Healing Herbs: Lavender

Note:

I wanted to take a moment to leave you guys a quick note. When I started this series I had planned on going up and down the alphabet of medicinal herbs. However, I received a special request and decided to get a little sidetracked from the original plan. That being said, this hub is dedicated to the marvelous billybuc!

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What is Lavender?

Lavender is a flowering, evergreen shrub that belongs to the Lavandula genus, the Nepetoideae subfamily, and the Lamiaceae, or mint, family. Though this plant is thought to have originated in Asia, it has a wide distribution that ranges from Macaronesia to Eastern Europe. There are over 39 different species of the lavender plant, and innumerable varieties that came about due to cross pollination. Depending upon the species, these plants may be either herbaceous or annual, small shrubs or low-growing subshrubs.

Growing habits are not the only things that differ between species. For instance, most people associate lavender flowers with the recognizable shade of light purple; however, Lavandula viridis has pineapple yellow blooms, while Kew Red Lavender plants bear a distinctive fuchsia hue, and the Hidcote Purple varieties are a deep, rich shade of royal blue. Leaves also tend to vary from species to species. Most species bear long, slender, downy gray leaves, while other types may boast either feathery or toothy pinnate leaves. Although there are many differences, there are also numerous similarities between the different types of lavender plants. For example, lavender flowers almost invariably burst forth from thick, spike-like stems that open into a tubular calyx with five individual lobes.

Lavender has a long history of usage, which dates back more than 2000 years. Ancient Egyptians used this plant in mummification practices, and to help sweeten the scent of their skin. From the Egyptians, the Greeks learned that this beautifully scented plant can be made into perfumes. However, they took it one step further, and began to use it for medicinal purposes. Those who lived during the Renaissance followed in the footsteps of the early Greeks, and used lavender plants to ward off infections during the bubonic plague. As time went by, this fantastic flower moved from area to area, causing quite a stir. During the Victorian era, Queen Victoria, who had a particular fondness for the perfume of this plant, started something of a trend, causing some of the best families in England to use it as everything from a skin cleanser to a household detergent. This new-found trend caused a spike in the demand for lavender, resulting in its commercial growth. Since then, this fragrant little plant has not decreased in popularity, and is widely grown throughout France and Canada, the United States and Japan, Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.

Though throughout history lavender has been largely prized for its sweet, delicate smell, it is also surprisingly useful as an herbal medicine. The many benefits of lavender are likely due to the plethora of healthful natural compounds that can be found throughout the body of the plant. Some of these compounds include a high concentration of limonene, rosmarinic and caffeic acids, as well as the vitamins A and C, plus calcium and a small degree of protein.

What Are the Benefits of Lavender?

Although the lavender flower is widely used in aromatherapy to help relieve the symptoms of depression, stress, and insomnia, it actually has many alternative applications. For example, it is used for:

Skin Complaints and Trauma:

This medicinal herb is packed with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and antiviral properties, and because of this, it is frequently used to treat everything from acne to bug bites. It is also said to speed the healing process and reduce pain, so many people who practice herbalism will recommend that you use a lavender decoction or tea on sunburned or broken skin.

Weakened Immune System and Poor Circulation:

Cortisol, or the "stress hormone," is said to cause a drop in the function of the immune system. Lavender is thought to help boost the immune system by causing the body to relax, which, in turn, will result in a drop in cortisol levels. And, just a side note, this decrease in stress hormones may also have the added benefit of a reduction in belly fat. In addition to boosting the immune system, the lavender flower is also thought to promote healthy circulation, which is not only good for the body as a whole, but is also thought to improve weight loss and skin texture.

Hair Loss and Dandruff:

Because this plant is thought to have a benefit to the immune system, it is no surprise that it can be used to treat certain types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata. Additionally, lavender oils, when frequently massaged into the scalp, are thought to help stimulate and strengthen roots, causing an increase in hair growth and a decrease in hair loss. Additionally, as this plant is incredibly moisturizing, it is also said to help calm and reduce dandruff.

