Ingredient Spotlight: Lavender, the Natural Stress Reliever
What is Lavender?
When you think of lavender, an image of proper English ladies sipping tea might spring to mind. However, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a flower that first came into use in its native northern Africa and the Mediterranean long before it arrived on England's civilized shores. Well-known today worldwide for its delicate aroma, the word lavender is derived from the Latin word lavare, “to wash.” With its reputation as a beauty aid, you might recognize lavender from its role in various personal care and skin products, but it might surprise you to know that lavender can also be eaten and even used as a medicine and natural stress reliever.
What Does Lavender Do?
Not only does adding a little lavender contribute a distinctive flowery taste to certain recipes, this humble light purple flower is also rich in vitamins and minerals. A source of vitamin A, beneficial for maintaining sharp vision and eye health as well as supple skin, lavender also provides calcium needed to maintain strong bones and for protection against degenerative conditions like osteoporosis. Lavender is also a wonderful way to get iron, necessary for healthy blood and energy levels.
Lavender’s anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties make it a go-to when you need to soothe irritated or sunburned skin, burns, bug bites, or cuts and scrapes of any kind. In fact, one study in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that lavender worked better than povidine-iodine at healing wounds in rats. Recently, the Journal of Medical Microbiology published a study that showed lavender oil also possesses potent anti-fungal properties, and is effective against many different types of fungi. Reportedly, lavender oil works to attack and obliterate the cell membrane of fungi, thereby destroying the perpetrators. For this reason, lavender oil can also be beneficial for fungal skin conditions, and even concerns like dandruff.
Lavender has also been shown to possess hormone-balancing properties and to relieve the emotional symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). A Japanese study published in the journal Biopsychosocial Medicine summarized, “The present study indicated that lavender aromatherapy as a potential therapeutic modality could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.” Lavender may also even help promote healthy digestion and soothe an upset tummy and nausea.
Lavender as a Natural Stress Reliever
Lavender is perhaps best known as a welcome boon for anxiety and stress and for its ability to help maintain a healthy mood. A review of seven clinical studies performed by Dr. Siegfried Kasper of the Medical University in Vienna and published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice determined that in as little as two weeks, lavender oil was effective in reducing anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Lavender oil was also reported to help with some of the other symptoms that often accompany anxiety, such as trouble falling or staying asleep, while also boosting feelings of general well-being. Along these lines, a separate Korean study determined that the aroma associated with lavender helped female college students who had trouble falling or staying asleep and also worked as a great mood-booster.
How Can You Use Lavender?
To reap the benefits of lavender’s skin-beautifying and healing properties, just add a few drops of lavender oil to your favorite lotion, or to coconut oil, to make a soothing balm. Or add 2-3 drops to about four ounces of water in a spray bottle and spritz lightly over the affected area whenever needed. To take advantage of the stress and tension-relieving benefits of lavender, dab a drop or two of lavender oil on your temples or pulse points, or bruise a handful of fresh lavender flowers or buds and sprinkle in your bath as a natural stress reliever.
If you can’t find fresh flowers, a couple drops of lavender oil in your steaming bath water is also a great way to de-stress at the end of a long day. Another way to enjoy the anxiety-relieving benefits of lavender is as a tea; just sprinkle a handful of pale purple flowers (either fresh or dried) in boiling water to ease tension and help you unwind after a busy day. When it’s time to drift off to dreamland, tuck some dried lavender flowers in a small cloth bag or sachet and put it under your pillow for a tranquil night’s sleep.
Considerations When Using Lavender
Lavender (especially when ingested) might interfere with certain medications, especially those that treat depression or have a sedative effect. If you are taking any medications, have a medical condition, or are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor before using lavender. Caution should also be exercised in the topical use of lavender in children under the age of 18, due to its hormonal-balancing properties.