What’s in a name?
The Romans called it lavender which may have come from the Latin verb “lavare” which means “to wash” or from the word “livendulo” which means “livid or bluish”. The Greeks referred to it as Nardus after the city of Naardus in Syria. People in India called it spikenard, which referred to the shape of its flowers.
Lavender was used in ancient Egypt for embalming and cosmetics. When the tomb of Tutankhamen was opened, jars filled with ungents containing something resembling lavender were found. These ungents were used only by the royal families and high priests in cosmetics, massage oils, and medicines. Wealthy men would put solid cones of this pungent on their heads, which, as it melted, covered their bodies with perfume.
The Greeks learned much from the Egyptians regarding perfumes and the use of aromatics. The Greek physician Theophrastus (3rd century BC) wrote about the healing qualities of scents in his book “Concerning Odours”. Unlike the ancient Egyptians who anointed their heads, the Greek philosopher Diogenes preferred to anoint his feet instead saying, “When you anoint your head with perfume, it flies away in the air and birds only get the benefit of it, whilst if I rub it on my lower limbs it envelopes my whole body and gratefully ascends to my nose." Anacreon recommended that the breasts be anointed since since it was said they were the seat of the heart
Ancient Romans recognized lavender for its healing and antiseptic qualities, for its usefulness in deterring insects, and used it in washing. The first written record of the healing uses of lavender appears to be that of the Greek military physician Dioscorides in 77 AD. Dioscordes, a Greek military physician under the Roman Emperor, Nero, collected medicinal plants from around the Mediterranean. He described these plants and provided information about their medical uses in a 5-volume work entitled De Materia Medica. Lavender, he noted, when taken internally relieved indigestion, headaches and sore throats. Externally, lavender could be used to clean wounds and burns or treat skin ailments. Roman soldiers took lavender on campaigns with them to dress war wounds. Lavender was strewn on the floor to sweeten the air, fumigate sick rooms and as incense for religious ceremonies.
Pliny the Elder, a Greek writer and encyclopedist, noted its benefits in helping those with menstrual problems, upset stomachs, kidney disorders, jaundice, dropsy and treating insect bites. Romans, who perfumed themselves lavishly, used the aromatic oils to perfume their hair, their bodies, their clothes, their bed, their baths, their military flags, and the walls of their houses. One of their most famous scented oils was nardinum, which included lavender. Women hung lavender next to their beds to incite the passions.
The Romans may have known about L pendunculata and L denata, but included them under the name L stoechas.
The De Materia Medica served as the foundation for Arab physicians who read Syrian and Old Persian translations. The Arabs dominated the Mediterranean culture around the seventh century AD. The brought their medicine to Spain where it spread to the rest of Europe. Their greatest known physician, Abu Ali Sina, known as Avicenna (-980AD – 1037AD) mentioned the healing uses of lavender. Some varieties of lavender where first thought to have been domesticated in Arabia.
Lavender was little used in the Dark Ages except by monks and nuns. Monasteries preserved the knowledge of herbal lore in their physics gardens. They copied ancient manuscripts and recorded the medicinal effects of various plants. Under an edict of the Holy Roman Empire in 812 AD, they were charged with growing vegetables, medicinal plants, flowers and trees. Lavender was one of the herbs listed as being grown at Merton Abbey which was to become the center of lavender production in England - Mitcham. Lavender is first mentioned in 1301 in the records of Merton Prioiry as being used to raise money for King Edward I.
Lavender experienced a renaissance in Tudor England. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, lavender moved to domestic gardens. The ladies of the manor used lavender for all kinds of things. It was placed among linens, sewn into sweet bags, used to freshen the air, and mixed with beeswax to make furniture polish. Traditionally it was planted near the laundry room and linens and clothing were laid over the plants to dry while absorbing the fresh odor of lavender. It was also useful in repelling insects.
Queen Elisabeth, who loved lavender, used it in tea to treat her frequent migraines and as a perfume. (Lavender is one of the oldest perfumes used in England.) She encouraged the development of lavender farms. Henrietta Marie, wife of King Charles I, who brought cosmetics to the English court, used lavender in perfumed soaps, potpourris, and water for washing and bathing.
King Charles VI of France had his seat cushions stuffed with lavender. In the twelfth century Hildegard of Bingen noted that oil of lavender was effective in the treatment of head lice and fleas.
