Lavender—King of Essential Oils? By Ric Chamberlin, LMT
Aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils, is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. and no oil is more popular than Lavender the essential oil distilled from the Lavender plant.
Although the use of plant oils for medicinal purposes goes back many millennia, their use declined in modern times until an accidental discovery by French chemist René-Maurice Gattefosse in the 1930s. After badly burning his hand he sought relief by dipping it in a container of Lavender oil. The result was a reduction in pain and discoloration and healing of the tissue in just a few hours time.
The Lavender Plant And It's Uses The essential oil commonly called lavender is made from the Lavender plant, which is an evergreen shrub that is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Lavender grows widely in southern Europe and Great Britain but does not grow naturally in the U.S. Other common plants in this family that are found in the area include germander, catnip, ground ivy, solomon's seal, and bee balm.
The common name Lavender derives from the Latin word - lavare - to wash oneself, referring to lavender's use in baths. The name Lavender is used to refer to 20 different species of the Lavandula genus. The species referred most often for medicinal and aromatherapy use is lavandula angustifolia which is often referred to as True Lavender. The common name English Lavender is also used. There is a hybrid called Lavendin which has some of the properties of angustifolia but not all. Lavendin is often marketed simply as Lavender. Care should be taken when shopping. Read the label.
Lavender use goes back at least as far as ancient Rome where it was commonly used in perfume and soap. Ancient men of medicine prescribed the flower for use against the plague and other kinds of pestilence. The dried flowers were used in folk medicine as a relaxant, a diuretic, and it was used for diarrhea. By the 18th century it was being commonly used in aromatherapy, perfume, cosmetics, veterinary products, and flavorings.
Essential Oil Lavender is best known as an essential oil and is perhaps the most well known and widely used of all essential oils. Lavender oil is made by processing the lavender flower with steam. The resulting vapors contain lavender oil and water. The oil is separated after condensing. Being lighter than the water it floats to the top. The oil is drawn off as essential oil.
Uses The claims for the benefits and uses of Lavender are staggering and vary depending on which source the claims are made from. These include… abscess, acne, allergies, Analgesic, antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, antitoxic, anxiety, aromatherapy, arthritis, asthma, athlete's foot, balance (physical and emotional), increases bile production, arrests bleeding, lowers blood pressure, bad breath, blisters, boils, bronchitis, bruising, burns, aids circulation, breaks down cellulite, chicken pox, chilblains, cold symptoms, convulsions, corns, cough, cramps, culinary (flavor syrup for jellies, salad, milk and cream), colic, cuts, cystitis, deodorant, depression, diarrhea, diuretic, dizziness, dermatitis, dysmenorrhea, earache, eczema, expectorant, fainting, fatigue, fear, flu symptoms, fluid retention, fungal infections, gastritis, gout, headaches (including migraine), stimulates white blood cells to effect healing, hair loss, hangover, hay fever, head lice, heart palpations, hives, hot flashes ,impatience, infection, inflammation, insect bites, insect repellent, insomnia, irritability, itching, relieves intestinal gas and bloating, jet lag , joint pain, joint swelling, labor pains, menopause symptoms, menstrual symptoms, moodiness , motion sickness, muscular aches and pains, nausea, nervous disorders, perfume, reduces nervous tension, oily skin, relieves pain, increases perspiration, reduces perspiration, prevents tissue degeneration, promotes and regulates menstrual flow, relaxation and calming, releases nasal mucous, restlessness, respiratory system infections, rheumatism, rubefacient, scabies, scar tissue reduction, shock, dry skin, encourages growth of skin cells, sinusitis, skin conditions (acne, rashes, dermatitis, hives), sores, sprains, strains, stress, stretch marks, stimulates white blood cells to effect healing, strengthens the immune system against bacterial infections., stomach problems, swelling, sunburn, tension, tinnitus, increases urine flow, painful urination, vertigo, warts, whooping cough.
Whether all this is true is hard to prove however there seems to be no disagreement that Lavender is very beneficial to emotions and mood. Research has shown lavender oil affects the alpha waves of the brain creating a sense of relaxation and well being. It can be useful for treating depression, mood disorders, anxiety, nervousness, stress, tension, insomnia, and excitability. Likewise it's ability to heal wounds, particularly burns, is well accepted. Lavender can be an excellent remedy for insomnia.
