Green thumbs, tea aficionados, and lavender lovers. Welcome to the first edition of the Herb Blog. Thanks for stopping by to learn about all things Lavender. My name is Kyle and I will be doing a deep dive about the uses, benefits, and stories associated with this aromatic herb you may already be growing yourself.
Lavender, otherwise known as Lavandula is a genus of 42 species of flowering plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae), native to countries bordering the Mediterranean. My family grew 130 varieties of Lavender through their business Blue Heron Herbary on Sauvies Island. This herb holds a special place in my heart. It is cultivated globally in temperate climates for gardens & landscapes, commonly used as a culinary herb or for the extraction of essential oil.
Lavender is a herbaceous perennial plant typically blooming in spring through late summer here in Portland, Oregon. The flowers bloom in shades of purple, blue, and violet attracting all sorts of insects and pollinators. This herb has been shown to have a broad range of effects in the body, as an essential oil, an oral supplement, and a topical cream or salve.
Uses and Benefits
Linalool is the powerful terpene we associate with the smell of lavender, easily accessed with a gentle rub of the flower bud. I'm a sucker for science, & the science is in Linalool so let's break it down. Researchers at Kagoshima University in 2018 found that mice exposed to the smell showed fewer signs of anxiety. The Kagoshima experiment found that mice who had no sense of smell did not experience the same anti-anxiety effects when sniffing lavender as mice that could smell, thus proving that the effect of linalool is on the olfactory neurons in the nose.
Once the smell hits the olfactory neurons, messages are sent to a part at the front of the brain called the ‘olfactory bulb’, which also stores memories and emotion. Linalool interacts with the neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), to quiet the brain and nervous system. From here, GABA gets involved and when GABA attaches to a protein in your brain known as a GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect. Messages are sent to various parts of the nervous system, relaxing the entire body.
Lavender oil is a popular aromatherapy choice for sleep and relaxation. Several studies show using lavender oil for aromatherapy can improve sleep quality, including in people with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Aromatherapy using lavender oil may also increase time spent in deep, slow-wave sleep.
Lavender has been well studied for its anxiolytic, or anxiety relieving, effects. Some studies suggest oral lavender may work as effectively as anti-anxiety medications to improve anxiety. Scientists have found similar types of results for lavender’s effectiveness in treating depression. Both lavender taken orally and lavender used in aromatherapy may improve mild-to-moderate depression.
Lavender is a natural pain reliever (analgesic) and also a natural antibiotic. Lavender used for aromatherapy, in massage, and topically can be effective in improving several different forms of pain, including: headache & migraine, toothache, pain during labor, osteoarthritis pain, ear pain associated with infection, & post surgical pain.
Lavender has been used for thousands of years, such as in the mummification process in Egypt, in first aid kits in Roman wars, in Victorian era household cleaners, and more.
Beyond scenting bed linen and clothing, lavender was hung above doors to protect against evil spirits. We know now it’s a strong antimicrobial that may help prevent certain diseases.
Sixteenth-century glovemakers who perfumed their ware with the herb were said to not catch cholera. Seventh-century thieves who washed in lavender after robbing graves didn’t get the plague. In the 19th century, gypsy travelers sold bunches of lavender on the streets of London to bring people good luck and protect against ill fortune.
In Spain and Portugal, lavender was traditionally strewn on the floor of churches or thrown into bonfires to avert evil spirits on St. John’s Day. In Tuscany, pinning a sprig of lavender to your shirt was a traditional way to ward against the evil eye. Queen Elizabeth I of England had fresh lavender in vases at her table every day.
The Greek physician to the Roman army, Dioscorides, wrote that lavender taken internally would relieve indigestion, sore throats, headaches, and externally cleaned wounds. The Romans named the plant after its use in their bathing rituals (“lava” is to wash), realizing lavender isn’t only relaxing, but also antiseptic.
Sixteenth-century English herbalist John Parkinson wrote that lavender was “especially good use for all griefes and paines of the head and brain,” and Charles VI of France insisted his pillow always contain lavender so he could get a good night’s sleep.
In Asian traditional medicine, lavender has long been used for its “cooling” effect and for helping the “Shen,” or mind, by cooling the heart, helping people relax and find relief from troubles in the mind that give rise to tension in the body.
In more recent history, lavender became famous for its skin healing when René-Maurice Gattefossé, the 1930s French chemist, burned his hand in his laboratory. He applied lavender oil to treat the burn and was so impressed by the quick healing process that he published a book, “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales,” and coined the word aromatherapy (the therapy of aromatic plants). Lavender was used by doctors during WWII to heal wounds.
At the same time, a French biochemist, Marguerite Maury, developed a unique method of applying these oils to the skin with massage — hence the practice of aromatherapy massage — now used all over the world.
I grow lavender for the bees and for my herbal teas. I also make a lavender salve/lotion, lip balm, and infused apricot seed oil. There are so many great ways to use lavender. I hope you have some growing in your garden, if not you can always pick some up from my booth at the weekly farmers market. Thanks for reading, see you soon.