By Lia Blanchard
Welcome to Aromatherapy 101, a series of articles discovering the reasons for our responses – both positive and negative – to certain scents, and ways to incorporate the beauty of fragrance to enhance your quality of life.
This second article in the series looks at lavender, a Mediterranean herb that’s a favorite scent for everything from soap to furniture polish.
Fragrant purple sprigs of lavender were used by ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and other for perfume and mummification. Romans added it to their bathwater, giving the plant the name we know it as today: lavender is a derivative of the Latin word for “to wash, to bathe”. Lavender plays many roles in the Bible, and was first grown commercially in the New World by the Shakers.
Traditionally, lavender is associated with the farms of Provence, France, but it is a cash crop in many other parts of the world. Sequim, WA is known as the “Lavender Capital of North America”
Lavender was grown in the “infirmarian’s gardens” of medieval monasteries to be used in treatments for migraine headaches, infection prevention, and insomnia.
In modern medicine, studies have indicated that lavender is effective in treating anxiety, stress, pain, stomach irritations, and hair loss, and has antiviral and antibiotic properties. Lavender is also indicated in successful management of eczema and other skin ailments, although recent studies suggest that the benefit derived was from the massaging motion of applying lavender oil, not the oil itself.
Possible hormonal interactions have doctors discouraging the use of lavender with children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Other precautions are given for possible allergic reactions, particularly to the oil of lavender.
Lavender can be found in many forms. Essential oil is derived by steaming the flowers, leaves, and stems, and the crushed plant can be put into pillows, sachets, bath salts, and water.
- Mood stabilization: Breathing in the scent of lavender can be both calming and invigorating. Aromatherapists prescribe lavender therapy to treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
- Headache and tension: Lavender eye pillows, or lavender oil dabbed on the temples help ease these conditions.
- Skin irritations: Lavender oil can be applied directly to treat sunburn, insect bites, minor abrasions, and even athlete’s foot. (See note above regarding possible allergies.)
How do you use lavender?
Next in Aromatherapy 101: Green Tea