In the Doctrine of Signatures, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) falls under the auspices of Mercury, the Roman god of communication and bearer of the sacred caduceus – a symbol strongly associated with the medical profession, even today. The Romans valued this herb for its scent, at once soothing and uplifting, and for its wide-ranging medicinal properties. It is thought that the modern name “lavender” derives from the Latin “lavare,” which means “to wash” and refers to its usage as a versatile cosmetic. Lavender was introduced to England by the Romans and the “chymical oil” drawn from the herb was later called “Oil of Spike.” (1)
“Being an inhabitant almost in every garden, it is so well known that it needs no description.” 1
Types Of Lavender
The genus Lavandula belongs to the plant family Lamiaceae (or Labiatae). The second part of its Latin name, angustifolia, is descriptive of its narrow-shaped leaves – angust meaning “narrow-leaved.” The herb is known as common lavender, true lavender and garden lavender, and is divided into two sub-species: L. delphinensis and L. fragrans. There are various varieties:
- Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia L. spica)
- French lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
- Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia; L. hybrida; L. hortensis). (2)
Research And Common Uses
The remarkable healing powers of lavender have been known since Rene-Maurice Gattefosse accidentally discovered it could soothe and heal burns and prevent scarring. The French Academy of Medicine were also aware of its antiseptic properties and studied its use in swabbing wounds, treating sores, varicose veins, burns and scalds. (3)
Historically and traditionally, Battaglia cites lavender oil as a favourite in toilet water (facial toning waters) and pot pourri. It is also useful for treating sunburn and sunstroke, and is anti-inflammatory, which makes it helpful for the following skin conditions: acne, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, boils and wounds. (3)
Lavender is a friend to the mind, body and spirit. In the musculoskeletal system, it relieves aches and pains, rheumatism and symptoms of arthritis. In the nervous system, it harmonises the body’s response to stress, being both sedative and stimulating. In the reproductive system it can lesson symptoms of pre-menstrual tension. In the respiratory system its curative qualities banish colds, flu and throat infections. (3)
A Popular Oil
Lavender is arguably the most popular and versatile essential oil, and as it may be applied neat to the skin, this makes it more readily available for use. Without the fuss of blending, anyone can dab lavender on a pimple or minor burn, or rub it on their temples to ease a headache. Josephine Fairley describes its common use in bath products, lotions, floral waters and tonics. She keeps a bottle of lavender oil in the kitchen to apply to minor burns with “miraculous effect.” (4)
With the interest in natural medicines experiencing a revival in recent decades, a clinical trial revealed lavender as a popular oil in childbirth. It was found to reduce the anxiety of the mother during labour. (3) The Romans were aware of its benefits in childbirth centuries ago, when in ancient Rome the herb was burned as an incense to soothe the expectant mother and unborn child.
Using Lavender At Home
On a daily basis, lavender can be used to improve your skin and hair, adding it to facial washes and moisturisers to normalise problem skin or to shampoos to combat dandruff. It should be an addition to everyone’s first aid kit (for minor cuts and burns, insect bites, sunburn, rashes and spots) and an accessory to every desk for use as an uplifting inhalant or dabbed on pulse points to fade tension. At night, lavender is the perfect cure for insomnia – a few drops on the pillow will ensure a deep and restful sleep.
Contraindications To Use
Lavender is reportedly non-irritating, non-toxic and non-sensitising. However, it is best avoided in the first trimester in pregnancy and thereafter only use with the advice of your midwife or GP.