Folk healers have used lavender since ancient times to treat ailments like anxiety, insomnia, depression, headaches, hair loss, nausea, acne, toothaches, skin irritations and cancer. Modern scientists have confirmed these benefits, and are in the process of discovering a whole lot more.
A flowering plant in the mint family, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is easily recognized by its sweet floral scent and striking violet color. Believed to be native to the Mediterranean, Middle East and India dating back as far as 2,500 years, it was known as a holy herb. The color was a symbol of royalty and elegance. The flowers were associated with serenity, calmness and purity. Indeed, the name comes from the Latin root “lavare“ to wash, cleanse. The earliest recorded use of lavender goes back to ancient Egypt, where the oil was part of the mummification process. Over 40 species of lavender and 400 varieties have been catalogued thus far.
Lavender is available in many forms: dried or fresh flowers, sachets, etc. It is most clinically effective, however, as an essential oil, made up of active compounds like linalool that are rich in esters — aromatic molecules with antispasmodic, calming and stimulating properties. Always use high quality 100% pure oil, preferably USDA organic. Some oils are approved for topical use only, not oral, so always make sure what is recommended for the type you buy. The oil can be inhaled, diffused or applied directly, in many cases diluted in a carrier oil, like unrefined coconut oil or mixed with other essential oils — see specifics below.
Before using lavender essential oil, or any essential oil, it’s always a good idea to do a skin test to check for any allergic reaction: apply 1 drop of oil to your arm to see if the skin becomes irritated. Wait some hours or overnight. If no reaction, apply the oil ( diluted or undiluted). If any irritation develops, stop using immediately. Some Internet sites have claimed that pure lavender oil in mascara promotes lash growth, volumizing, lengthening. This is not true. Do NOT use undiluted or diluted lavender oil near your eyes.
For most people, lavender oil is completely safe. However, there has not been a vast amount of research on its interactions with other medications, or for use in pregnant women, so you might want to proceed cautiously in these situations.
What Is Lavender good for?
• Nervous system. Human studies show that inhaling lavender oil has a soothing and calming effect on the nervous system, akin to popping a Valium, but without all the dizzying side effects. Relief can be attained just by inhaling.
• Postnatal depression. A 2012 study with 28 high risk postpartum women found that, after diffusing lavender in their homes for 4 weeks, subjects experienced a significant reduction in postnatal depression and anxiety disorder.
• Antioxidant. A 2013 study published in Phytomedicine concluded that lavender oil increased the activity of the body’s most potent antioxidants — glutathione, catalase and SOD — helping to prevent or reverse oxidative stress.
• Diabetes. Animal studies have found that lavender essential oil protected the body from diabetes symptoms, like increased blood glucose, metabolic disorders, weight gain, liver and kidney dysfunction, etc. More research is needed, but it is suggested that individuals can use it for diabetes with no adverse side effects, drug interactions or withdrawal symptoms — simply apply the oil topically to the neck and chest, or diffuse it in the home.
• Alzheimer’s. Studies on rats show that inhaling lavender essential oil vapor can help prevent brain oxidative stress and improve cognitive impairment. To support the nervous system, it is suggested to diffuse lavender oil, inhale it directly from the bottle, or apply topically to the temples and back of the neck.
• Cancer therapy. A 2012 study in African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, reported that aromatherapy using lavender oil helps cancer patients cope with stress, nausea, chronic pain and depression. The oil also stimulates the immune system, boosts mood, improves sleep, and reduces stress, so it can be very helpful therapeutically for the cancer patient.
• Stroke. The same neuroprotective effects as above can apply to treating the neurological dysfunction of stroke.
• Nausea. Inhalation studies have found that lavender can relieve feelings of nausea and fatigue.
• Respiratory disorders. Lavender essential oil, diffused with an inhaler or vaporizer, is helpful in treating inflammatory respiratory conditions like asthma.
