lavender – from the Latin word “lavare,” which means “to wash”
(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional; this article is purely for informational purposes.)
I remember driving by an entire farm of lavender fields once and it was like a gigantic meadow of soft, powdery purple. It looked so fresh under the nice blue sky, I really wanted to stop and scoop up a few armfuls.
This delicate purple flower is originally found in Northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. Nowadays, you can find it in gardens across the world, chosen for both its prettiness and its perfume. From shampoo to air fresheners, few could argue that it is one of the most popular scents.
Its popularity stems partially from its highly regarded status as a therapeutic plant. I’m pretty positive those farms of lavender I drove by were being cultivated for lavender essential oil, very widely used in aromatherapy and for medicinal purposes. I love incorporating lavender into my life and I’d like to give you a brief run down on this remarkable plant so that you can too.
- Calming and anti-stress
- Fungal infections
- Minor burns and wounds
- Bug bites
The oil is effective against a whole range of skin-pathogenic strains of fungus by destroying their cell membrane. It has also been known to help wounds close more rapidly and soothe irritated skin. It is a very popular ingredient in baby products, such as lotions or diaper creams both for its calming effect and for its anti-bacterial, healing reputation.
Taking lavender oil orally or inhaling its aroma via aromatherapy practices has been known to improve all of the above listed symptoms. Granted, studies are ongoing and there are insufficient findings to really officially verify the effectiveness on most of these. However, lavender continues to be very commonly used to treat these ailments, especially in the holistic world. In particular, aromatherapy with lavender is very commonly used to help de-stress, calm and soothe the mind.
- Digestion issues, such as vomiting, nausea, gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling
Again, there are insufficient results from studies to verify the effects of lavender on these ailments. Yet, lavender remains a common natural remedy via ingestion, inhalation, or topical application.
- PMS symptoms
- Hair loss prevention
- Natural bug repellent
The list of uses keeps growing all the time. A study in Japan found that lavender aromatherapy was useful in alleviating pre-menstrual symptoms. Meanwhile, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCB) tells us lavender can promote hair growth by up to 44 percent after 7 months of treatment. And finally, it is apparently a good natural bug spray. Nice!
- Slows central nervous system
- Unknown effect on pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Enlarged breast tissue in pre-pubuscent boys
- Drug interaction
- Allergies, rashes and toxicity
Doctors usually advise patients to stop using lavender two weeks before surgery because it is thought to slow down the central nervous system.
The effect of lavender during pregnancy or while breast-feeding is not known, and therefore it is advised to consult a doctor before its use.
In addition, a recent study has revealed a possible link between repeated topical use of lavender on the skin and enlarged breast tissue in boys before puberty.
Don’t combine with tranquilizing drugs! According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), use caution when combining lavender with:
- Barbituates – may increase sedative effect.
- Benzodiazepines – may increase sedative effect
- Chloral hydrate – may increase drowsy effect
Lavender may also trigger allergic reactions in some people, as well as rashes. General toxicity has been reported too. So, employ caution when using, and certainly it is advisable try it in small doses first.
- Edible capsules
- Lotions and salves
- Massage oil
- Diaper cream
- Bath soaks
- Pillow spray
- Air freshener
How you administer lavender is up to you and what you want, with the levels of intensity being inhalation, topical (skin) application, and finally actually ingesting lavender oil.
The inhalation/aromatherapy approach is the least intrusive. It is probably good to err towards this gentler approach with children, such as simple aromatherapy use around the house, like a few drops of oil on their laundry or a light spray into the air just to create a calm, lavender infused atmosphere. (And remember to check out all the Warnings listed above too!)
Topical application should generally be done by mixing with something else because the straight oil is very strong and may cause irritation. It is very potent even when combined with other ingredients. There are a great many excellent recipes which can easily be found online for creating salves, lotions and bath salts and soaks. The simplest approach is simply adding a few drops of oil to an existing lotion or carrier oil or butter like shea or coconut.
Ingesting lavender is something I have never personally tried, but like any homeopathic remedy, it should ideally be done under the supervision of a professional.
No matter how you decide to use it, just use common sense. For example, do NOT put it in your eyes for heaven sakes.
Salgeuiro, Ligia & Eugenia Pinto. Journal of Medical Microbiology. University of Coimbra. as qtd in Udakis, Laura. “The Potent Anti-Fungal Effect of Lavender Oil.” MedicalNewsToday.com (MNT). 15 Feb 2011.
Adalet Koca Kutlu, Dilek Çeçen, Seren Gülşen Gürgen, et. al. “A Comparison Study of Growth Factor Expression following Treatment with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, Saline Solution, Povidone-Iodine, and Lavender Oil in Wounds Healing,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, Article ID 361832, 9 pages, 2013.
Kaspar, Siegfried. “An orally administered lavandula oil preparation (Silexan) for anxiety disorder and related conditions: an evidence based review.” International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice. November 2013, Vol. 17, No. S1 , Pages 15-22.
Matsumoto, Tamaki, Hyroyuki Asakura, & Tatsuya Hayashi. “Does Lavender Aromatherapy Alleviate Premenstrual Emotional Symptoms? : A Randomized Crossover Trial.” BioPsychoSocial Medicine 2013, 7:12. 31 May 2013.