Common lavender, true lavender and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) all denominate the most cultivated species of Lavandula, an aromatic flowering herb, ornamental and medicinal plant with a great variety of uses. Lavender is primarily used as an alternative treatment in the form of lavender essential oil for aromatherapy and lavender herbal infusions for at-home use. The essential oil obtained from the tiny, fragrant flowers of the species is employed for stress relief therapies, agitation and anxiety management.
It’s a natural sleep inducer, relieving insomnia and encouraging restful sleep, but also a skin brightener as well as anti-aging agent, to name just a few of its cosmetic uses. Rich in antioxidants and other potent constituents, lavender and its derivate essential oil are two of the go-to remedies for nervous system disorders, being used for anxiety management, stress relief as well as spasmophilia-related symptoms.
What does lavender look like? Lavender plants are flowering shrubs that grow up to around 1-2 meters in height. They have slender green stems and small, elongated, evergreen leaves that look somewhat like rosemary leaves from afar. Some varieties have fern-like leaves. Flowers appear on spike-like structures varying in length from 2 to 10 cm. Depending on the variety, lavender flowers may range in color from pale pink and pink-purple to pale purple and violet, sometimes with blueish undertones.
What does lavender smell like? Lavender has a rich, unique flavor with camphor, pine tree and sweet, floral notes. However, intensity may vary greatly depending on the variety used. What does lavender taste like? Lavender used in herbal teas has a sweet, light floral flavor, but it can become bitter if used in great amounts. Both the flowers and leaves of some varieties are edible, but should be consumed with great care and in very small amounts as they can prove toxic if recommended doses are exceeded.
Uses and contraindications. Remember to always comply with recommendations regarding dosage and make sure the lavender products you use are certified for human consumption and from a reliable source. Also, lavender can trigger allergic reactions in certain people, in which case avoidance of the herb in all forms and preparations is imperative, and is generally not recommended during pregnancy because of its potential side effects for mother and baby.
Lavender is both a culinary and a medicinal herb. It is mostly used in French cuisine as part of a herbal blend called ‘herbes de Provence’, together with rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory etc. Lavender flowers are often steeped in hot water to obtain lavender tea, while the essential oil is recommended for external use only for therapeutic practices aimed at managing stress, anxiety and improving mental health in general. Also read about the benefits of rosemary.
What is lavender good for?
There are numerous traditional uses for lavender and its derivatives, none of which constitute certified medical treatments by themselves, but rather alternative, but effective therapies for managing certain medical conditions, especially those related to mental health. This being said, the most noteworthy properties and health effects of lavender seek to manage and prevent quite a wide range of medical conditions and disorders. Here is a list of the 8 most important uses of lavender:
1) Anxiety and stress. Lavender essential oil used in aromatherapy offers great relief against stress and has been shown to efficiently reduce anxiety levels as a result of its anxiolytic (antianxiety) properties (A systematic review on the anxiolytic effects of aromatherapy on rodents under experimentally induced anxiety models).
According to research, the plant exerts a direct action on the Central Nervous System, hence its effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety levels. The biologically active constituents believed to be responsible for the calming effects of lavender are camphor, eucalyptol (or cineol), limonene, linalool and others. Also see my list of 9 effective anti-anxiety herbs.
2) Agitation, concentration problems and insomnia. Lavender has long been known for its sedative effects, hence its effectiveness in relieving restlessness and inducing sleep. Its unique fragrance, the result of a combination of volatile essential oils, exerts strong calming effects and can thus reduce agitation, relieve insomnia and improve sleep quality (Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation), even relieve headaches.
3) Mood problems and fatigue. Research suggests that our brain is quick to react to the different smells in plants, hence the emergence of aromatherapy as an alternative medical treatment for nervous system disorders such as stress, disturbed sleep, anxiety, headaches, tension, etc. A few drops of lavender oil in the bath water, body and hair care products or applied to bed sheets or pillows is believed to improve mood and sleep quality as well as relieve fatigue as a result of the plant’s camphor content and antispasmodic action.
4) Hyperglycemia and diabetes prevention. Preliminary studies reveal that infusions made from several lavender species can reduce sugar levels in the blood, with changes visible 30 minutes following ingestion (Hypoglycemic activity in various species of the genus Lavandula). Keeping blood sugar levels under control may prove useful for diabetes prevention.
5) Cancer prevention. Lavender essential oil has been found to contain several constituents exhibiting anticancer activity, notably the terpenes perillyl alcohol and limonene. Perillyl alcohol appears to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in various types of cancer cells such as pancreas, liver and colon malignant cells and inhibit proliferation of cancer cells in mamary and skin cancer. Aside from its beneficial action of the digestive system, limonene has been found to have a toxic effect on certain types of cancer cells and prevent the formation of new blood vessels that could feed tumors.
6) Antimicrobial properties. Eucalyptol (or cineole), linalyl acetate and linaool found in lavender and lavender essential oil have been found to possess quite potent antimicrobial properties and inhibit Candida albicans, Giardia duodenalis, Staphylococcus aureus growth.
7) Skin care. True lavender essential oil is a wonderful natural treatment for dull hair. Lavender oil-based skin care products helo give a natural glow to dull skin, boast antimicrobial properties, reduce impurities and may help manage acne.
8) Gastrointestinal problems. It has been suggested that lavender essential oil employed in aromatherapy may help relieve pain associated with gastrointestinal problems. Such effects are believed to be a result of the antispasmodic properties of certain compounds in lavender oil which help relax smooth muscles such as those of the intestinal tract. Limonene, a constituent of lavender essential oil, is used for the treatment of acid reflux and heartburn.
Remember that it is best to avoid consumption of actual lavender flowers as a result of their potentially toxic effects. Lavender essential oil is for external use only and accidental ingestion may prove dangerous for one’s health and bring about serious side effects, so seek medical help in case this happens to you. Last but not least, lavender can trigger allergic reactions, while certain compounds in the plant may irritate the skin and mucous membranes.