What Is Lavender Good For?

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not to be used as a prescriptive tool. Colvin Curiosity does not recommend the ingestion of essential oils nor using essential oils topically without dilution. For inquiries corresponding to the medicinal usage of herbs or essential oils, contact a doctor and/or aromatherapist.

A purple history

Lavender is a purple flower with a sweet, bold floral scent. Its present name comes from the Latin word “lavare,” meaning “to wash.” There are two possible reasons listed for its name. It is either related to lavender oil’s common use in bathing or how clothes were spread out on lavender bushes to absorb the smell as they dried. Lavender has been hailed for millennia for its multiple uses. For example, the Egyptians used it for cosmetics, medicine and embalming. The Greeks, who knew lavender as “nardus,” used it for relieving indigestion and headaches.

The Romans used it for cooking, air freshening, repelling insects, and medicine. During wartime, soldiers carried it with them to dress wounds. One could say this predated the practice of WWI soldiers using it for the same purpose. Although, the WWI soldiers used it because there was a shortage of other medicine.

During the first century AD, blossoms of lavender sold for 100 denarii per pound. Since one denarius was worth an entire day’s wages for agricultural workers, lavender was very expensive. This high value likely came from the superstition that venomous asp vipers lived around lavender. Because of this, they called it “asarum.” This roughly translates to “wild spikenard” in English. It is likely that the spikenard oil with which Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet was lavender oil.

Lavender is an effective insect repellant. It’s been used to get rid of lice, keep moths away from linen, and to repel mosquitos. Lavender flowers were strewn across the floors of sickrooms to clean the air while keeping insects away from patients. Bundles of dried lavender were burned and left to smolder in sickrooms as fumigation. People have used lavender oil medicinally by inhaling the oil or drinking lavender tea to relieve head and stomach pain. Rubbing the oil (diluted or perhaps neat) on one’s temples was commonly done to aid headaches. While physical illness could be relieved using lavender, there are erroneous claims that it could be used for mental health. Lavender has useful sedative properties that could aid in sleep and anxiety; however, aromatherapy should never replace professional psychological treatment.

Lavender has many properties associated with it. Among them include:

  • Analgesic
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiseptic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Burn care
  • Cicatrizant
  • Deodorant
  • Expectorant
  • Insect repellant

Folklore

As with many plants, people have made some superstitious claims about lavender. Monks thought is would help them stay celibate while, ironically, prostitutes would use it to attract customers. In Spain and Portugal, lavender was placed in bonfires on St. John’s Day to ward off evil spirits. Young men would tuck lavender under their pillow to give them courage to propose to women. Meanwhile, on St. Luke’s Day, women would drink lavender tea before bed so their true love would be revealed in their dreams.

Like other plants, it has been burned as a smudging agent. Smudging claims many things, including bringing in positive spirits, expelling evil spirits, repelling negative energies or bringing in good ones.

It is said that lavender was used as an ingredient in the famous thieves’ oil. Legend has it that during the bubonic plague, a band of four thieves would rob the houses of the dead. They brewed up a concoction that kept them from getting sick while they robbed people. They placed their oil on a rag and held it over their mouths. The rags filtered the air while the oils supposedly cleaned it to the point where they didn’t get sick.

Phytochemistry

Lavender consists of up to 40% linalyl acetate and 30% linalool. The lavender with which most are familiar, L. angustifolia, is up to 40% linalyl acetate and about 25% linalool. Other constituents include cineole (or eucalyptol), geraniol, pinene, and camphor. Linalool, linalyl acetate, and cineole (eucalyptol) will be examined.

Linalool and Linalyl acetate

Linalool is principally found in lavender and bergamot oils. It has been shown in mice that inhaling linalool increased social interaction and decreased aggressive behavior. This suggests that inhaling linalool rich essential oils (EOs) can be useful for relaxation and counteracting anxiety. Linalool in lavender oil is commonly employed to help with sleep and anxiety. Linalyl acetate is the acetate ester of linalool and is thus commonly found in conjunction with linalool. While human experience reveal this, studies have formally shown that linalool and linalyl acetate exhibit possible anti-inflammatory behavior (EO constituents, EO).

1,8-Cineole/Eucalyptol

1,8-Cineole is also known as eucalyptol, as it is the main component in eucalyptus oil. It is mucolytic (thins mucus), antiseptic, bronchodilating, and anti-inflammatory. It has been used to reduce the exacerbation rate in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). It also reduces negative symptoms in asthma and sinusitis. It has been shown to expedite the healing of those with acute bronchitis. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment, a group of patients with acute bronchitis were given a placebo while another group was given cineole. After four days, those who took the cineole showed significant improvement over the placebo group.

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