Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
by Sara Seitzman
Common names: Lavendula, lavender, lavandin
Description/Taxonomy: Lavender is a perennial plant native to eastern Europe, northern Africa and the Mediterranean. It has narrow grey-green leaves and long spike with purple flowers that are quite attractive to pollinators. The flowers are covered in star shaped hairs. There are many genotypes but English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is the most commonly grown and used.
Plant Family: Lamiaceae
History: The word comes from latin lavare “to wash” and was often associated with cleanliness ever since the Romans added it to their bath water. (2) Lavandula vera is known as “el khzama” in Morocco, where the dried flowers are an ingredient in a herb and spice mix known as “top of the shop”. In North Africa, lavender is used to protect the Kabyle women from being mistreated by their husbands. Ancient Egyptians used oil of lavender soaked linen in mummification casts that would last indefinitely. They wrapped the bodies with these casts and let them dry in the sun until the casts hardened. (4) It was also used by ancient Egyptians for perfume and incense. (8)
Palsy Drops, or lavender tincture, were used by the British Pharmacopoeia for more than 200 years as an effective herbal treatment for headaches and muscle spasm. (7) Greek naturalist, Dioscorides, praised the medicinal benefits of lavender in the first century A.D. In the middle ages it was seen as an herb of love and was used to attract the opposite sex like an aphrodisiac. (8)
Ritual and Spiritual Uses: In ritual use, lavender often represents love, protection and purification. It is burned during childbirth and labor as it is known to bring peace and tranquility. It is often a part of new born blessing rituals because the scent brings feelings of joy and peace. During Midsummer ritual it is thrown into fires as an offering to the gods and goddesses. (4)
Parts Used: Flowers
Herbal Actions: Analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitoxic, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, cordial, cytophylactic, deodorant, diuretic, Emmenagogue, hyprotentive, insecticide, nervine, parasiticide, rubefacient, sedative, stimulant, sudorific, tonic, vermifuge, vulnery.
Energetics: Drying, bitter, cooling.
Constituents: Lavender has over 100 constituents including tannins, 0.5-1/5% volatile oil, coumarins, flavonoids, 0.7% ursolic acid. (4) The essential oil contains borneol, geranoil, lavandulol, linalool (alcohols), aeranyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate, linalyl acetate (Ester), cineole (ketone), caryophyllene (sesquiterpene), limonene, pinene (terpenes). (10)
Preparation & Dosage: Aromatherapy skincare applications in a carrier oil with a dilution ratio of 1%-2% essential oil to 1 oz carrier.
1-2 teaspoons of the flower for 8 ounces water as an infusion up to 3 times a day. 1 dropper of tincture up to 3 times a day. (3)
Cultivation: Lavender does best in sunny locations. It needs to be planted in light, dry, well-drained soil as it really doesn’t like soggy roots. Because of this is does well in rock gardens. Lavender can be started from seed but is best grown from cuttings. Growing lavender from seeds takes much longer and the cultivars need to be propagated asexually from cuttings. It prefers a more neutral pH of around 7.0. (3) The best time for cuttings is from August to November when the stems are semi hardened but have not experienced a freeze. Heavy clay is not suitable for lavender, so sand and compost is best for planting. (4) Lavender is grown primarily for the oil. The flower stems can be harvested and dried upside down in bundles.
Medicinal Benefits: Lavender is mostly known for it’s nervine properties. It is incredibly relaxing to the nervous system. Just the aroma itself can help reduce stress and anxiety in most people. In a study published by the journal Phytomedicine, lavender oil was shown to be just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug lorazepam and showed no side effects. Other studies confirmed it can help with restlessness, nervousness, depression and insomnia. (6) Of course you need to check with your doctor before replacing any prescription with an alternative therapy.
You don’t have to take a lavender pill to get the effects. Like I mentioned earlier, just the aroma alone can offer instant stress relief. This fragrant purple flower is commonly used in bath salts or bath blends to provide a relaxing atmosphere to de-stress and let go. The essential oil can also be added to a diffuser or personal inhaler so that you can breathe in the relaxing aroma throughout the day.
Headaches are often treated with lavender. A tincture of lavender, also known as Palsy Drops, was noted as an effective herbal treatment in the British Pharmacopoeia for more than 200 years up until the 1940s. It was often used by physicians to relieve headaches, muscle spasms and nervousness. Lavender essential oil can also be combined with peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils can be used in a compress for the forehead when a headache strikes. (7) A lavender herbal salve can be made as well for a quick go to remedy for tension headaches.
Fainting and dizziness can be calmed with lavender smelling salts or a lavender compress. In the Victorian age, people revived themselves by sniffing lavender and camphor salts and inhaled the aroma from lavender stuffed pillows. (7)
Aromatherapy: The essential oil of lavender is extracted by steam distillation from the flowers. It’s scent is floral with some sweet, herbal notes.
To be honest I wasn’t always a lavender essential oil fan until I started studying aromatherapy and aromatics. I once thought it was strictly good for calming the nerves but I was pleasantly surprised when I found it had numerous other properties that make it one of my top choices to have in my back pocket. Of course most people associate this oil with it’s calming effects, making it great for those who are suffering from stress, anxiety, insomnia or emotional upset.
Lavender essential oil is also great for burns. Now when I say burns, I say it with caution because it depends on the severity of the burn. But for minor or 1st degree burns you can apply 1 drop diluted in a bit of aloe gel or on it’s own (only if you are not sensitive!) directly on the burn as soon as possible. If I do this right away after burning myself I find that I often have no pain within a few hours and the redness is gone. It can also be used in hydrosol form to apply to sunburn which soothes and relieves the pain. For severe burns, please seek help from a medical professional, as there could be further damage that needs to be looked at.
