The lavenders belong to the mint family, Lamiaceae. The true lavender (L. officinalis) has grayish foliage and small blue or pale purplish flowers (white in one variety). They are lanceolate, opposite, and sessile, and grow from a branched stem. The bark is gray and flaky. The herb thrives in full sun and poor soil. 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 two-inch leaves are opposite and somewhat velvety and silvery gray in color with the exception of L. viridis which has green leaves. Some varieties have flowers of pale pink, dark purple, white, or magenta and are harvested toward the end of flowering season when the petals have begun to fade. Lavender’s volatile oil is best when extracted from flowers picked before they reach maximum bloom and following a long period of hot and dry temperatures.
Potential health benefits of lavender
- Refreshes and tones the skin, and soothes the nerves.
- Reduces or heals depression, especially when it is related to stress.
- Improves sleep quality
- Promotes relaxation,
- Lifts mood in people suffering from sleep disorders.
- Natural antiseptic and astringent
- Soothes and heals insect bites using an infusion.
- Antiseptic for common bacteria such as typhoid, diphtheria, streptococcus, and pneumococcus.
- Soothes and protects sunburned skin
- Helps prevent infection in blisters that often accompany more severe sunburns and other burns or
- Healing on open wounds to speed healing. It can be applied undiluted.
- Gently calms the nerves and helps reduce trapped gas if applied over the gassy area..
- Reduces stress headaches when rubbed on the temples, or sniffed like smelling salts
- Reduces oily skin by taking and mixing one – three drops into one cup of white vinegar
- Promotes healing of rashes, bruises, minor cuts and sores
Side effects, precautions, interactions
Although side effects are rare, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction to lavender. Excessive intake (several times more than listed above) may cause drowsiness. Nausea, vomiting, headache, and chills have also been reported in some individuals following inhalation or absorption of lavender through the skin. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using lavender, as it is a uterine stimulant. Lavender contains limonene which can cause photo sensitivity, especially when perfumes and cosmetics are used containing lavender oil. Direct exposure to undiluted preparations generally should be avoided. A July 1, 2006 article in Science News stated that lavender oil had been implicated in abnormal development of the breasts in young boys. Boys and girls are particularly sensitive to estrogenic and androgenic compounds because their sex hormone levels are low prior to puberty.There are identified hormonally active compounds in lavender oil which may be contributing to the increase incidence of early breast development in girls and enlarged breasts in boys.
Lavender’s active ingredients
Lavender oil contains the natural perillyl alcohol, linalool. Its ketones help relieve pain by calming the nerves. Ketones build new skin tissues and reduce inflammation. They also have a sleep-inducing effect. Ketones can be toxic, so lavender containing an amount above 35 percent should be avoided; esters ease swelling and soreness, prevent muscle spasms, fight fungal infections and prevent scarring. They also help to regulate your moods, preventing you from experiencing depression and hysteria.
As an oil, can be applied directly to irritated skin. As massage oil, lavender oil should first be diluted with grapeseed, olive or almond oil, using 1/3 ratio of drops of lavender oil to carrier oil is suggested. Lavender helps reduce inflammation and promotes healing of acne rashes, bruises, minor cuts and sores. In shampoos, lavender helps prevent dandruff. It relaxes muscles and eases tension. Its strong antiseptic properties effectively heal conditions such as acne or sunburn. For skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis, add 2 drops of the oil to a bland vegetable or olive oil and use as an oil on the skin. Sore feet can be relieved by soaking a few drops of lavender in your foot bath.
A warm lavender compress placed on the chest can help congestion, while breathing in the steam of lavender (place the hot lavender tea in a bowl and cover your head with a towel) helps breathing. Warm lavender tea can be used as a compress for chest congestion.
Drunk as a tea, lavender is a natural treatment for anxiety and headaches. It also soothes tummy upsets and flatulence, and cold lavender tea can be used as an effective mouthwash.
Lavender’s calming properties are also well known. When you are stressed, there is nothing as soothing as soaking in a lavender scented bath. While you are cleansing and stimulating your skin, you will find your cares of the day just drift away. One teaspoon of the actual flowers boiled in a pint of water can be used as a drink for sedative, calming uses.
To help you sleep, stuff a small pillow with dried lavender leaves and buds. then gently place this inside your pillow and allow lavender’s soothing aroma to calm your nerves which can lull you to sleep.
But the one place you may never have thought to use lavender is in the kitchen – both as a cleanser and as a cooking ingredient! Add lavender oil to your favorite cleaner to give it more cleaning power, and to fill your kitchen with a fresh fragrance. When you mop the floor, sprinkle lavender oil in the water and you will have a sweet smelling antiseptic mop.
The oil varies with the age of the flower it was made from; the earlier the flower is picked tends to be thought the more valuable the oil will be.