus laurocerasus Cherry Laurel


Prunus laurocerasus Cherry Laurel
   
Habitats       
Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade; Ground Cover; Hedge;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Seed.
Edible Uses: Condiment.

Fruit - raw or cooked. Sweet and reasonably pleasant when fully ripe[65, 74, K]. The cultivar 'Camelliifolia' bears huge quantities of fruit[K]. This is the size of a large cherry and, when fully ripe, has a reasonable flavour raw with a jelly-like texture and a slight astringency[K]. Some sources suggest the fruit is poisonous, this probably refers to the unripe fruit[7]. We have eaten this fruit in quite large quantities without the slightest ill effects (this also includes a 2 year old child) and so any toxicity is of a very low order[K]. However, any fruit that is bitter should not be eaten in quantity because the bitterness is caused by the presence of the toxic compounds - see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter and contains one large seed[200]. Water distilled from the leaves is used as an almond flavouring[2, 46, 61, 183]. It should only be uses in small quantities, it is poisonous in large amounts[183]. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.
Medicinal Uses


Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antispasmodic;  Narcotic;  Ophthalmic;  Sedative.

The fresh leaves are antispasmodic, narcotic and sedative[4, 7]. They are of value in the treatment of coughs, whooping cough, asthma, dyspepsia and indigestion[4, 238]. Externally, a cold infusion of the leaves is used as a wash for eye infections[238]. There are different opinions as to the best time to harvest the leaves, but they should only be used fresh because the active principles are destroyed if the leaves are dried[4]. Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[238].
Other Uses
Cleanser;  Dye;  Essential;  Hedge;  Hedge;  Wood.

Very tolerant of trimming, this plant makes an excellent hedge especially in shady areas[11, 29, 200]. Some forms of this plant, notably 'Cherry Brandy', 'Otto Luyken', 'Zabelina' and 'Schipkaensis' are low-growing and make very good ground cover plants for sun or shade[182, 197]. Water distilled from the leaves is used in perfumery[4]. The bruised leaves, when rubbed within any container, will remove strong odours such as garlic or cloves so long as any grease has first been fully cleaned off[4]. A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[168]. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[168]. Wood - pinkish grey. Used in turnery and lathe work[74].
Cultivation details                                         
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil[1, 11]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone[11]. Prefers some chalk in the soil but it is apt to become chlorotic if too much is present, growing badly on shallow chalk[98, 200]. Extremely tolerant of shade, it succeeds in the dense shade of trees with almost no direct light and in their drip line[197, 200], though it fruits better in a more sunny position[200]. A very ornamental plant, there are many named varieties[200]. The cultivar 'Otto Luyken' is a low growing narrow-leafed form that flowers in spring and autumn. The tiny flowers are powerfully fragrant[245] but have a rather offensive odour[182]. This is a matter of opinion, some people find the smell sweet and delightful[K]. A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants[11], it should be introduced with care since it often self-sows in woodlands and can prevent the successful regeneration of native trees by shading out the seedlings[208]. Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[238]. The flowers attract butterflies and moths[30]. This species is notably resistant to honey fungus[88, 200]. Subject to bacterial canker which can kill large branches[124]. Trim (preferably with secateurs) in spring or late summer[200]. Old plants can be cut back hard into the old wood in spring and will soon recover[200].
                                                                                 
Propagation                                         
Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[200]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[200]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame[11, 200]. Cuttings of mature wood, October in a sheltered north facing border outdoors[113]. Layering in spring.
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Expert comment                                         
 
      
Author                                         
L.
                                                                                 
