Lavender: A Medicine Cabinet Must-Have
Lavender adorns fence rows, flower beds and patio pots everywhere. The fragrance alone suggests charm and whimsy to any area blessed by it's company. But don't let the diminutive blossoms fool you. Lavender packs a punch. Not only is it fragrant, but for the past 2500 years it's also been widely known for it's medicinal benefits as well, making lavender a medicine-cabinet must-have.
I always had a source of lavender handy when my kids were growing up. I used it on everything from wasp stings and burns to a tepid soak to bring a fever down and calm body aches. One of my grown sons came to love it so much he keeps a bottle of its essential oil with him still for when his asthma bothers him. Its benefits are so plentiful you can't go wrong. It's natural, pleasant smelling and can perform so many tasks it'll literally save room in your cabinet.
What is Lavender?
Lavender is an evergreen member of the mint family of the Lavandula genus. There are 39 different known varieties, but for the purpose of the uses and benefits presented in this article, we will be talking about the most common, Lavandula augustafolia, also known as English lavender although it was never native to that country. Benefits between varieties will be similar.
Lavender is a hearty shrub which prefers sandy and well-drained soil. If you decide to plant lavender, be ready for it to spread. If you don't want to fight with it, or if you live in an apartment, it makes an excellent potted plant for any balcony or patio. It likes a sunny and well-ventilated environment. It will remain a perennial if the pot is taken inside or sheltered if you have very cold winters and cut back the dead foliage in the fall or early spring. It grows from 1 to 2 feet tall and produces narrow fragrant leaves as well as spikes of beautiful little purple flowers.
I've had pots of English lavender on my balcony and the fragrance in the early mornings was heavenly. Having the plants is also a good way to attract colorful butterflies to your environment. You may also have visits from honey bees as well as hummingbirds.
The spikes can be harvested and dried to bring their fragrance into your home. The buds can be harvested and dried for use in cooking, teas or in a soothing bath. The leaves can be snapped off and the oils applied to bites or burns, or inhaled for relaxation and headache relief. It's like having a medicine cabinet in a pot!
A Brief History of Lavender Use
Lavender has wafted its way through 2500 years of human history as a medicinal and culinary herb. It has blessed and fragranced medicine cabinets and cultures from ancient Egypt and Phoenicia to Rome and Medieval Europe.
Ancient Egyptians were believed to be the first distillers of lavender oil. It was used in the embalming process and flasks containing lavender fragrance were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. It's believed Queen Alexandria wore it's fragrance as she wooed Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar. Cones of pure lavender we placed on the foreheads of the wealthy deceased to perfume their corpses.
The Phoenicians used lavender in cooking, bathing and freshening the air.
The Romans used lavender freely. It was commonly used in the baths for bathing, in their hair, hung it over their beds and used for healing wounds and fighting infections. It was even smoked.
Sixth century Arabs also lauded lavender's healing abilities and this knowledge was spread along with their campaigns. It's believed some of the earliest varieties of lavender were domesticated thanks to the Arabs.
Lavender's medicinal use became cloistered in the medicine cabinets Middle Age Europe. The plants and knowledge all but died out to the populace, but monks kept the knowledge of it's benefits as well as it's plants in their monastery gardens. Once Henry the VIII dissolved the monasteries, lavender's purple blooms began populating household gardens throughout the countryside. It was used extensively in the laundry process and plants were commonly found outside laundry rooms. Clothing and sheets were often laid over the plants to dry. It was Queen Elisabeth who originally encouraged the development and creation of lavender farms across her lands to satisfy demand.
Lavender has continued to wind it's fragrance throughout our history right into our modern day medicine cabinets.
Quick List of Conditions Lavender Helps With:
- Athlete’s foot
- Upset stomach
- Wound care
- Burn care
- Bee stings
- Muscle soreness
- Joint pain
Medicinal Benefits of Lavendar
Okay, now let's look at why lavender is a medicine cabinet-must have. Lavender is the work horse of the herb world. It can be used in teas, baths, soaps, household cleaners, laundry detergent, room diffusers, sachets, massage oils, linaments, shampoos; well the list is almost endless.
