Lavender Flower

Historical Uses
Lavender has a long history of use, and is cited as having a wide range of applications. I will begin by discussing historical uses of lavender and then go on to look at modern day applications.

The lavender plant may have first been domesticated in Arabia well before the time of Jesus and was used there as an expectorant and antispasmodic. From Arabia, it was then carried by the Greeks and Romans, who used it to cure or ward off a host of illnesses. Eventually it reached France, Spain, Italy and England where it became well established as a remedy for stomach complaints and nervousness and as a cosmetic water to benefit the skin. It was used from very early times as a strewing herb for its deodorizing and disinfecting properties. (Festing, S. (1985) The Story of Lavender, Hyperion Books pg. 137)

Dioscorides, the famous first century Greek physician, recommended lavender for “grief’s of the thorax” and also noted that it relieved headaches, indigestion and sore throats when used internally and was good for treating wounds or burns and for skin conditions when used externally (Dioscorides (c. 65 A.D.) De Materia Medica. Ibidis Press).

It was often cited by Hildegard of Bingen, the famous 12th century mystic. It was one of her favorite herbs and she recommended it for migraine headaches, a use which has persisted into modern times, as well as for “maintaining a pure character”. (Hildegard,B. (reprint 1997) Causae et Curae. Pattloch pg. 307) Later, it was one of the major ingredients of the so-called Thieves Vinegar used in the Middle Ages during the Plague and was also considered an aphrodisiac. (Festing)

By the 19th Century, doctors used lavender essential oil to treat headaches, memory loss, fainting, depression, and infertility in women. (Festing)

Maude Grieve, the famous 20th Century herbalist, offered an extensive treatise on various species of lavender in her Herbal and this has been the source of much of the historical information on this plant that is now widely quoted in many books and articles . Regarding the therapeutic actions and uses of lavender, she mentions its carminative and nervine properties and its use in depression, fatigue, snake bites, headache, loss of memory and an extensive array of other aliments. (Grieve, M. (1971) A Modern Herbal, Vol. II. Dover Edition pg. 521)

Modern Uses
In modern days, the most commonly used preparation of lavender is the essential oil. The majority of scientific journal reports I found are dealing with the use of the oil. Lavender essential oil is described as one of the most versatile essential oils and a wide range of therapeutic uses is reported. It is described as having outstanding cooling, soothing, and calming properties which make it useful in conditions involving inflammation, spasm, pain and restlessness. Lavender has been described as having remarkable balancing effects on the central nervous system and as being an outstanding choice for people who are suffering from stress, tension, insomnia, nervous exhaustion and related depression. It is described as calming and soothing to the nervous system and the body-mind and its reputed tonic properties are believed to help overcome exhaustion and apathy.

Moss M, Cook J, et al, “Aromas of Rosemary and Lavender Essential Oils Differentially Affect Cognition and Mood in Healthy Adults”, International Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 113, Issue 1, Jan. 2003, pp. 15-38: Results suggest that olfactory presentation of lavender essential oil decreased performance on cognitive tasks while rosemary oil produced mixed results (performance on some measures was enhanced compared to controls while on other measures it was degraded); the rosemary group was found to have greater alertness than the control or lavender groups, while both the lavender and rosemary groups reported better mood than controls. The authors conclude that the olfactory properties of essential oils can produce objective effects on cognitive performance and subjective effects on mood.

Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L, et al, “Aromatherapy: evidence for the sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation”, Naturforsch C. 1991, Nov-Dec; 46 (11-12): pp 1067 – 72. Inhalation of lavender essential oil was found to reduce caffeine-induced hyperactivity in mice to near-normal motility. The reduction showed a correlation with serum linalool levels and the authors conclude that the study provides support for the aromatherapeutic use of herbal pillows to facilitate falling asleep and to reduce stress.

Saeki Y, “The effect of foot-bath with or without essential oil of lavender on the autonomic nervous system: a randomized trial”, Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, 2000, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 2-7. Subjects sat with their feet soaking in hot water, with or without lavender essential oil, for ten minutes during which electrocardiogram, finger-tip blood flow and respiration were recorded; autonomic function was evaluated using spectral analysis of heart rate variability. The foot baths caused no changes in heart rate or respiratory rate but produced a significant increase in blood flow. On spectral analysis, the parasympathetic activity increased significantly during both types of foot-bath. In the lavender foot-bath, there were delayed changes to the balance of autonomic activity in the direction associated with relaxation.

Soden K, Vincent K, et al, “A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting”, Palliative Medicine, 2004, Vol. 18, No. 2, 87-92. Forty-two patients were randomly assigned to receive massage with or without lavender essential oil added to the inert massage base. Outcome measures include a Visual Analog Scale of pain intensity, a sleep scale, an anxiety and depression scale, and symptom checklist. No significant long-term effects were found for lavender essential oil in terms of improving pain control, anxiety or quality of life. Sleep scores improved in both groups and depression scores improved in the massage-only groups. The authors conclude that lavender essential oil did not increase the beneficial effects of massage.

