Healing Herbs: Lavender
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!
How to Use Medicinal Herbs: Lavender
- How to Use Medicinal Herbs: Lavender
Find out the many ways that you can use lavender to benefit your health.
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.