Botanical References                                         
1117200
                                                                                 
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[17]Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles.
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.
[29]Shepherd. F.W. Hedges and Screens.
A small but informative booklet giving details of all the hedging plants being grown in the R.H.S. gardens at Wisley in Surrey.
[30]Carter D. Butterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe.
An excellent book on Lepidoptera, it also lists their favourite food plants.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[65]Frohne. D. and Pfänder. J. A Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants.
Brilliant. Goes into technical details but in a very readable way. The best work on the subject that I've come across so far.
[74]Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR.
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.
[88]RHS. The Garden. Volume 112.
Snippets of information from the magazine of the RHS. In particular, there are articles on plants that are resistant to honey fungus, oriental vegetables, Cimicifuga spp, Passiflora species and Cucurbits.
[98]Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.
Very comprehensive guide to growing trees and shrubs from seed. Not for the casual reader.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[124]RHS. The Garden. Volume 113.
Snippets of information from the magazine of the RHS, including details on Podophyllum, Canna and Protea species.
[168]Grae. I. Nature's Colors - Dyes from Plants.
A very good and readable book on dyeing.
[182]Thomas. G. S. Ornamental Shrubs, Climbers and Bamboos.
Contains a wide range of plants with a brief description, mainly of their ornamental value but also usually of cultivation details and varieties.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[197]Royal Horticultural Society. Ground Cover Plants.
A handy little booklet from the R.H.S.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[208]Thomas. G. S. Plants for Ground Cover
An excellent detailled book on the subject, very comprehensive.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.

Readers comment                                         
 
Elizabeth H.
Una McDermott Sat Mar 9 12:25:10 2002
My understanding is that even small amounts of the plant can cause poisoning. The leaves containcyanogenic glycocides. These glycosides yield hydrocyanic acid (cyanide)when enzymes in crushed plant material or the digestive system act on them. Cyanide smells of almonds. Distilling material from the leaves may concentrate the levels of cyanide to a toxic level.
Elizabeth H.
Ken Fern Sat Mar 9 12:27:53 2002
Dear Una McDermott

Many thanks for your email regarding Prunus laurocerasus and the conflicting reports of edibility and poisonousness.

Prunus laurocerasus is in the rose family of plants. This family includes many well-known edible fruits including the apple, pear, plum, strawberry, cherry, apricot, peach, blackberry and raspberry. A very high proportion of plants in the rose family also contain cyanogenic glycosides. This is found, in small quantities, in the leaves and seeds, but also in the fruits and can be detected by the characteristic bitter flavour reminiscent of almonds. Indeed, it is these glycosides that give almonds (also a member of the rose family) their characteristic flavour. Whilst the sweet almonds that are so commonly used as an article of food have only a low concentration of these glycosides, the bitter almonds that are used commercially to make marzipan and other food flavourings contain a much higher content (indeed there are records of three of these bitter almond seeds causing death in a young child). Even the sweet almonds are not totally safe to eat - it has been stimulated that about 900 seeds would constitute a lethal dose for an average healthy adult.

These glycosides are not all bad, however. Indeed, they are used both by conventional medicine and by herbalists as a stimulant for the respiratory system. In conventional medicine, the compound is used in isolation, but herbally many plants rich in these glycosides are used, including the bitter almond and Prunus laurocerasus (the leaves and seeds rather than the fruits).

The fruits of Prunus laurocerasus are usually quite low in glycoside content and are thus completely safe to eat in all but very large quantities. I have eaten quite large quantities on a number of occasions and have also given them to my young children who love them. However, I always make sure the fruit is fully ripe (it acquires a jelly-like consistency) and that it has a sweet rather than bitter flavour. Eaten like this they are completely safe - I first gave them to my son when he was about 2½ years old and he is now a very healthy 7½ year old.

The leaflet on ground cover plants that you read was written about 10 years ago and has not been revised since then. I do feel that the explanation on edibility should be expanded and will make sure that this is done in the near future. The entry for the plant in our database is more clear - I include excerpts from it below:-

The entry for known toxins reads as follows - "All parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death."

The entry for edibility reads as follows -

"Fruit - raw or cooked. Sweet and reasonably pleasant when fully ripe[65, 74, K]. The cultivar 'Camelliifolia' bears huge quantities of fruit[K]. This is the size of a large cherry and, when fully ripe, has a reasonable flavour raw with a jelly-like texture and a slight astringency[K]. Some sources suggest the fruit is poisonous, this probably refers to the unripe fruit[7]. We have eaten this fruit in quite large quantities without the slightest ill effects (this also includes a 2 year old child) and so any toxicity is of a very low order[K]. However, any fruit that is bitter should not be eaten in quantity because the bitterness is caused by the presence of the toxic compounds - see the notes above on toxicity. The fruit is about 8mm in diameter and contains one large seed[200]. Water distilled from the leaves is used as an almond flavouring[2, 46, 61, 183]. It should only be uses in small quantities, it is poisonous in large amounts[183]. Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity."