Bardeau F., “Utillisation d’HE aromatiques pour purifier et desodoriser l’air (Use of essential aromatic oils to purify and deodorize the air”, Le Chirurgien-dentiste de France, 1976, Sept 29; 46 (319): 53 Vaporized essential oils and their capacity to destroy bacteria such as Proteus, Staph. Aureus, Strep. Pyrogenes and others were examined. Oils which were found to be the most effective in destroying air borne bacteria included clove, lavender, lemon, marjoram, mint, niaouli, pine, rosemary, and thyme.

Piccaglia R, Deans S G, et al, “Biological activity of essential oils from lavender, sage, winter savory, and thyme of Italian origin”, 1993 Programme Abstracts 24th International Symposium on Essential Oils. The oils were tested for antimicrobial activity against 25 species including food poisoning types and human disease pathogens. All oils showed good activity against the majority of the bacteria. Lavender was most effective against Clostridium sporogenes.

Imberger I, Rupp J, et al, “Effect of Essential Oils on Human Attentional Processes” 1993 Programme Abstracts 24th International Symposium on Essential Oils, The authors investigated the effects of inhaled jasmine and lavender on human attentional processes. The excitatory effects of jasmine and sedative effects of lavender were clearly indicated in the results of vigilance tests. No effects were demonstrated regarding alertness as measured by reaction time.

Dale A, Cornwall S, “The role of lavender oil in relieving perineal discomfort following childbirth: a blind randomized clinical trial”, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1994, 19:89-96. 635 women participated in a clinical trial to assess the possible benefits of adding lavender oil to daily bath water for the first 10 days following childbirth. Subjects were assigned to one of 3 groups: one in which 6 drops of lavender essential oil was added, one with the addition of an inert aromatic substance, and one with synthetic lavender oil. Analysis of daily discomfort scores showed no significant differences between the groups. The authors concluded that lavender essential oil was not effective in this application.

Ghelardini C, et al, “Local anaesthetic activity of the essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia” Planta Med. 1999 Dec;65 (8):700-3.This work we studied the local anaesthetic activity of essential oil obtained from lavender. The authors compared its activity to the essential oils obtained from two citrus fruits, Citrus reticulata Blanco and Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f., which have no medical uses. Anaesthetic activity was evaluated in vivo in the rabbit conjunctival reflex test, and in vitro in a rat phrenic nerve-hemidiaphragm preparation. The essential oil of lavender but not the oils of Citrus reticulata and Citrus limon were able to drastically reduce, in a dose-dependent manner, the electrically evoked contractions of rat phrenic-hemidiaphragm. In the rabbit conjunctival reflex test treatment with a solution of essential oil of lavender administered in the conjunctival sac) allow a dose-dependent increase in the number of stimuli necessary to provoke the reflex, thus confirming in vivo the local anaesthetic activity observed in vitro.

Winston D. “The use of herbs for treating chronic back pain: a materia medica.” J Am Herbalists Guild. 2005;6 (1):20-24. In this outline of recommendations of using herbal remedies in conjunction with other treatments the author recommends using lavender as a nervine and sedative to reduce stress and decrease muscle tension.

Approved By Commission E:
Loss of appetite
Nervousness and insomnia
Circulatory disorders
Dyspeptic complaints
Internally, English Lavender is used for mood disturbances such as restlessness or insomnia, functional abdominal complaints (nervous stomach irritations, Roehmheld syndrome, meteorism, nervous intestinal discomfort). Externally, English Lavender is used in balneotherapy for treatment of functional circulatory disorders.

When taken internally, lavender is a mild sedative that helps with restlessness and insomnia, reduces stomach acid and gas, and alleviates other intestinal difficulties. Bitter tasting but with a rich and sweet aroma, lavender is often used in colognes and perfumes and in many calming teas. Lavender is also used in aromatherapy as a holistic relaxant and is said to have carminative, antiflatulence and anticolic properties. Its sedative nature, on inhalation, has been shown both in animals and man. Lavender has spasmolytic activity, as does linalool, one of lavender’s major components. The mode of action of lavender oil resembles that of geranium and peppermint oils.

Lavender flowers contain: 1-3% essential oil, containing mainly monoterpenes (Lavandulae aetheroleum, DAB 100, the most important component of which is linaloyl acetate (30-55%), also linalool (20-35%), b-ocimene, cineole, and camphor, and also the sesquiterpene caryophyllene oxide; tannins (5-10%), derivatives of rosmarinic acid; courmarin; flavonoids; phytosterols.

Lavender makes a complex essential oil with over 100 constituents including linalyl acetate, linalool, lavandulol, lavandulyl acetate, terpineol, cineol, limonene, ocimene, pinene, caryophyllene, linalyl butyrate, geranyl acetate, camphor, coumarin, etc. The essential oils of lavender with a high ester content and relatively low cineol and camphor are preferred. (Joerg Gruenwald, PhD (eds) (2000) Physician’s Desk Reference for herbal medicines. Medical Economics Company pg. 277)