This oil is also antispasmodic, making it great for blends used for pain and muscle spasm. I have personally used it many times in massage oil for muscle tension and spasm and it’s worked great. It is often found in headache and tension blends and is especially effective when combined with marjoram essential oil.
Lavender essential oil is suitable for most, if not all skin types. It is a cell regenerator and can help to prevent scarring and stretch marks. It can relieve many rashes, sun-damaged skin and varicose veins. It has been known to also relieve the itch associated with bug bites. (2) It has been used in hair products, soaps and facial oils.
Lavender essential oil is a middle note oil and it blends well with the following essential oils: bay, bergamot, chamomile, citronella, clary sage, geranium, jasmine, lemon, mandarin, nutmeg, orange, patchouli, pine, thyme, rosemary.
As with any essential oil, it is not recommended to take internally due to the potent nature of essential oils.
Allies: Lavender has a few allies depending on what you are using it for. I have found that lavender and marjoram essential oils are the best duo at relieving tension related headaches. Chamomile and lavender are perfect for a calming tea or an herbal bath. They also work wonders for anxiety in aromatherapy applications. Lavender will pretty much go well with most other nervines including lemon balm and oatstraw.
Cautions and Contraindications: Lavender is contraindicated during pregnancy due to the emmenagogue effects that it has. (1) The oil should also be used with caution for those with low blood pressure. (10)
Culinary Use: This fragrant little purple flower is often used in a variety of culinary treats. You can find it infused into ice cream, pastries, syrups, chocolates, drinks and desserts. One of my personal favorites was when I stumbled onto some fresh baked lavender, rosemary and sea salt ciabatta bread. Another favorite is lavender sea salt caramel.
It’s also a key ingredient in the popular herb blend Herbes de Provence. Herbes de Provence is a traditional blend of aromatic herbs common in southern France, especially during the summer months. The herbs typically used in this blend are bay, thyme, savory, basil, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, rosemary and fennel. Lavender was actually not one of the original ingredients, but is often used anyways as it truly resembles the Provence region. (5) This delicious blend is great for flavoring meats, pizza sauce, salad dressing, soups or roasted veggies.
Considering the time of year, I figured this delicious summer recipe for a strawberry lavender spritzer was fitting. Courtesy of the Mother Earth Living website (9):
• 1/4 cup orange juice
• 1 cup fresh strawberries
• 1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds
• 3 cups white wine (or one 750 ml bottle)
• 4 cups mineral water
• 4 to 6 fresh lavender sprigs
• 4 to 6 fresh strawberries
1. In a blender or food processor, blend the orange juice, 1 cup of strawberries, and lavender flowers. Transfer to a jug or bowl.
2. Pour wine over the blended mixture and allow to steep for 30 minutes; then strain into a punch bowl, discarding solids.
3. To serve, fill a wineglass half full with this flavored wine and top with mineral water. Garnish with a sprig of lavender and a strawberry
Home Use: Not only does lavender have great medicinal and culinary uses, but it’s also a fragrant tool to use around the home. Lavender sachets can be used in place of scented dryer sheets to add a natural floral aroma to your freshly dried laundry. Just make sure they are completely closed shut (trust me on this). You can buy them already made online, or easily make them yourself with a cotton muslin bag and some string. These can also be placed under your pillow at night to promote restful sleep. Lavender sachets can also be placed in drawers and closets to repel moths and freshen up linens.
Lavender essential oil can be used in room sprays to bring peace and tranquility in times of stress or at the end of a long day. I personally use my Relax Spray on my bed sheets every night when I’m snuggling into bed. It definitely clears my mind and relaxes me into bedtime.
There really is so much room for creatively including lavender in your daily life. I highly recommend picking up a bundle of freshly dried lavender at your local market (or backyard) and having some fun with it!
Sara is an aspiring healer, with a deep interest in holistic therapy and plant medicine. She is currently studying clinical aromatherapy and working towards her certification as an aromatherapist. In her free time you’ll often find her putting her love and energy into Batiah Botanicals, a natural body care line which she sells on etsy and at the Eugene Saturday Market. She also enjoys studying flower essence therapy, hiking, free-writing, film photography, road trips and exploring new places.
1) Tilgner, Dr. Sharol Marie. Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth. 2nd edition. Published 2009. Wise Acres LLC.
2) Green, Mindy and Keville, Kathi. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. 2nd edition. Published 2009. Crossing Press. New York.
3) Lavender’s Medicinal and Aromatherapy Uses and Lavender Truffles, article found on www.chestnutherbs.com, accessed online July 2016.
4) http://www.herbworld.com/learningherbs/lavender.pdf, accessed online via www.herbmentor.com July 2016.
5) http://theepicentre.com/spice/herbes-de-provence/, accessed online July 2016.
6) http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/depression/lavender-reduces-signs-of-anxiety-in-women/, accessed online July 2016.
7) Keville, Kathi. Herbs for Health and Healing: A Drug-Free Guide to Prevention and Cure. Published 1996. Rodale Press Inc.
8) https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/programs/herbs/crops/culinary/lavender_mccoy.html, accessed online August 2016.
9) 8 Lovely Lavender Recipes by Joe Coca 2002 found on www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods, accessed online August 2016.
10) Sellar, Wanda. The Directory of Essential Oils. Published 2005. Vermilion.