Have you seen those breathtaking photos of undulating fields in Provence or some other romantic location filled with purple flowers as far as the eye can see? Chances are you’re looking at lavender, a beautiful aromatic small shrub that grows on most continents. Even if you don’t live in Provence or own acres of land, you can still get up close and personal with lavender. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
While lavender is an obvious visual and olfactory indulgence, its value goes far beyond these sensory experiences. The plant has a long and illustrious history as traditional medicine in many cultures. Lavender use has been traced back at least 2500 years when it was used for mummification and perfumery by the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Arabs. Ancient Romans are also believed to have used lavender for cooking, bathing and scenting the air. Today, science is revealing the incredible properties lavender possesses to reduce depression, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and anxiety, as well as combating insomnia and repelling insects.
1. A joint Canadian and Iranian study compared the effects of a medication for depression to drinking tea made from lavender flowers. The researchers found that the lavender was slightly more effective than the anti-depressant drugs without any of the dangerous side effects often present with these types of drugs. The researchers concluded that lavender might be used as an adjunct to anti-depressant drugs or on its own to assist with symptoms of depression. The study participants drank two cups of an infusion made with lavender daily. This can be made by adding two teaspoons of dried flowers to boiled water and letting it sit for 10 minutes before straining and drinking the tea. Of course, never discontinue any medications without consulting your physician.
2. According to James Duke, botanist and author of The Green Pharmacy, lavender is an excellent insomnia remedy. He recounts stories of British hospitals using lavender essential oil in patients’ baths or sprinkled onto bed clothes to help them sleep. To use in a bath, sprinkle 5 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil under the water as the tub fills to allow the oils to disperse. Alternatively, place a heaping tablespoon of dried lavender flowers in cheesecloth, tie into a bundle and allow the flowers to infuse in the bathwater while soaking.
3. In a South African study comparing the effects of lavender essential oil to DEET-based tick repellents, lavender showed comparable results to the DEET sprays. At a 5 percent concentration, the insect-repellent results of the lavender oil lasted for 40 minutes while at a 10 percent or higher concentration of the essential oil, the results lasted for two hours. Add 10 to 20 drops of lavender essential oil to a dollop of your favorite unscented cream and apply before heading outdoors.
4. A Japanese study published in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine found that inhaling the scent of lavender for ten minutes had a significant effect on the nervous system of women suffering from premenstrual symptoms. It especially decreased feelings of depression and confusion.
While lavender plants and dried lavender are readily available, the plant is fairly easy to grow in gardens, yards and pots. It grows best in a sunny location with well-drained soil and is found in most plant nurseries. You can also grow lavender from seed as it tends to be quite hardy. It needs watering to get started but most varieties are quite drought tolerant and need infrequent watering after the plant takes hold.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is a board-certified doctor of natural medicine and certified herbalist, as well as an international best-selling and 19-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.