Did you know you don't even have to ingest lavender to enjoy it's medicinal benefit? The oils present in it's clean fragrance can penetrate cell walls and deliver rapid relief for a headache just by breaking and inhaling a leaf. It also works to lift a dull appetite, calm anxiety and relax you. A little cloth bag filled with dried lavender blossoms and securely tied can be tossed into your clothes dryer to freshen your linens and infuse them with the soft, clean, calming fragrance.
Try it as a pleasant-smelling insect repellant. Mosquitoes and flies don't like it's strong aroma. It can be used to get rid of head lice and has been used as a treatment throughout the ages. It also works great to relieve itchy bites and stings. One of the most effective treatments I ever found for a sting was a few drops of lavender essential oil mixed into bentonite clay and dabbed onto the sting. The clay helps to draw the venom and the lavender works to reduce the pain and swelling as well as fighting infection. It's soothing effect also helps calm the little-one who's been stung.
Lavender is a natural antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. As a result, it works beautifully in salves, linaments, oils and soaks for a natural way to deal with joint, muscle and wound pain. It also helps combat athlete's foot.
Toss some dried blossoms into hot water along with your favorite tea leaves for a cup of tea to soothe an upset stomach and relax yourself. It can also help with any respiratory ailments or problems you may have like cough, cold, bronchitis or asthma. The tea also makes a great mouthwash if you want to be rid of halitosis.
So, these are the things you can do with dried lavender. Let's move on to the most beneficial form of lavender for your medicine chest.
Lavender Essential Oil In Your Medicine Cabinet
Lavender essential oil, in my opinion is one amazing substance. If you're not familiar, essential oil is derived by steam distilling the plant material. What is left is the pure oil. Essential oils are considered volatile oils. What this means is that the molecules of the oil can travel and be passed rapidly and directly through cellular walls and speed their benefits to where you need them most. Just inhaling the essential oil is enough to reap a huge benefit.
Of interest about the chemistry of essential oils, and a quite humbling fact, is that if a laboratory tried to combine all the chemicals found in it in the proper proportions with the best human efforts possible, they could not create such a perfect substance that would produce the same benefits of a 100% pure natural essential oil. These oils can contain hundreds of components, and sometimes as many as thousands.
Lavender essential oil is one of only 2 essential oils that can be used directly on the skin without diluting it. (Please refer to the cautionary note.) This enables you to apply it directly to bites, stings, burns and aching joints. You can even use it on pets.
I have personally used lavender essential oil in a warm bath to help relieve joint pain and inflammation as well as for just good old fashioned relaxing. It also relieves, rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago and muscular aches and pains, especially those associated with sport.
Using lavender oil on your skin mixed in a cream or light carrier oil will help tone and invigorate your skin. It's also great for treating acne, balancing oily skin, abscesses and psoriasis.
I feel like I've hardly touched on all the uses and benefits that can come out of one little bottle of lavender essential oil. Out of all the forms of lavender, the essential oil is definitely a medicine cabinet must-have.
A Cautionary Note Concerning Responsible Medicinal Lavender Use
- Keep out of reach of children and away from the eyes and mucous membranes.
- With the first use of essential oil, mix with carrier oil and test on your skin. Lavender essential oil may produce a sensitivity in some people. This is the best way to assure.
- If you feel a sensitivity or uncomfortable warmth, then dilute further with vegetable oil or massage oil rather than water. Do NOT use water as it will actually intensify the effect.
- Do NOT use without consulting a physician if you are pregnant or nursing, or have any other serious health conditions you are under regular physician's care for.
- Store oils tightly closed, at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight.
- Do not use near fire, flames, heat, or sparks.
- Note specific cautions on individual bottles of oil prior to use.
- Consult your health care professional prior to using on infants or small children.
- Dilute all oils before using them on children under the age of three.
More Reading About Lavender
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