In 16th century France lavender was regarded as an effective and reliable protection against infection. Glove makers who were licensed to perfume their wares with lavender often seemed to escape cholera.
17th century lavender was found in most herbals as a cure all. The great English herbalists Gerard, Parkinson and Culpepper all wrote about lavender. Great interest was generated and lavender street sellers appeared. Prices were high during the Great Plague of 1665 when lavender was thought to protect against this terrible disease. Graverobbers washed plague victim’s belongings in Four Thieves Vinegar, which contained lavender.
Queen Victoria was a great enthusiast in the use of lavender. She appointed Miss Sarah Sprules “ Purvey of Lavender Essence to the Queen.” Lavender was very fashionable among the ladies. They bought it from street sellers who brought it up from Mitcham. Fresh lavender was dried and put into muslin bags for wardrobes, used to wash walls and furniture and lavender bags were stuffed between sheets in linen presses. Lavender was used to repel inspects, treat lice, as a perfume and a potpourri, in furniture polish and soap and as a cure-all in household medicine cupboards. Smaller bags were made for young women to wear in their cleavage in hopes of attracting a suitor. Lavender appeared in the London Pharmacopeia. Its overuse contributed to its loss of popularity in the early 20th century when it became associated with old ladies.
During Victorian times Mitcham, a London suburb, was the center of lavender oil production. English lavender products become known all over the world. Lavender production nearly died out because of the pressure of increasing land values in Mitcham, Wallington, and Carshalton.
In the US, Shakers grew lavender commercially. It was popular in gift items and medicines
According to Mountain Rose Herbs:
“Lavender has been thought for centuries to enflame passions as an aphrodisiac, and is still one of the most recognized scents in the world. The German Commission E commended lavender for treating insomnia, nervous stomach, and anxiety. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia lists lavender as a treatment for flatulence, colic, and depressive headaches, and many modern herbal practitioners use the herb to treat migraines in menopause. In Spain, lavender is added to teas to treat diabetes and insulin resistance.”
Today, lavender is most commonly used for anxiety, depression, mental exhaustion, insomnia, scrapes and wounds, digestive problems, headaches, skin problems and women's health problems. In addition to this, lavender can be used to treat exhaustion, heat exposure, fevers, aches and pains, over-exertion, jet lag, rashes, sprains, sunburn, sunstroke, bruises and burns. It can also be used as a disinfectant and insect repellant. Lavender is an antiseptic, natural antibiotic, sedative, detoxifier.
Anxiety and depression. The essential oil of lavender has a calming, sedative, and anti-convulsive effect. It can also increase the effectiveness of other relaxants.
According to the Smell and Taste Foundation in Chicago, the scent of lavender increases brain waves associated with relaxation.
Commission E, the German counterpart of the FDA that regulates herbal remedies, also approves lavender for treating relaxation and restlessness.
Insomnia. A study conducted at the University of Leicester in England showed that the use of lavender essential oil is just as effective in promoting sound sleep as traditional medication. In fact, many British hospitals offer their patients lavender pillows to help with sleeplessness.
Scrapes and wounds. Lavender essential oil has very powerful antiseptic properties. Applying it to wounds can not only increase cell growth causing the wound to heal faster, but it also decreases the appearance of scars. The oils anti-microbial action protects scrapes and wounds from infection, while allowing them heal.
Digestive problems. Lavender has also been endorsed by Germany's Commission E to treat all sorts of stomach and digestive disorders. It soothes the lining of the digestive tract and promotes the secretion of bile, which helps the body digest fats. In addition to this, lavender can also relieve gas pressure and constipation.
Headaches. Massaging lavender oil onto the temples, neck and forehead can relieve neck and head tension and promote relaxation, thus relieving a variety of headaches. Those included are general headaches, gastric headaches, nervous headaches, sinus and tension headaches.
Skin problems. By massaging lavender oil into the skin, it can be used to treat a number of skin problems such as acne, burns, dry skin, eczema, itchy skin, sunburn, seborrhea, and skin inflammation.
Women's health problems. For pregnancy, lavender can help sooth and relieve flatulence and indigestion. It can diminish the look of stretch marks and scars. It can relieve cramps, edema, exhaustion, infection, breast abscesses, and post-natal depression. A study of lavender by British researchers suggests that using lavender oil during pregnancy and childbirth can help ease delivery pain and promote a speedy recovery.