Other Potential Uses:

In addition to the above mentioned conditions, this fantastic medicinal herb can be used to treat the flu, colds, and asthma. It is also said to be useful in calming headaches and migraines, arthritis and neuralgia. Lavender may also be useful in curing halitosis, or bad breath, head lice, abscesses, and indigestion.

Side Effects and Warnings:

Though lavender is generally considered safe, those about to undergo surgery should discontinue use at least two weeks before their operation. Those who consume lavender oil should do so with caution, as over consummation or prolonged exposure may cause toxicity, which, depending upon the amount taken, can result in death. Milder side effects can include an increase in appetite, constipation, skin rash, and headaches. Those taking Chloral Hydrate or any type of sedative medication should reduce or avoid use of this medicinal herb, as it can augment the effects of your medication.

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Comments 12 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Marvelous? Me? You honor me with a hub? Thank you so much for answering my request. That really was very sweet of you and I appreciate it greatly. Great hub by the way; almost forgot to mention that. :)


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

Haha! Well, I am glad that you liked it, and I'm glad to have been able to write and dedicate it to a lovely gent such as yourself!


formosangirl profile image

formosangirl 4 years ago from Los Angeles

My backyard smells great. I cut some from my neighborhood's yard and grew them. Ironically, when his wall fell, he had to pull up his. Great hub!


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

That is a shame that he had to pull up his plants, but I'm glad to hear how marvelous your yard smells. Thank you for you comment, formosangirl!


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 4 years ago

Thanks for this! I love lavender and grow a little when I can.


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

It was a pleasure to write, Xenonlit. Thank you for reading! Lavender is pretty extraordinary, and I need to get on growing a patch of my own soon. :-)


Curiad profile image

Curiad 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

Very interesting hub mvaivata. I learned a lot about Lavender, all I knew before is that it had a pleasant fragrance. Thank you!

Voted Up!


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

Well, thank you, Curiad! When I started researching flowers, it also took me by surprise how useful they really are.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

I love lavender! I use the essential oils for my massages. Do you have any idea how to use lavender for hair loss and dandruff! Any recipe for this? Thank you;-)


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

Thelma Alberts: As you know, massage is great for circulation, and on its own can be great for improving hair loss and dandruff. If you want to use lavender in your head massages, you can absolutely use the oil (mixed with a good carrier, like olive or coconut oil). For an even better effect, give this recipe a try:

Ingredients:

1. Two tablespoons of unflavored yogurt

2. A half teaspoon of olive oil

3. 5-10 drops of skin-grade lavender oil

4. A 25mg dry zinc capsule

5. 1 teaspoon of liquid aloe vera juice

6. 1 teaspoon steeped fenugreek tea

Directions:

In a plastic container with a lid, thoroughly mix the yogurt with the olive oil. Make sure it is well blended before use, as these ingredients tend to separate. Next, crush the zinc capsule until it is a fine powder, and mix the power in with the conditioner/olive oil mixture. Slowly blend the rest of the ingredients with the yogurt/oil/zinc concoction.

This recipe will likely make a few applications, so be sure to keep the container tightly sealed and cold. To use this concoction, scoop up a bit of the mixture into your fingers, and massage it into the scalp. Massage lightly for about 5-10 minutes. Next, let the mixture sit on your head for another 5-10 minutes. If you can, place warm rags around your head to help improve absorption. Rinse the mixture off, let your hair dry naturally, then comb it as usual.

In addition to the herbs in the recipe, you can also add rosemary oil, apple cider vinegar, or evening primrose oil for dandruff, and dong quai, saw palmetto, or red pepper for hair loss.

If any of this causes irritation, it is important to stop using it right away -- you don't want to make the situation worse. If the irritation continues, you should consult your doctor. Though these ingredients are generally pretty mild, everyone is different and you may have a sensitivity to them.

I hope that this helps a bit. If you have any more questions please feel free to ask, and do let me know how this goes if you decide to try it. :-)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

What a surprise! Who knew so much about lavender? You've done a great job of informing us about the history of lavender and it's many wonderful uses. Voted up, interesting and useful.


mvaivata profile image

mvaivata 4 years ago Author

Why thank you, tillsontitan! I am glad to be able to share! :-)

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