Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a woody stemmed shrub that grows two to three feet high and two to three feet wide. Its gray-purple flowers are known for their fragrance. Native to the Mediterranean, it has been cultivated in France, especially in the province of Provence, and other areas as far north as Norway. Although all parts are aromatic, the flowers are harvested for their scent and essential oil. The flowers are picked in the morning in midsummer and are dried or distilled to produce oil.

Benefits of Lavender Aromatherapy and Lavender Essential Oil as a Calming Aromatherapy

The scent of lavender is said to make even lions and tigers docile and calm. Its properties as a mental relaxant have been well documented.

Researchers in England tested lavender oil on nursing home patients suffering from insomnia who normally used sleep medication. For the first two weeks of the study patients were slowly weaned off their sleep medication. For the next two weeks they received no sleep aids. For the last two weeks of the study, the patients’ rooms were perfumed with lavender oil. Patients reported that they had trouble sleeping the second week, but had no trouble sleeping the last two weeks. They slept as well with lavender as they did with the sleeping pills and often reported that they slept more soundly.

Other Uses of Lavender, Dried Lavender and Lavender Essential Oil

In addition to its use as a sleep aid, lavender oil stops pain through two compounds (linalool and linalyl aldehyde), which are absorbed quickly through the skin and supress the central nervous system, deadening pain and reducing irritability. Lavender also inhibits hormonal reactions that cause swelling and painful constriction in the area of pain. This herb has also been shown to be effective in stopping convulsions in laboratory animals

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Lavender oil also protects the skin from bacterial and fungal infections. Lavender ointments are used for burns, bruises or varicose veins. Pure lavender oil can be dabbed on insect bites to stop the itching. Dried lavender can be made into lavender sachets used to scent clothes and repel insects such as wool moths and mosquitoes.

How to Use Lavender and Lavender Oil

Lavender oil can be rubbed into the skin or used in aromatherapy. For a relaxing bath, mix about five drops of lavender oil into bath water. For aromatherapy, simply put a few drops of lavender oil into an aromatherapy diffuser or boil a quart of water, add a few drops and inhale the steam.

For headaches, rub a few drops of pure lavender essential oil into the temples. To use as a massage oil for headaches or body aches, mix 20 drops lavender oil with 20 ml carrier oil, such as wheat germ or almond oil.

To aid in sleep, use lavender oil diluted with a carrier oil. Rub on the chest, neck, temples and under the nose. Straight lavender oil can also be used under your nose or in your temples. Use a lavender spray on a pillow and into the air.

Do not take lavender oil internally. Also, remember that not all species of lavender are relaxing. Spanish lavender is actually a stimulant. Experiment with different lavender oils to find one that works well.

History of Lavender Use

Ancient Romans named lavender after the word “lavare” meaning “wash” because it was used to scent baths and water used for washing. Since that time, the aroma has been associated with purity of spirit as well as the body. It was even used to ward off the plague. Thieves who robbed the bodies of plague victims used lavender as one of the ingredients in “Four Thieves Vinegar,” which they claimed kept them from contracting the dreaded disease.

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In the 16th century herbalist William Turner suggested wearing a cap containing lavender for colds and “to comfort the braine.” Lavender was one of the medicinal herbs that the Pilgrims took to the New World in 1620. In 1640 John Parkinson wrote that lavender was “especially good use for all griefs and paines of the head and brain.”

Victorian women carried “swooning pillows” with lavender and camphor, as well as lavender scented handkerchiefs, to revive themselves when they fainted.

Lavender pillows have long been used to induce sleep, and lavender sachets have been tucked into drawers to scent clothing for generations.

With the recent popularity of aromatherapy and the increased evidence of lavender’s soothing properties, lavender use has surged. Today it is one of the most often used aromatherapy oils.