When you hear the word “lavender,” you might immediately think of a lighter shade of purple. But there’s more to this herb than its color.
Read on to learn about possible health benefits of lavender, as well as other uses and potential risks that come with using the herb.
What Exactly Is Lavender?
Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family that’s easily identified by its sweet floral scent. It’s believed to be native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and India, with a history dating as far back as 2,500 years. (1)
In ancient times, lavender was used as a holy herb. Additionally, it was often used to freshen up and give a light scent to a variety of personal items, such as clothes and hair. (1)
What Are Possible Health Benefits of Lavender?
Today, lavender is more than just a fragrant plant. As it turns out, this herb is also commonly used for medicinal and therapeutic benefits. So if you’re dealing with a few medical issues of your own, and you don’t want to risk the unpleasant side effects that come with many over-the-counter and prescription medicines, here’s a look at the potential health perks of using lavender.
May Help Improve Sleep
Insomnia?is a nagging problem that keeps you tossing and turning throughout the night. Cutting out?caffeine?and getting more?exercise?might help induce?sleep. But sometimes these efforts and others remedies don’t work. As a result, you end up a groggy mess in the daytime.
If you’re willing to try anything for a restful night’s sleep, a study published in March 2017 in the?British Association of Critical Nurses?found lavender essential oil to be an effective remedy in improving the sleep quality of intensive care unit (ICU) patients who had difficulty sleeping. (2)
So if you’ve tried other sleep remedies to no avail, place a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow before going to sleep tonight. Just be sure not to ingest it, or any other essential oil, for that matter, as doing so may pose health harms.
Could Help Treat Skin Blemishes
A variety of essential oils are also excellent for dermatology use, including lavender. In fact, if you have acne,?eczema, or skin inflammation, applying lavender oil to affected areas may play a role in treating blemishes and ease inflammation, according to a paper published in May 2017 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (3) For?those with sensitive skin, dilute the essential oil in water or a carrier oil.
The antioxidant activity of lavender?may also contribute to wound healing. (3)
Just be sure to check with your dermatologist before adding lavender to your skincare regimen, to ensure it won’t interact with any of the medication you’re currently taking.
May Offer a Natural Remedy for Pain
Some people reach for over-the-counter pain relievers when dealing with acute or chronic pain. And depending on the severity of pain, you might seek a prescription from your doctor.
Before going the traditional route to help ease pain, try aromatherapy with 2 percent lavender essential oil that is diluted in water. One study found lavender to be an effective remedy for postoperative pain. It can function as a pain reliever because the oil contains linalyl acetate and linalool — anti-inflammatory components that are found in many essential oils. (4,5)
Lavender also contains polysaccharides. Another study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research stated that plants containing these molecules are “the most potent in curing inflammatory diseases,” which includes arthritis and rheumatism. (6)
Meanwhile, other research suggests lavender aromatherapy may be used during labor to reduce the intensity, though not the duration of, pain. (7)
Reduce Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Chronic high blood pressure puts added stress on the heart, increasing the risk of health complications like stroke and heart attack. But a small study published in 2017 in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research found that when 40 people inhaled lavender essential oil after open-heart surgery, they reduced their blood pressure and heart rate, suggesting the oil had a positive effect on their vital signs. (8) Yet the authors note more research is needed on this possible benefit — namely, a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard for medical research, with a larger sample size.
Could Relieve Asthma Symptoms
Because of the anti-inflammatory effects of lavender, it may also improve bronchial asthma. A study on mice published in July 2014 in the journal Life Sciences found that lavender essential oil had a positive impact on respiratory health, relieving allergic inflammation and mucus hyperplasia. Whether the same effect would be seen in humans remains unclear. (9)
Lessens Menopausal Hot Flashes
Hot flashes (or hot flushes) are a common menopause symptom that affects many women. It causes a sudden feeling of heat over the body, and it can make the face flushed and trigger perspiration.
But lavender aromatherapy for 20 minutes twice a day may help reduce menopause flashing and improve quality of life, according to a study published in September 2016 in the Journal of Chinese Medical Association. (10)
Help Combat Fungus Growth
There are also a number of studies highlighting the potential antifungal activity of lavender. Studies suggest lavender essential oil may be effective in inhibiting the growth of certain types of fungus, such as C. albicans. The oil could also act as remedy for treating athlete’s foot and ringworm, which are also caused by fungus, according to previous research. (11,12)
Potentially Promotes Hair Growth
In yet another study, lavender essential oil applied to the backs of mice once a day, five times a week, for four weeks, resulted in an increase in their number of hair follicles and a thicker dermal layer. This leads researchers to believe that lavender could potentially be used as a hair growth promoting agent, though more research is needed. After all, you aren’t a mouse. (13)
What Is Lavender’s Effect on Stress Levels?
Everyday stresses can take a toll on your mental health. The greater your anxiety level, the higher the risk for headaches, depression, and low energy.
The good news is that lavender may help lift the black cloud hanging over your head and give your mental outlook a much-needed pick-me-up. There’s plenty of research that suggests lavender has positive effects on mood, stress, anxiety, and depression.
