LAVENDER
Common Names

Lavender
Botanical Name
Lavandula officinalis

Family
LAMIACEAE or LABIATAE ~ Mint Family

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What is it?

The distinctive, fragrant, purple flowers of Lavender, the wonderful little shrub that grows all over the world with its woody, crooked, flaky branches that give off straight, four-sided stems producing narrow, pale leaves and copious amounts of flowers.


FLOWERS


DRIED FLOWERS


DRIED

How has it been used?

Lavender was so extensively used as a cleansing and purifying herb by the ancient Romans that it took its name from the word 'lavare; to wash.

The great English herbalist Parkinson writes 'Lavender is almost wholly spent with us to perfume linen, apparel, gloves and leather and the dried flowers to comfort and dry up the moisture of a cold brain and it is of especial good use for all griefs and pains of the head and brain'

M. Grieves writes 'a few drops of Lavender oil in a footbath has a marked influence in relieving fatigue. Outwardly applied it relieves toothache, neuralgia, sprains and rheumatism. In hysteria, palsy and similar disorders of debility and lack of nerve power Lavender will act as a powerful stimulant'.

Medicinally speaking Lavender has been used for depression and exhaustion, and for sleeplessness and irritability. Lavender oil is prized by all people who work with essential oils having multiple uses and indications.

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Science on Lavender

Lavender as the essential oil has been the subject of some intriguing experiments.

~ an open controlled study investigating the effect on aromatherapy on patients receiving dialysis showed that inhaling lavender significantly decreased anxiety (Itai T et al: Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 54(4):393-397, 2000)

~ in a controlled study using volunteers and designed to link the effect of odours to with the emotional process lavender odour elicited the most 'happiness' as measured by evaluation and autonomic nervous system parameters - they don't say what those parameters were in the study but will probably have been galvanic skin current, or perhaps blood pressure.. (Diego MA et al: Int J Neurosci 96(3-4):217-224, 1998)

~ lavender oil aromatherapy resulted in a statistically significant drop in post-exercise diastolic blood pressure in a group of 20 male volunteers (Motumara N, Sakurai A, Yotsuya Y: Memoir Osaka Kyaiku Univ 111 Nat Sci Appl Sci 47(2):281-287, 1999)

~ a survey of hospital staff showed that lavender oil burners improved the work environment over a three month trial period and lavender oil inhalation lengthened sleep time in four older patients with sleep disorders (Tysoe P: Int J Nurs Pract 6(2):110-112, 2000)

~ In a randomised cross-over trial a 10 minute footbath with or without Lavender oil produced an increase in blood flow and parasympathetic nerve activity in volunteers. The footbath with the lavender oil produced changes in nervous system activity characteristic of relaxation (Saeki Y: Complement Ther Med 8(1):2-7, 2000)

Safety of Lavender

I use Lavender as a dried herb and in tincture form but I think that very small internal doses are much better tolerated than large ones. When combining with other herbs the amount should be such that the Lavender can be detected but does not overpower the other smells or tastes. I use a little bit of Lavender in a relaxing tea that we make for people - it is very popular.

I also use a lot Lavender as the essential oil. This is the one oil that is quite safe to put directly on the skin without it being too strong and potentially doing some damage. Only people with very delicate skin need worry about diluting Lavender oil with water and even then they will probably be fine everywhere but the face.

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René-Maurice Gattefossé's story

The founder of modern Aromatherapy was a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé who was working in his laboratory late one night when he badly burnt his hand on the flame of a Bunsen burner. He had a beaker of Lavender oil that he had been working with and, knowing that the herb had a folk reputation for burns, scalds etc. he put the burnt part of his hand into the oil and kept it there for a time. The consequent healing and lack of damage to his hand was so remarkable that he went on to devote his life to exploring the virtues of essential oils.

Personal experiences

I notice that there are many people who seem particularly responsive to the smell of Lavender. A small amount of the herb in tea or tincture form can be a very effective aid for anxiety or sleeplessness for such folks. I encourage people to 'follow their nose' in this matter. If you love the smell of Lavender then use it as freely and frequently as you like but... if you really aren't that fond of it then trust your instincts and try something else...

I had a chance to put the above story to the test some years ago when I was making pizza for my family and had just taken a metal tray preheated to 200 degrees Celsius out of the oven. At that moment my children started telling about something and when I turned back from them I forgot that I had a scorchingly hot piece of metal in front of me. I picked It up with one hand and began carrying it across the kitchen before my brain finally got the message from my fingers… My hand should have been quite badly burned by this but copious amounts of lavender oil not only stopped them getting damaged, it was also remarkably good at taking away the pain of the burn.

I have used Lavender oil for my own family for just about everything; insect bites, little cuts, sun-burn, acne spots, scrapes and grazes (I have 5 children; we have gone through a lot of Lavender).

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Constitutional note

All the information here about the traditional uses of Lavender is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat condition A with plant/substance B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do little for another -- Why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Lavender can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Lavender in history

The history of lavender has over 2500 years of recorded use.

The plant was sold by Greek traders around 600 BC to the Hyeres Islands off of France. Then it spread to France, Italy, and Spain. Lavender's first recorded arrival on the North American continent was by the English Pilgrims in the 1600s.

The Egyptians used lavender for mummification. They even made stills to extract the oil. The Phoenicians used lavender in bathing, perfumed oils, cooking and to freshen the air.

The word lavender comes from the latin word 'lavare', which means to wash. Romans would use lavender oil on their hair, bodies, and in the public baths. Roman soldiers used lavender for healing wounds and to fight infections.

 

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd