Lavender is a fantastic beginning herbalist’s plant to grow and use on the homestead.
Growing lavender is incredibly easy. It requires little maintenance and is very tolerant to drought or over-watering. It attracts beneficial insects to your garden, and repels mosquitoes and other pests.
When selecting your lavender, it is important to be aware of all of the different species of lavender. All lavenders fall into the Lavandula family, but there are 39 distinct varietals.
Commonly, Lavandula angustifolia is the strain of lavender used in essential oils and healing remedies. It is also known as “true” lavender, English lavender, garden lavender, common lavender or narrow-leaved lavender.
History of Lavender
Our word for lavender comes from the Latin lavare, meaning “to wash”. It was often added to bath water and washes to clean and purify the mind and body.
Anecdotally, the general pleasantness and calming effect of the plant was noted when clothes were washed in the river and then spread out to dry on lavender bushes. Once the clothes were dried and the scent of lavender permeated the fabric, the wearer would notice a general calmness.
The ancient Egyptians used the herb as an ingredient in cosmetics, as a perfume, and in the mummification process.
The earliest written record of the medicinal use of lavender is from the Greek Physician, Dioscorides in 77AD. He studied the medicinal properties of herbs and catalogued lavender as helping in digestion, headaches and sore throats when consumed, and had antiseptic properties when applied to the skin to treat wounds or burns.
In other ancient times, bundled of dried lavender were given to women during childbirth to squeeze during contractions, as the fragrance that was released would help soothe and calm the mother.
The ancient Syrian city Nardus was famous for the lavender that grew around it. The city lent its name to the plant, which was commonly referred to as “nard”. The Bible even refers to lavender as “spikenard”, combining the common name for it and referencing the spikey leaves of the plant.
Lavender in the Bible
Lavender is referenced often in the Bible. It is said that Adam and Eve took lavender with them when they were exiled from the Garden of Eden. They took it with them to protect them from evil. In fact, legend states that lavender had no scent until Mary, mother of Jesus, laid his freshly cleaned clothes on the lavender bush to dry.
Later on, John 12 1-10 reads, “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.”
In fact, a cross made out of sprigs of lavender was often hung over household doors for protection.
More History of Lavender
English farmers used to wear spikes of lavender flowers under their hats to ward of sunstroke or headache.
During the Middle Ages, lavender became a favorite of the English royalty. Furniture and linens were washed in lavender water, and sprinkling lavender water over a lover’s head was said to keep them faithful.
During the 1920’s, a French perfumist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse burned his arm in the laboratory, developing a new perfume. Blinded by pain, he plunged his hand into the first liquid he saw, which happened to be lavender essential oil. He was surprised at the relief he felt, and noted as the days went by how quickly his hand healed, and with little pain and no scarring.
The healing qualities of lavender that Gattefosse noted in the 20’s has now been scientifically proven.
Modern Studies on the Medicinal Uses of Lavender
Herbal Academy’s Introductory Herbal Course explains how lavender’s beautiful fragrance is a nervine. A nervine is any plant that has beneficial effects on the nervous system. We all know how lavender is used in body lotions and soaps to encourage relaxation, but scientific studies have proven that lavender reduces stress, pain, headaches, insomnia and anxiety.
However, beyond its nervine benefits, lavender has also been proven to be antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial.
One study used lavender essential oil to treat skin ulcers in mice. They noticed significant reduction in ulcer size, increased rate of repair and healing over the placebo groups.
Another study used a prepared lavender oil in capsule form to allow adults suffering from anxiety and insomnia. 221 adults were tested and 77% of the test subjects reported improved sleep and general mental and physical health after 10 weeks.
At the University of Miami, mothers of fussy babies bathed their children in lavender-scented bath oil and reported less crying and less stress. In addition, the mothers reported that their children slept better.
Commission E, the German equivalent of the US FDA evaluated the usefulness of herbs approved lavender as a useful treatment for anxiety, restlessness and insomnia.
How to Use Medicinal Lavender
Lavender’s natural compounds can help treat a number of health issues, such as:
- General Pain
- Hay Fever/Seasonal Allergies
- Bug bites and stings
- Menstrual cramps
- Nasal congestion
- Soothing skin irritation
- Mouth ulcers
- Antimicrobial action for wounds
- Athlete’s foot
- Muscle cramping
- Alzheimers and dementia
- Pregnancy – helpful to treat stress, anxiety, headaches, backaches, labor pain relief and postnatal wound healing, and postpartum depression
- Diaper Rash – lavender hydrolat can be used on babies
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is one of the safest essential oils you can use, however common sense must prevail – test out a small bit on your skin before use to ensure you don’t have a sensitivity to it. Linalool oxidizes, so you should always store lavender essential oil in a tightly closed bottle, in a cool place away from sunlight. Oxidized linalool can be irritating to the skin.
Lavender hydrolat (found in hydrosols) is safe for use on children of all ages, however, the essential oil should be diluted for use on small children.
In fact, a compound found in lavender oil (perillyl alcohol) has been clinically shown to halt the progress of different cancerous tumors in animals. A very promising start.
Lavender essential oil contains more than 150 constituents. Within as little as 5 minutes after applying topically, lavender essential oil can be detected in the blood. It is very powerful stuff!
How to Use Lavender Essential Oil
Here are the best ways to use lavender essential oil:
- Add it to coconut oil or a carrier oil and add to homemade cosmetics to treat sunburn and acne
- Add to you diffuser to help elevate stress, anxiety, depression or insomnia
- Use it’s natural antiseptic and antifungal properties and add lavender essential oil to your homemade cleaners
How to Make a Lavender Infusion
Add 1-3 teaspoons of lavender flowers to each cup of boiling water. Let steep for 10 minutes off of the heat. Strain.
How to Use Lavender Infusion
Lavender infusions or teas can be used for:
- For digestive issues, drink up to 3 cups per day
- To treat a minor wound or burn, soak a washcloth in the lavender infusion and press to wound for several minutes
How to Make a Lavender Tincture
If you have access to fresh lavender flowers, simply chop them up to release the essential oils inside, pack into a clean jar and cover with grain alcohol. Moonshine or vodka work best. Don’t worry about buying the expensive kind – any grain alcohol will work.
If you only have dried lavender flowers, simply bruise them with a mortar and pestle, your fingers or a rolling pin before covering with alcohol.
Let steep in a cool, dark place for 2-6 weeks to allow the alcohol to extract the lavender oils. After the waiting period, strain your tincture with cheesecloth or coffee filters to remove any solids. Store in a cool, dark place, or in an amber bottle (to keep out the sunlight).
How to Use a Lavender Tincture
Make a big batch of lavender tincture and use it:
- In a diffuser to help you fall asleep at night
- In your bath water to help you relax
- Mixed with coconut oil or a carrier oil for a bedtime massage
- In a spray bottle to spray your sheets or yoga mat
- In a spray bottle as a natural bug spray
- Added to lavender flavored cocktails (yum!)
- Added to your homemade lotion, limb balms, or candles!
NOTE: While most medicinal recipes call for using lavender flowers, remove the leaves from the stems and use them fresh in your cooking or dry them for future use.
Here’s a neat little monograph I put together for your collection of herbal resources:
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