What it’s good for: Easing insomnia
For those who toss and turn, the scent of lavender may well beat counting sheep—or even popping sleeping pills. In one small 1995 study, British researchers found that infusing the scent of lavender into the rooms of nursing home patients worked just as well as sleep medication. Not only did the patients get to sleep faster, they slept more peacefully. The 1998 study that examined rosemary also found that a brief dose of lavender aromatherapy increased drowsiness. “Lavender has a sedative effect on the central nervous system and releases muscle tension,” says British herbalist McIntyre, author of The Medicinal Garden and ten other herb-related books. In fact, when new patients arrive at McIntyre’s office, nervous about what might be brewing in a back-room cauldron, she pulls out the lavender. “I can see its calming effect,” she says.
How To Grow It: Like rosemary, lavender is a Mediterranean plant. It likes sun and dry, rocky soil that will force it to struggle a bit. It’s slow to germinate, so rather than grow it from seed, it’s best to buy your first plant or pull a side shoot off a friend’s plant and stick it in sandy or light soil to root. It should be planted outdoors and can be happy either in a pot or in the ground. Water it well until it’s established—and during hot summers—but don’t overdo it; lavender doesn’t like soggy roots. In temperate climates, it will come back each spring, sending up its tall stems adorned with tiny purple flowers.
How To Use It: When the flowers open, cut the lavender stalks, tie them in small bunches, and hang them upside down in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Depending on the temperature and humidity, the flowers should dry in two to four weeks. Herbalist and nurse Dorie Byers suggests filling small muslin bags (sold in health food stores for tea) with dried flowers and placing one between your pillow and pillowcase.
You can also make a tea by adding one teaspoon of dried or two teaspoons of fresh blossoms to a cup of boiling water, and letting them steep covered for ten minutes. Strain and drink just before going to sleep. To make a tincture, add approximately 7 ounces of dried lavender flowers to four-fifths of a quart of glycerol (a syrupy alcohol also called “glycerine” and available in health food stores) and one-fifth of a quart of water. Or use one cup brandy or vodka and three cups of water. Cover for two weeks. For sleep, take one teaspoon after dinner and 2 to 3 teaspoons at bedtime.