By either adding lavender to the bath or massaging it into the skin, lavender can help relieve pre-menstrual syndrome, and menstrual cramps. It is effective in aiding the treatment of chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, thrush, vaginal infections, inflamed vaginal tissue, vaginitis, cystitis, Raynaud's Disease, breast abscesses, and cervical cancer. If being treated with radiation for any form of cervical or uterine cancer, lavender oil can prevent and diminish irradiation burns.
The uses of lavender are endless. Lavender is a must-have for all homes because of its calming, antibiotic, antiseptic, disinfectant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It is good for treating or aiding in the treatment of a number of health problems.
By mixing lavender with water, it can be sprayed on surfaces and used as a household disinfectant, and applying it to the skin can deter insects.
According to the book The New Healing Herbs, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute believes that a particular compound in lavender, known as perillyl alcohol has been shown to exert remarkable action against a variety of cancer tumors in the breast, lung, liver, colon and pancreas. It is noted that currently, this particular compound is being tested as a possible cancer preventative, as well as treatment.
Applications and safety.
Lavender can be applied a number of different ways. It can be massaged onto the skin, placed in diffusers for inhalation, added to baths, added to vaporizers, and mixed with water or other substances for spray purposes.
Lavender is very potent and should always be used sparingly. The oil must always be diluted with water or a carrier oil such as olive, jojoba, avocado, or grape seed oil. Never place lavender oil directly on the skin without diluting it. Lavender flowers can be placed in sachets, potpourri, heat packs, ice packs and wraps. Lavender is safe for most anyone. The flowers remain effective long after they have dried.
To store lavender, both the oil and flowers should be placed in a dark, glass container, away from direct sunlight or heat.
Lavender is an extremely useful, beneficial and versitale herb. It can be used to therapeutically treat a variety of ailments, contains antibiotic, antiseptic, disinfectant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, is safe for most all adults, has a pleasant aroma and calming qualities. Lavender is truly a must for every home and should become an excellent addition to the first aid kit.
Especially beneficial to the respiratory tract in particular coughs, colds, influenza. Certainly eases breathing when lungs and sinuses are choked with phlegm.
Defends system against airborne viruses.
Defends system against airborne viruses.
A refreshing note to a tired mind – lavender has been named as one of the most useful of the essences for the relief of anxiety and stress.
Good for aches and pains and muscle stiffness and may also help with rheumatic discomfort and joint stiffness.”
Good for aches and pains and muscle stiffness and may also help with rheumatic discomfort and joint stiffness.”
This is an herb I use faithfully. I use it in bath products for it's aroma and relaxing properties. Lavender is a great herb with many uses, just be sure to read the side effects.
According to University of Maryland,
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
- Whole, dried flowers
How to Take It
- 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. For proper dilutions speak with a knowledgeable health care provider. There are some aromatherapy formulas for children as well; again speak with a knowledgeable provider for dosing. Never use lavender on an open wound; seek immediate medical attention.
- A small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 concluded that lavender and tea oils in some shampoos, soaps, and lotions may cause gynecomastia, breast development in a male, in boys. If you have any concerns, ask your doctor about using lavender for a child.
The following are recommended adult doses for lavender:
- Internal use: Speak with a knowledgeable health care provider to find the right dose for you.
- Inhalation: 2 - 4 drops in 2 - 3 cups of boiling water. Inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia. If you have asthma, talk to your doctor before using essential oil inhalations to see if they are right for you. There are some people who find essential oil used in inhalation form irritating to lungs and/or eyes.
- Topical external application: For ease of application, add 1 - 4 drops per tablespoon of base oil (such as almond or olive oil). Lavender oil is toxic if taken orally. Only use the oil externally or by inhalation. Also, avoid contact with eyes or mucous membranes, such as the lips and nostril.
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, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.
Some people may develop an allergic reaction to lavender. Nausea, vomiting, headache, and chills have also been reported in some people after inhaling or absorbing lavender through the skin. Lavender applied to skin may cause irritation in some people. Oral use of Lavender may cause constipation, headache, and increased appetite. Lavender oil is toxic if taken orally.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using lavender.
- CNS Depressants -- There are no known scientific reports of interactions between lavender and conventional medications. However, because lavender promotes relaxation, it may make the effects of central nervous depressants stronger. These drugs include narcotics such as morphine or oxycodone (OxyContin) for pain, and sedative and anti-anxiety agents such as lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax). Ask your doctor before using lavender with these and other sedatives.