I hope this is of us to you. Please do not hesitate to get back in touch with me if you have further questions.

Ken Fern

Elizabeth H.
ali islam Wed Sep 15 13:05:02 2004
about cherry laurel dear colleague, I have seen and read cherry laurel on your web page. There are a lot of information on it about Laurocerasus officinalis such as systematic, edible uses, propagation, cultivars, .... I have studied on it and there are many cultivars in Turkey. It is widely spread out in the North-east part and has been growing for a long time. A paper "Kiraz cherry laurel" was published in The New Zealand journal crop and horticultural science. You can see it in the journal or web page. http://www.rsnz.govt.nz/publish/nzjchs/2002/037.php I tell you that your web site is very good and contains useful knowledge. I'm happy for it. In the 'known hazard' section, it was written 'All parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, a poison that ...' This is not true. I think if you change this section in your database as 'some parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide such as leaves' it can be more clear and true. I agree with Ken Fern in this subject. I hope that this information is useful. Please do not hesitate to get back in touch with me if you have further information or question and comment.

Dr. Ali Islam Karadeniz Technical University, Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Horticulture 52200-Ordu-Turkey Tel: +90 452 2300556 Fax: +90 452 2251261 E-mail: aislam@ktu.edu.tr or islamali@hotmail.com http://www.ziraat.ktu.edu.tr/bahce/aislam/curriculumvitae.htm

Elizabeth H.
Judith Maizel-Long Sun Sep 17 2006
Cherry laurels grow freely locally, in Wadhurst, a wooded rural area with a mild dry climate, on the Kent/Sussex border in southern England. The fruit is eaten by local foxes, whose droppings in September are full of the undigested seeds. My Staffordshire Bull Terrier bitch, who loves eating blackberries in season (she picks her own near ground level), has started eating fallen laurel cherries too in the last few weeks, with no observable ill effects as yet.
Elizabeth H.
Stuart Anderson & Gabrielle Sanders Mon Dec 11 2006
We are grubbing up a couple of huge laurel hedges prior to implementing a permaculture design in a small garden and, in accordance with permaculture principles, want to dispose of it all on site. We propose to chip it and use some chippings for paths and dispose of the rest by composting. Our concern is whether the poisonous attributes of the plant will present a problem by poisoning the soil as the chips decompose. Thanks for your informative site and we hope you can advise us.
Elizabeth H.
Tue Oct 2 2007
Andy Broadley Tues 2nd Oct 2007 I too hold the same concerns as Stuart and Gabrielle Sanders. I am currently Felling/removing this species and processing it on site in a wood. I have discouraged the landowner from burning it for health reasons that being side effects from smoke inhalation and also environmental reasons. Will soil contamination occur in the later stages of decomposition as with rhododendron preventing or delaying the establishment/natural regeneration of other species ? I'll watch this space.
Elizabeth H.
Fri Feb 29 2008
thank you
Elizabeth H.
Mike Sat Apr 4 2009
Can anyone tell me what depth the root system of Prunus laurocerasus grows to? i am wondering if I can plant this near a percolation area for my septic tank without the roots damaging my percolation area
Elizabeth H.
Zy Sun Aug 23 2009
Prunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis' is currently described in this article as ".. can be used for ground cover..." This statement is absurd, because the plant has an upright habit, which is described on other web pages as having a mature height ranging from 1.2 meters to 3 meters. Just yesterday I saw one for sale at a garden center that was approx 2 meters tall x less than 1 meter spread. Certainly 'Schipkaensis' is *not* a groundcover plant.

Horticulture Dept, Univ. of Connecticut

Elizabeth H.
Sherry Rich Mon Dec 14 2009
I would like to move my prunus laurocerasus and would like to know what the root system is like.
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