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Lavender is one of the most popular and useful essential oils. Derived from the flowers of the aromatic shrub, it is prized for its medicinal qualities as much as for its perfume, in the form of the Lavender Essential Oil. A versatile component of many calm-inducing aromatherapy blends, it has been used in perfumery, potpourri and in cosmetics for centuries. The name itself derives from the Latin word ‘lavare,’ meaning ‘to wash,’ and it is one of the seven ‘polyvalent’ oils, which refers to its many uses. There are three basic types of lavender that are used for essential oils: True Lavender, or Lavandula angustifolia; spike lavender or Lavandula latifolia; and a hybrid cross of the two, Lavandin, or Lavandula x intermedia, which is not commonly used for medicinal purposes.
Lavender essential oil in history
The lavender plant is perennial shrub in the mint family, and its use in both medicine, perfumery and cosmetics dates back more than 2,500 years. Believed to have origins in the Mediterranean, the ancient Greeks referred to it as ‘Nard’ after the city of Naarda. It is mentioned often in the Bible, where it is referred to as ‘spikenard.’ The stories tell of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with the spikenard ointment, and it is also mentioned in ‘The Song of Solomon’.
The Romans used it for many things: to scent their bathwater, their bedlinens and their hair, and burned as incense to scent the air around them or to help tame wild lions and tigers. In ancient Egypt, lavender was used in embalming, and something resembling lavender ointment has been found in many Egyptian tombs. Because of the locales at which it has been discovered, it is thought to have only been used by the nobility and high priests for cosmetics, medicines and added to massage oils.
In 16th and 17th century France, you could find lavender in just about any medicinal compound, as it was widely regarded as a cure-all. During this time, it was deemed useful for preventing many diseases, and during the black plague years it was in particularly high demand.
Queen Elizabeth I was known to put lavender in her tea to treat severe headaches, and Charles VI, the King of France, filled his seat cushions with it. Queen Victoria was also a lavender enthusiast, and during her time it was a very fashionable scent for young ladies at court. Whether dried to put in sachets in order to repel insects in the closet or applied to the scalp to treat head lice, it found its way into many household products, from furniture polish to hand soap.
Rene Gattefosse, a French scientist of the early 20th century and considered the founder of modern aromatherapy, was able to soothe the pain and heal a burn sustained in a laboratory accident with lavender oil. It was widely used on the WWI battlefield to treat as well as prevent infection, prized for its antiseptic qualities.
Today, it is considered a must-have in any essential oil collection. In fact, for some, it is the only essential oil they use.
Lavender oil uses
Lavender essential oil has a wide range of uses in aromatherapy, from medicinal to cosmetic and in perfumery. The chemical compounds in lavender that provide the most benefits include linalool, linalyl acetate, camphor and eucalyptol.
Treats headaches: can help to ease the pain of headaches when applied to the temples.
Antiemetic: has been known to ease the symptoms of motion sickness and morning sickness.
Disinfectant: applied directly to the skin, lavender essential oil is known to treat infection.
Antiseptic: for burns, minor cuts and abrasions, lavender can prevent infection.
Insect repellant: used topically or in a sachet, lavender keeps insects at bay, whether mosquitos in the backyard or moths in the closet.
Promotes sleep and relaxation: known to induce a sense of calm and peacefulness, which can promote a good night’s sleep.
Anti-inflammatory: reduces swelling and minor skin irritation, such as insect bites or sunburn.
Air freshener: as a room spray, will brighten the air in your home or office.
Fabric scent: adds a fresh, clean scent to your bed linens, clothes, curtains or upholstery.
Mood enhancer: combats depression and promotes a sense of peace and wellbeing.
Anti-anxiety: For some, lavender’s calm-inducing properties are just as effective as pharmaceutical medication.
Enhanced cognitive function: can help you to focus your thoughts; useful when preparing for or taking an exam, giving a presentation or in public speaking.
Regulates heart-rate, nervous system: an effective tonic to normalize the central nervous system.
Analgesic: blocking of certain receptors in the brain results in pain relief or reduction for many sufferers of chronic pain.
Urological stimulant: stimulates urine production and may help to reduce the incidence of cyctitis.
Antitussive: Applied to the back, chest, soles of feet or vaporized, lavender is known to ease coughing caused by flu, colds, asthma and bronchitis.
Improve circulation, lower blood pressure: research shows that lavender aromatherapy can lower blood pressure and promote better coronary circulation.
Aids with digestion: stimulates gastric juices, and hence the flow of food through the digestive tract. Through this mechanism is can be an aid in the treatment of many stomach and digestive ailments such as indigestion, gas and diarrhea.
General skin and hair care: antiseptic, antifungal and astringent qualities help with acne, aging skin, dandruff and eczema.
Cold sores: promotes fast healing of cold sores.
Culinary: added to beverages such as water, tea or soda or as a cocktail flavoring; its flavors marry well with chocolate or in cookies, cakes, ice cream, frosting and many dessert recipes.
Keep lavender essential oil away from eyes, inner ears and all mucous membranes. Those with sensitive skin may be at risk for irritation. Do not apply undiluted to skin until you know how you react. Heed dilution ratios until you can confirm your tolerance. If you are pregnant, or suspect that you might be, consult a physician before starting a course of aromatherapy. Young boys should avoid lavender oil, as it can possibly cause disruption to a boy’s normal hormonal balance. Discontinue use for at least two weeks prior to having surgery, as lavender is known to slow the CNS in combination with other drugs or anesthesia. Certain sedatives interact adversely with lavender, such as chloral hydrate, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. If you use any of these classes of drugs, avoid using lavender essential oil while you are taking them.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.