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Properties & Common Uses

Overview:

Many people appreciate lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) for its aromatic fragrance, used in soaps, shampoos, and sachets for scenting clothes. The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means "to wash." Lavender most likely earned this name because it was frequently used in baths to help purify the body and spirit. However, this herb is also considered a natural remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and mood disturbances. Research has confirmed that lavender produces calming, soothing, and sedative effects.

Plant Description:

Lavender is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean where it grows in sunny, stony habitats. Today, it flourishes throughout southern Europe, Australia, and the United States. Lavender is a heavily branched short shrub that grows to a height of roughly 60 centimeters. Its broad rootstock bears woody branches with erect, rod-like, leafy, green shoots. A silvery down covers the gray-green narrow leaves, which are oblong and tapered, attached directly at the base, and curled spirally. The oil in lavender's small, blue-violet flowers gives the herb its fragrant scent. The flowers are arranged in spirals of 6 - 10 blossoms, forming interrupted spikes above the foliage.

 

Parts Used:

Essential oil is extracted from the fresh flowers of the lavender plant and used for medicinal purposes.

Medicinal Uses and Indications:

Human clinical studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, stress, postoperative pain, and as an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Lavender oil is also used together with other forms of integrative medicine, such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation.

Insomnia

In folklore, pillows were filled with lavender flowers to help the restless fall sleep. There is now scientific evidence to suggest that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improves sleep quality, promote relaxation, and lift mood in people suffering from sleep disorders. Studies also suggest that massage with essential oils, particularly lavender, may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, increased mental capacity, and reduced anxiety. In one recent study, participants who received massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than participants who received massage alone. Lavender flowers have also been approved in Germany as a tea for insomnia, restlessness, and nervous stomach irritations.

Alopecia areata

In one study of 86 people with alopecia areata (a disease of unknown cause characterized by significant hair loss, generally in patches), those who massaged their scalps with lavender and other essential oils daily for 7 months experienced significant hair re-growth compared to those who massaged their scalps without the essential oils. It is not entirely clear from this study whether lavender (or a combination of lavender and other essential oils) was responsible for the beneficial effects.

Other uses

Aromatherapists also use lavender as a tonic in inhalation therapy to treat headaches, nervous disorders, and exhaustion. Herbalists treat skin ailments, such as fungal infections (like candidiasis), wounds, eczema, and acne, with lavender oil. It is also used externally in a healing bath for circulatory disorders and as a rub for rheumatic ailments (conditions affecting the muscles and joints). One study evaluating essential oils, including lavender, for treating children with eczema concluded that the oils added no benefit to therapeutic touch from the mother; in other words massage with and without essential oils was equally effective in improving the dry, scaly skin lesion. A recent study found that the use of lavender oil may improve postoperative pain control. Fifty patients undergoing breast biopsy surgery received either oxygen supplemented with lavender oil or oxygen alone. Patients in the lavender group reported a higher satisfaction rate with pain control than patients in the control group.

Available Forms:

Commercial preparations are made from dried flowers and essential oils of the lavender plant. These preparations are available in the following forms:
  • Aromatherapy oil
  • Bath gels
  • Extracts
  • Infusions
  • Lotions
  • Soaps
  • Teas
  • Tinctures
  • Whole, dried flowers

How to Take It:

Pediatric

  • Oral use in children is not recommended.
  • May be used topically in diluted concentrations to treat skin infections and injuries, such as minor cuts and scrapes. DO NOT USE ON OPEN WOUNDS -- seek medical attention. A small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, however, concluded that lavender and tea oils in some shampoos, soaps, and lotions may cause gynecomastia, breast development in a male, in boys.
  • May be used as aromatherapy for children. Use 2 - 4 drops in 2 - 3 cups of boiling water. Inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia.

Adult

The following are recommended adult doses for lavender:
  • Internal use: Tea: 1 - 2 tsp whole herb per cup of hot water. Steep for 10 - 15 minutes and drink, 1-3 times a day.
  • Tincture (1:4): 20 - 40 drops, 3 times a day
  • Inhalation: 2 - 4 drops in 2 - 3 cups of boiling water. Inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia.
  • Topical external application: lavender oil is one of the few oils that can be safely applied undiluted. For ease of application, add 1 - 4 drops per tablespoon of base oil (such as almond or olive oil). DO NOT USE LAVENDER OIL INTERNALLY. Also, avoid contact with the eyes or mucous membranes such as the lips and nostril.

Precautions:

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine. Although side effects are rare, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction to lavender. Nausea, vomiting, headache, and chills have also been reported in some individuals following inhalation or absorption of lavender through the skin. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid using lavender.

Possible Interactions:

  • CNS Depressants -- There are no known scientific reports of interactions between lavender and conventional medications. However, due to the relaxing qualities of lavender, this herb could potentially enhance the effects of central nervous system depressants, including narcotics (such as morphine or oxycodone) for pain and sedative and anti-anxiety agents (such as lorazepam, diazepam, and alprazolam). Talk to your health care provider before using lavender with these and other sedating medications.

Alternative Names:

Common lavender; English lavender; French lavender; Garden lavender; Lavandula angustifolia; Lavandula latifolia; Lavandula officinalis
  • Reviewed last on: 1/17/2007
  • Ernest B. Hawkins, MS, BSPharm, RPh, Health Education Resources; and Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

 

Supporting Research

Anderson C, Lis-Balchin M, Kifk-Smith M. Evaluation of massage with essential oils in childhood atopic eczema. Phyother Res. 2000;14(6):452-456. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:226-229. Cauffield JS, Forbes HJ. Dietary supplements used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Lippincotts Prim Care Pract. 1999; 3(3):290-304. Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1998;96(3-4):217-224. Sited: University of Maryland