Lavender

Common name: Lavender
Other names: True lavender, spike lavender, lavadin, aspic
Latin name: Lavendula officinalis, Lavendula angustifolia
Affinity: Nervous system, digestive system
Actions: Carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressant, rubefacient
Diseases: Headaches(3), depression(1), insomnia(3), anxiety(1)
Parts used: Flowers

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Characteristics: Lavender is an evergreen bushy plant that grows densely packaged flowers in fragrant whorls (Afsharypuor et al., 2006). The plant is native to Southern Europe, and now grows wold throughout Europe and parts of Iran. In ancient times lavender grew in great abundance around the Syrian city of Naarda, next to the Euphrates river (Castleman, 2001). Because of this the ancient Greeks called the plant nard. The word ‘lavender’ comes from the Latin for ‘to wash’. This relates to the use of lavender in baths and it was considered a purifying agent for the blood and mind.

History: Lavender has an ancient history of medicinal use around the world and is found in traditional Chinese and Iranian medicine (Chu et al., 2001). It is applied in traditional Chinese medicine to treat anxiety, infection, and other disorders. Infusions of the plant are used in traditional Iranian medicine as a carminative, diuretic, anti-epileptic, anti-rheumatic, and pain killer in nervous tension and headaches (Hajhashemi et al., 2001).

English farmers used to wear lavender flowers under their hats to prevent sunstroke and headaches (Castleman, 2001). The flowers were dried, powdered, and then inserted into pillows to treat insomnia. Lavender was also considered by old English herbalists to treat acne, migraines, diabetes, faintness, muscle spasms, and headaches. Right up until World War I lavender tinctures were used to disinfect wounds. In John Gerards book, ‘Herball’, he wrote of lavenders application in treating palsy (tremors or paralysis). Fifty years later, Nicolas Culpeper recommended lavender for ‘all the grief and pains of the head… it strengthens the stomach… two spoonful’s of the distilled water of the flowers help them who have lost their voice…’. Later still, Americas 19th century Eclectic physicians applied lavender as a digestive aid.

In the 1920s in France a fragrance chemist called Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was experimenting to make a new perfume. While he was blending essential oils, he managed to set off an explosion that burned his arm. He plunged his arm into pure lavender oil and felt surprising relief from his pain. He found that the healing process, normally accompanied by redness, heat, inflammation, and scarring, was remarkably more gentle and the burn healed faster. Subsequently, he devoted the rest of his life to studying and promoting the role of essential oils for health and healing.

Current applications: David Hoffman in his book, ‘holistic herbal’, recommends lavender for stress related headache, depression (in conjugation with other remedies) (Hoffman, 1988). He describes it as, ‘a gentle strengthening tonic of the nervous system’, and also recommends it in cases of ‘nervous debility and exhaustion’. It can be used to promote natural sleep. For depression, it may be combined with rosemary and skullcap. For headaches, with lady’s slipper or valerian. David Winston mentions it may be used with lemon balm and St. John’s wort for ‘stagnant’ depression (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). He also recommends it for flatulence, borboorygmus, nervous stomach, and adominal bloating where it can be mixed with fennel or chamomile.

Science: Experiments conducted on ex or in vivo models have found lavender has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and analgesic activities (Hajhashemi et al., 2003; Spiridon et al., 2011). A large well controlled human study has shown that a patented lavender oil extract is effective against anxiety and it also appears to improve symptoms of depression (Kasper et al., 2014).

Safety: Lavender is safe, but the essential oil should not be used internally in pregnant women. The tincture is best used in small doses. The essential oil may be applied undiluted to the skin and not expected to cause problems unless the individual happens to be highly sensitive.

Dosage: 1.5-2ml of the tincture may be taken two or three times daily. A tea may be prepared by taking 1 tsp dried flowers in 8 oz hot water, steep covered for 20 to 30 minutes; take 4 oz three times daily.

Brands: I recommend Herb Pharm in the U.S.A. or The Wild Pharma in the U.K. for tinctures. The essential oil is widely available.

Scientific Summary

Research on models

Anti-inflammatory/ analgesic activities: One study using mice found lavender leaf alcohol based extracts and essential oil had anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities (Hajhashemi et al., 2003).

Anti-oxidant activity: A study found that lavender grown in Southeast Romania had anti-oxidant activity ex vivo (Spiridon et al., 2011).

Research on humans

Anxiety: One study (n = 529, double blind randomised alternative medication or placebo controlled) found a lavender essential oil extract called Silexan taken to 160 and 80 mg/d was superior to placebo in reducing anxiety, they also noted an antidepressant effect (Kasper et al., 2014). Adverse events were comparable to the placebo.

References:

Afsharypuor, Suleiman, and Nahid Azarbayejany. “Chemical constituents of the flower essential oil of Lavandula officinalis Chaix. from Isfahan (Iran).” Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2.3 (2006): 169-172.

Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Nature’s Best Medicines Featuring the Top 100 Time-Tested Herbs. Rodale, 2001.

Chu, Catherine J., and Kathi J. Kemper. “Lavender (Lavandula spp.).” Longwood Herbal Task Force 32 (2001).

Hajhashemi, Valiollah, Alireza Ghannadi, and Badie Sharif. “Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of the leaf extracts and essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia Mill.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 89.1 (2003): 67-71.

Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.

Kasper, Siegfried, et al. “Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder–a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine.” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology 17.6 (2014): 859-869.

Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

Spiridon, Iuliana, et al. “Antioxidant capacity and total phenolic contents of oregano (Origanum vulgare), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) from Romania.” Natural product research 25.17 (2011): 1657-1661.