• Headaches. Recent research finds that inhaling lavender scent or massaging the oil into temples, forehead, and neck (especially behind the ears) can be a very effective headache treatment. This works as a sedative, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant and calming agent. Migraine sufferers experienced significant pain reduction when they inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes.
Perhaps the most effective natural headache remedy is mixing 2 drops each of lavender oil and peppermint oil and rubbing into the back of the neck and temples.
• Sleep. Putting a few drops of lavender oil into a diffuser on your bedside table helps to relax the mind and body and improve overall sleep. You can also apply lavender oil behind your ears for the same benefits. To relax before bedtime, take a healing bath by adding 15 drops lavender oil and 1 cup Epsom salts to the bath water. Another excellent sleep elixir: combine lavender oil, Roman chamomile essential oil and magnesium oil. Just rub this into the back of your neck and wrists to induce a calm, peaceful feeling.
• Pain relief. Applying lavender essential oil to muscles with a carrier oil like coconut can provide relief from soreness, particularly for joint pain and rheumatism.
• Wounds. Mix a few drops of lavender oil with distilled water and apply to a wound. This has been shown to stimulate cell regeneration and speed wound healing.
•. Menstrual cramps. Apply lavender oil on the abdomen to relieve cramps during the menstrual cycle.
•. Skin Food. Lavender oil is loaded with antioxidants that nourish and protect the skin. So it’s an excellent addition to any skincare formula.
• Chapped lips. Mix lavender oil with coconut oil for the perfect lip balm.
• Antimicrobial/antifungal. Lavender contains antibacterial properties that are effective against 65 different strains, including E.coli and S. Aureus. Over 100 studies have been conducted establishing the antimicrobial/antifungal benefits of lavender in healing burns, cuts, scapes, wounds and cold sores. One study discovered that lavender’s antimicrobial abilities are enhanced when blended with essential oils, like clove, cinnamon and tee tree. Researchers found that equal parts of these oils were most effective in fighting skin funguses like Candida albicans and Staph aureus.
Also effective for burns, cuts, scrapes or wounds, mix 3-5 drops of lavender oil with 1/2 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil. Apply to the area using fingers or a clean cotton ball.
• Improve blood circulation. Lavender appears to help boost healthy blood circulation throughout the body.
• Itchy skin. Lavender is anti-inflammatory, so it has been found to be very useful in relieving inflamed, itchy skin caused by eczema or insect bites. Mix a few drops with a carrier oil, like coconut.
• Dandruff. To get rid of dandruff and other scalp imbalances, mix lavender and cold pressed virgin olive oil and massage into the scalp.
• Hair growth. Lavender stimulates blood circulation, so, when applied to the scalp in an olive oil carrier, it can significantly improve hair growth over time. A study in Archives of Dermatology reported that lavender oil, along with a mixture of other essential oils, resulted in 43% improvement in patients with alopecia aerate (hair loss).
Around the house
• Cooking. Dried lavender buds or petals can enhance the flavor of some dishes, especially desserts and salads. Take care to grind finely before cooking so that it blends with the whole. They have quite a strong flavor and aroma, so use sparingly!
• Air and clothes freshener. Make or buy lavender sachets with dried lavender buds. You can leave sachets inside drawers to add fragrance to clothes and serve as an insect repellent.
• Home decoration. To feel like you’re living right next to a lavender field in Southern France, fresh or dried lavender flowers add a rich accent to home decor. In the garden you can plant them in interesting patterns or line a path. French lavender plants grow well indoors, especially in a terra cotta pot to avoid excess moisture. There are endless creative possibilities.
• Personal fragrance. The subtle floral scent of lavender oil can provide that special, natural je-ne-sais-quoi.
“Lavender’s Soothing Scent Could Be More Than Just Folk Medicine” — New York Times
“The History of Lavender” — Healthline
“Lavender: The Flower With Many Faces” — Dr. Mercola
“15 Beauty Benefits of Lavender Oil That’ll Make You a Believer” — TheThirty.Birdie.com
“7 Impressive Benefits of Lavender” — OrganicFacts.net