Friday, May 11, 2012

Lavender – Is it a color, a scent, a flavor or medicine? (Part 1)

Just the mention of the word lavender conjures up so much . . . it’s beautiful to behold, has a scent that will instantly transport you to a place of tranquility and calmness, the color simply begs you to have a connection to the Divine and it’s delicate flavor turns ordinary lemon sorbet from a pleasant but rather ordinary dessert into a heady dessert experience!
But that’s only the beginning when it comes to this exquisite flowering herb . . .
It may have originated in the Mediterranean, but now you will find fields of lavender growing worldwide.  In fact there are now more than 200 different varieties and 28 species of lavender. Some varieties have been hybridized for strictly ornamental purposes but the species Lavandula angustifolia, and Lavandula officinalis are the mainstay for medicinal and culinary purposes.  The wonderful thing about lavender is that all parts of the plant impart that heady aroma – the leaves, the seeds and the flowers.  But the oil derived from the flowers offers the most important medicinal component.
You may not know that a single bottle of lavender oil can treat symptoms that range from insomnia and depression to pharmaceutical resistant fungal strains! 

Most diseases, syndromes and maladies, are complicated and encompass many different, seemingly unrelated symptoms.  For example, while Fibromyalgia Syndrome is generally associated with pain, but that pain may also be accompanied by insomnia, anxiety, depression, tension, soreness, muscle spasms and an autoimmune disease or two! 
That’s where herbs like lavender offer so much.  Unlike pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to deal with pain or anxiety or depression, lavender, like many herbs, contains several different components that are useful in treating many different symptoms or aspects of ailments. The four most powerful are:

Aldehydes are chemical constituents that serve two purposes.They are responsible for the distinct and soothing aroma of lavender. But in chemistry they are considered reducing agents, which in layman’s terms we would associate with antioxidant properties. One of its purposes is to keep the naturally occurring alcohol Linalool from oxidizing

Linalool is a naturally occurring alcohol that is both antiseptic and antimicrobial. This natural bacteria and virus killing component composes approximately 50% of the lavender oil and makes it an excellent candidate for general cleaning as well as treating skin irritations, burns, sunburns, cuts, scrapes, wounds and even acne.

The ketones in lavender oil are the anti-inflammatory agents. They are also associated with pain reduction and the ability to induce sleep.

The esters in lavender oil are the constituent of lavender that relieves tension, depression, hysteria and are considered mood stabilizers. They are a form of natural steroids, making them effective at treating swelling, pain and soreness. But they are also extremely effective in treating fungus from ringworm and athlete’s foot to the super strains that are resistant to drugs.

A team of researchers from the University of Coimbra in Portugal recently published an article in the Journal of Medical Microbiology where they demonstrated the effectiveness of lavender oil against a wide range of pathogenic fungi and found it to be more effective than anti-fungal pharmaceutical drugs.  Here is an overview with a few excerpts:
The oil was tested against a range of pathogenic fungi and was found to be lethal to a range of skin-pathogenic strains, known as dermatophytes, as well as various species of Candida.
Dermatophytes cause infections of the skin, hair and nails as they use the keratin within these tissues to obtain nutrients. They are responsible for fungal infections like athlete’s foot, ringworm and can also lead to scalp and nail infections.
Candida species naturally exist in the colon and on the skin, and generally do not affect healthy individuals but when they over populate a system they can create a throat infections known as thrush and in immuno-compromised patients, Candida species are able to cause serious infections if the fungal cells escape into the blood stream.
Currently, there are relatively few types of antifungal drugs that are effective and they often have considerable side effects. Professor Ligia Salgueiro and Professor Eugenia Pinto, who led this study, explained why novel fungicides are urgently needed.
"In the last few years there has been an increase in the incidence of fungal diseases, particularly among immuno-compromised patients.  Unfortunately there is also increasing resistance to antifungal drugs. Research by our group and others has shown that essential oils may be cheap efficient alternatives that have minimal side effects . . . Lavandula oil shows wide-spectrum antifungal activity and is highly potent. This is a good starting point for developing this oil for clinical use to manage fungal infections. "         ~Professor Ligia Salgueiro

Since there are so many uses for lavender in so many different areas of your daily life, I thought it might be helpful to list a few of my favorites . . .

Everyday Medicinal Uses for Lavender Oil, Flowers and Leaves
1. Dab a bit of lavender oil on your wrists, temples and sternum – this instantly reduces both stress and anxiety. 
2. Rub a drop or two on your temples to relieve a tension headache.
3. Fill a small pillow with lavender flowers and place over your eyes when you need a little rest.
4. Spray lavender water (click here for instructions to make your own) and spray on your pillow and sheets to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
5. Fill sachets with lavender flowers and leaves to tuck into your linen closet.  This will keep your linens fresh for months.  When hung from your hangers they help repel moths.
6. Plant a row of lavender around your outdoor clothesline so your clothes and linens smell fresh and relaxing.
7. Add a tablespoon of oil to a gallon of laundry detergent to deliver strong antimicrobials to your dirtiest and smelliest of loads.
8. Replace drier sheets with a small sachet of leaves and flowers to your clothes drier for a long lasting fresh fragrance.
9. Add 2 teaspoons of lavender oil to 8 cups of Epsom salts to create your own bath salts that relieve muscle aches, pains and spasms and give you a restful, relaxed night’s sleep.
10. To treat all kinds of skin irritations, blemishes, sunburn, scrapes, cuts, burns and shingles make a concoction of 1 part lavender to 4 parts ionized water and spray area at least 2 times per day.
11. Treat nail fungus by applying lavender oil directly on the entire nail and cuticle.
12. To treat dandruff add ½ teaspoon lavender oil to 12 ounces of shampoo – it’s even more effective when you are already using a shampoo like Avalon’s Lavender Shampoo.
13. To make your hair shiny add a drop or 2 to your hairbrush or to ½ teaspoon to your favorite conditioner.
        14. To help relieve menstrual pain, add 10 drops to ¼ cup almond oil and gently massage your abdomen and lower back.
15. Mix with geranium and tea tree oils and ionized water to make a flea and tick repellant.  Spray on your skin before a hike and on your pets daily for best results.

There is so much more to share about lavender that I’ll finish up tomorrow with some fantastic recipes and gift ideas that feature lavender!
 Dr. P


  1. This is a great post! I love my lavender plants and have used the stems of dried flowers for room fragrance and decorative effect. On my next Mountain Rose Herbs order I am getting some essential lavender oil.
    I have much catching up to do on your blog but I am leaving again for a week so will be even more behind! One Wednesday I hope to catch your radio show live too!
    Thanks Dr. P!

  2. Great stuff Peggy! Who doesn't love Lavender, right? This is where I get my therapeutic grade oils because this company truly cares about the plant kingdom and how we coexist.

  3. I do love lavender and have for years! Thanks for the info on Floacopeia Nita. If anyone is interested can they contact you for more info?