Apr
25

Herb Power: Lavender

by Nina Vachkova

By its unique and unmistakable scent, you can easily tell lavender apart from other herbs, even with your eyes closed. In her book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood calls lavender “the mother of all essential oils; incredibly versatile, yet powerful.” The strong but pleasant and soothing fragrance gives true meaning to the word aromatherapy – just the scent of lavender has truly therapeutic benefits. A number of different cultivars of Lavender are grown all over the world, but the most known variety is Lavandula angustifolia, also called True Lavender, English Lavender, or narrow-leaved Lavender. If you have a bottle of lavender essential oil in your cabinet, it was most likely derived from Lavandula angustifolia.

Usually, large lavender fields in Provence, France, full of dark purple flowers come to mind when you think about (or smell) lavender. Lavender originally comes from the Mediterranean, and it has spread from there throughout Europe and even to Asia and other continents. Lavender has been popular for hundreds of years now, mostly for its strong aroma, but also as a decoration, in the cosmetics industry, as a natural remedy, air freshener, or insect repellent. Dried lavender flowers placed in closets and wardrobes work as effective protection against clothing eating moths. But there is so much more to lavender than just a soothing fragrance that helps your body and mind to rest and relax. Lavender oil is one of the most popular essential oils in the world, with many health benefits.

Lavender plants appreciate plenty of sunlight, can handle a lack of water, and even lower temperatures, but they would suffer without enough sun. In proper conditions, you can grow your own lavender bush in your garden or a flower box on your window sill. It grows from June to August, and flowers are harvested before they bloom (the fully bloomed blossoms would fall apart during drying). Fresh lavender is turned into an essential oil through a distillation process. It is one of the least expensive essential oils, due to the fact that it takes only around 150 pounds of lavender flower heads to produce one pound of essential oil (for comparison, you would need over 4,500 pounds of rose flowers to make one pound of rose oil).

Lavender oil and dried lavender flowers (and leaves) are safe for internal use, but they are generally not recommended for pregnant women. This herb has a lot of therapeutic benefits when used both internally and externally. Dried flowers are traditionally used to help with insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, mood swings, migraines, digestive issues, respiratory problems, common colds, influenza, or menopause issues. Tea made with lavender has relaxing and calming effects. In Mediterranean countries, lavender leaves are often used as a culinary ingredient in stews, or on grilled fish or meat. They have a slight bitterness to them, so it is best to use them sparingly. Culinary lavender is a great addition to teas, soups, or desserts like these autoimmune friendly lavender cookies, gluten free lavender cupcakes, dairy-free lavender ice-cream or lavender lemonade.

Breathing in lavender is like a balm for the soul. Small linen bags or pillows filled with dried lavender, or just a few drops of lavender oil on the pillow helps those who suffer from insomnia, depression, anxiety, or headaches. The soothing smell helps us to relax and fall asleep more easily. There are many aromatherapeutic products that contain lavender, including potpourri, candles, soaps, or room fresheners, but it is always worth checking labels on these products, as some of them might be loaded with unnecessary chemicals. Choosing all-natural products (or making your own) is always a better option. By adding a few drops of lavender oil to the bathtub (along with some Epsom salt or Magnesium bath salts), you create a spa-like experience where you can relax your body, calm your mind, and prepare for a good night’s sleep.

My favorite way to diffuse lavender oil into the air is with a simple lamp like this one, but you can get an oil diffuser, which is way more effective, and also doubles up as an air humidifier. I also add a few drops of lavender directly on my yoga mat, which makes it smell really good, and adds a soothing bonus to my practice. It is also one of the very few things I love to use to manage PMS symptoms; there is a study showing that inhaling lavender for just a couple minutes helps to reduce symptoms during those days of the month when we women tend to feel more emotional, depressed, or irritable.  

Lavender is naturally antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and analgesic. It helps prevent scarring and has slight antifungal properties. Its use in cosmetics, soaps, lotions, and perfumes has a long history. In the past, during plague epidemics, washing hands in lavender water was believed to help to avoid the disease. Compounds present in lavender actually protect our bodies against bacteria and viruses, so diffused in the air or applied to the skin, lavender helps to protect us against these pathogens. Even though lavender oil is considered safe for topical use in its undiluted state, I recommend using a carrier liquid with it when applied directly onto the skin. Wellness Mama made a great post here about the risks and uses of essential oils, so you can read why some oils are not recommended to be used undiluted or internally.

I personally add lavender oil to my oil cleansing mix, to my apple cider vinegar face toner, and even to my homemade deodorant (I use this recipe). Lavender also helps with hair growth: this study done with alopecia patients shows some scientific proof, and there is also a lot of anecdotal evidence available on the internet. Lavender also helps to soothe sunburns, insect bites, acne, and other irritations of the skin (for example nettle stings). It does not have any side effects, but because it does have strong soothing, calming, and relaxing effects, use it with care, especially if you are engaging in activities that require your full focus and attention, like driving for example.

Try adding some good quality lavender essential oil or culinary grade dried lavender to your daily routine, especially if you suffer from any of the challenges mentioned above. Enjoy the magical power of this unique herb to wind down in the evening; add a soothing touch to your nightly routine with a few drops of lavender oil in your bathroom and bedroom (it’s safe for children as well!). Check out some of Wellness Mamas recipes for homemade cosmetic products containing lavender like burn salve, foot spray, or body butter, make yourself a cup of lavender tea, and take a well-deserved rest!  

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