Lavender has a wide range of medicinal properties, a long history of use in cosmetics and perfumes, and offers a distinctive floral note when used as a culinary herb. This post is focused on lavender’s medicinal properties, but you can explore other ways to enjoy lavender in these posts:
Medicinal Uses of Lavender
I recently harvested a beautiful bouquet of lavender. The sun was high and the temperature was approaching 100°F, but the lavender flowers were sweet and tranquil, untroubled by the searing heat. Perhaps this ability to thrive in intense heat gives rise to lavender’s cooling and calming properties. This is certainly where lavender shines.
As for its specific therapeutic properties, lavender’s effects are three-fold. It acts on the nervous system as a calming nervine, anti-depressant, anxiolytic (which means it reduces anxiety), and mild sedative. It supports the digestive system as a carminative, anti-spasmodic, and mild bitter. Lavender is also an important first aid remedy with antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The clinical research on lavender has focused on the essential oil, but you can also use lavender flowers in tea, a liquid extract of lavender (also called a tincture) or a lavender glycerite.
Lavender and Nervous Disorders
Lavender is a gentle yet highly effective remedy for nervous tension, stress and anxiety. I say gentle because it is safe for use with sensitive people—children, the elderly, and even during pregnancy. Numerous studies on the inhalation of lavender essential oil found that lavender alleviated anxiety, elicited feelings of “happiness,” produced a less depressed mood and increased feelings of relaxation. Lavender essential oil is also effective diluted in a cream or oil and applied topically.
A recent study in pregnant women experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and depression used a cream containing 1.25% lavender essential oil. The lavender group showed a significant improvement in stress, anxiety and depression compared to placebo.
Another studying compared a proprietary lavender essential oil product known as “Silexan” to the prescription drug paroxetine (aka Paxil) in people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The oral essential oil of lavender product was effective in treating GAD and more effective than the conventional drug, paroxetine. Adverse events were also lower in those taking lavender making it a much more appealing choice given the side effects associated with many prescription anti-depressants, anxiolytics and barbiturates.
Lavender as tea or an essential oil inhalation is also an excellent choice to promote restful sleep and reduce difficulty falling asleep. Bathing with lavender essential oil or an herbal bath with lavender is an especially comforting way to use lavender to promote sleep.
Lavender and Digestive Disorders
As a carminative, mild bitter and anti-spasmodic, lavender is an excellent choice for functional complaints like gas, belching, colic, and cramping. When nervous tension or anxiety disrupts digestive function, causing irritability, gas or bloating, lavender does double duty, easing tension in the mind/body and relieving the digestive discomfort. A simple cup of lavender tea or essential diluted and massaged on the belly work wonders.
To make a lavender tea, steep one teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in 1 cup boiled water, covered, for 15 minutes. A simple rule of thumb for dilution of lavender oil for topical use is 1 – 5 drops off essential oil per teaspoon of unscented lotion or carrier oil. This results in a 1% to 5% concentration of the essential oil.
Lavender and First Aid
When it comes to first aid remedies, lavender essential oil is extremely versatile. Topically, in proper dilution, lavender is a cooling anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, pain-reliever and antiseptic. Small cuts and scrapes respond well to lavender’s antiseptic and wound healing properties. Lavender essential oil combines well with peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil or spray to ease the itching of mosquito and spider bites. The pain of minor burns and sunburn can be relieved with a blend of lavender essential oil and aloe vera juice. This cooling combination will also speed healing and reduce scarring.
Tension headaches respond well to inhalation of lavender essential oil or a drop of the oil in a carrier, applied to the temples or nape of the neck. For ear aches, place one drop of lavender essential oil on small cotton ball and insert it gently into the outer ear.
Lavender, with it’s lovely, calming aroma is both gentle and effective. Its safety and versatility make it a “must have” for the home medicine chest.
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Silexan is Effective in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, A Randomized Double-blind Comparison to Placebo and Paroxetine, Kasper, S., et al., International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014 June; 17(6): 859-69.
Topical Lavender Cream Alleviates Anxiety, Stress and Depression in Pregnant Women, Effati-Daryani, F., et al., Journal of Caring Sciences 2015; 4(1): 63-73.
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