Application The primary modes of use are inhalation and application on the skin. Many forms of dispensers and diffusers are available, from the inexpensive to the costly that release the aroma into a room. For cost effective alternatives read on.
Sitting in a warm bath with 3 to 7 drops of lavender oil before retiring for the night can help you sleep better. Please note that since oil and water don't mix well the oil will tend to float on the surface possibly resulting in too high a concentration of exposure to the skin. For this reason it is highly recommended to mix essential oils with 1 ounce of base vegetable oil (grapeseed is a good choice) before adding to the bath. This will help distribute the essential oil more evenly. A more elaborate method would be to add the oil to a cup of Epsom Salts and allow the bath water to pour through this before adding the remains to the bath water.
A simple sleep aid is to apply 2 or 10 drops to a Kleenex or cotton ball which is inserted inside your pillowcase. This keeps the aroma close to your nose.
An inexpensive method of diffusing any essential oil scent through a room is to take a cotton ball and partially break it apart until you have flat piece of cotton. This allows the air to pass through it easier. Place a 5 to 15 drops of oil on the cotton and tape it to a small fan or heat/air register.
Used topically Lavender has a calming and sedating effect making it useful in treating skin irritations and insect bites. It also has antiseptic properties.
Safety Although essential oils are generally safe some caution is in order. Essential oils are highly concentrated. Only a small amount is needed. When applying topically always dilute with a base oil. See the article Aromatherapy - A Beginners Guide for important safety information. Pregnancy might contraindicate use of many essential oils. A doctor should be consulted.
Research The following summaries of some recent research involving the use of Lavender essential oil.
Chem Senses. 2005 Oct;30(8):683-91. Epub 2005 Sep 14. Studies the effectiveness of Lavender on work efficiency. Using lavender aroma during recesses prevents deterioration of work performance. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):631-7. Outcome of a single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating Lavender as a treatment for insomnia favors the use of lavender. A larger trial is required to draw definitive conclusions. Physiol Behav. 2005 Sep 15;86(1-2):92-5. Orange and Lavender aroma reduce anxiety and improve mood and reduced anxiety in patients waiting for dental treatment. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Apr;35(2):303-12. Effect of lavender aroma on cognitive function, emotion, and aggressive behavior of elderly with dementia. A Lavender aromatherapy hand massage program was effective on emotions and aggressive behavior of elderly with dementia of the Alzheimer's type. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Feb;115(2):207-22. Lavender fragrance effects on relaxation. A lavender fragrance blend had a significant transient effect of improving mood, making people feel more relaxed, and performing math computations faster. PMID: 15764002 Psychosom Med. 2004 Jul-Aug;66(4):599-606. Sensory and affective pain discrimination after inhalation of essential oils utilizing Lavender and Rosemary. Both pain intensity and pain unpleasantness were reduced after treatment with lavender and marginally reduced after treatment with rosemary, compared with the control condition. Ann Pharm Fr. 1989;47(6):337-43. Study of the neurodepressive effects of the Lavender essential oil. Mice were orally given essential oil of lavander diluted at 1/60 in olive oil. Sedative effects are observed with some tests. Arch Dermatol. 1998 Nov;134(11):1349-52. Randomized trial utilizing Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, and Cedarwood found aromatherapy a safe and successful treatment for alopecia areata. Int J Neurosci. 1998 Dec;96(3-4):217-24. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. The lavender group showed increased drowsiness, less depressed mood, and reported feeling more relaxed and performed math computations faster and more accurately following aromatherapy. J Adv Nurs. 1994 Jan;19(1):89-96. Lavender oil used as a bath additive postnatally to reduced perineal discomfort. PMID: 8138636
Ric Chamberlin Registered Practitioner - Society of Ortho-Bionomy International ® Licensed Massage Therapist - State of Nebraska The Healing Connection 900 S 74th Plaza, Suite 116, Omaha, NE 68114 402 850 0752