For example, a randomized controlled trial published in February 2018 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that premenstrual syndrome symptoms improved in women who inhaled lavender essential oil. (14) They experienced lower anxiety, depression, and nervousness. Likewise, another randomized controlled trial, published in October 2017 in the International Journal of Nursing Practices, found that reflexology massage treatments with lavender essential oil offered psychological benefits, decreasing both anxiety and depression. (15)
What Are Some of the Different Forms of Lavender?
Lavender is available in different forms. For example:
Lavender Oil Nectar extracted from the flowering plant is used to create a fragrant oil. The oil can be massaged into the skin, placed in a diffuser, or applied to a pillow or cotton swab and inhaled for aromatherapy.
Lavender Plant This is a sweetly scented perennial plant. It adds color to a garden and gives off a sweet aroma. (1)
Lavender Capsules or Supplements You can also purchase lavender as a supplement in capsule form. Take as directed for medicinal benefits — just be sure to work with your healthcare provider to ensure the supplement won’t have negative interactions with any medication you’re taking. Also, know that supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lavender Tea This form of lavender can offer a calming beverage that helps ease anxiety and promotes sleep. The?U.S. Department of Agriculture's?MyPlate?guidelines lists lavender?tea as a healthy additional to your meal plan.?You can purchase lavender tea, or make your own by steeping fresh lavender buds in boiling water for about 15 to 20 minutes. (16,17)
What’s the Best Way to Select and Store Lavender?
It helps to familiarize yourself with the different botanical names for lavender before purchasing. This way, you’ll select the right type based on how you plan to use the herb.
Lavandula stoechas is for emotional, skin, respiratory, and muscular support, but it’s often used under the care of a trained professional. To help with nervousness, headaches, insomnia, menstrual cramps, or respiratory problems, you can select Lavandula angustifolia. (18)
On the other hand, Lavandula latifolia can help with headaches, respiratory issues, inflammation, bug bites, and muscular or joint pain. (18)
Fortunately, you don’t have to remember these specific details when shopping for lavender. Product label should tell you exactly how to use the oil or supplement, and the health benefits of that particular type of lavender.
Also, be sure to look for 100 percent pure, therapeutic-grade lavender when using the herb for medicinal purposes.
When you buy lavender essential oil, proper storage is important for maintaining the shelf life of the herb. (19)
For lavender essential oil, make sure you close the bottle after each use and keep the product stored in a cool, dry place. (19) The same applies for lavender supplements or capsules. Discontinue use once the supplement expires.
Tips for How to Plant and Care for Lavender
Lavender should be planted in the spring. You can wait until summer or fall, but the earlier the better to ensure the plants are strong enough to survive the upcoming winter. (20)
Ideally, you should allow about two to three feet between each plant, and don’t plant in areas that receive a lot of moisture. This is a low-maintenance plant, so you only need to water about once or twice a week as the plants start to grow, and then slowly cut, watering to every two to three weeks. (20)
Begin harvesting when about half of the buds open. Cut the stems long for easy bundling, and then place the lavender bundles in a cool, dark place to dry. (20)
Other Uses for Lavender
Bugs are a nuisance during the summer and warmer months. You might be happy to learn that lavender may act as a natural bug repellent, keeping away a variety of critters, like flies, mosquitoes, and moths. (21)
Also, you can place lavender in different areas around the house to help freshen the smell of a stale room. This can include the laundry room, the garage, and closets. Or dab a little bit of the essential oil on your finger and place some of the oil around your neck for a natural perfume. (16)
You’ll find that lavender is also an ingredient in some soaps, lotions, and body washes. These products can leave your skin moisturized and promote a calm, relaxing feeling after bathing. (16)
Surprisingly, dried culinary lavender can also be used in recipes. Experiment with the herb yourself and make a Honey-Plum Lavender Gratin, or maybe Hint-of-Herb Butter Cookies.
Are There Any Side Effects to Using Lavender That You Should Know?
Lavender hasn’t been approved by the FDA, so it’s important to be aware of potential health risks or side effects of using this herb.
For example, you shouldn’t drink lavender oil because it can be poisonous when ingested. Symptoms of poisoning can include difficulty breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you prefer taking lavender orally, make sure you buy lavender supplements and take as directed. (22)
Keep in mind that some people are sensitive to lavender, and may experience an upset stomach, joint pain, or a headache after using. (22)
Although lavender is okay on the skin, there’s the risk of an allergic reaction or skin irritation. Signs of a reaction include bumps, redness, or a burning sensation. Stop using if you have signs of sensitivity or a reaction.
There’s also evidence of repeated lavender use causing a rare condition called prepubertal gynecomastia, which is enlarged breast tissue in boys prior to puberty. (23)
The Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Lavender
Q: Where is it best to plant lavender?
A: Lavender can be planted in different regions, but some plants don’t thrive in humid climates. Lavender tends to grow best in the West. The best time to plant lavender is in the spring to ensure the plants become strong before winter. (20)
Q: What is the symbolic meaning of lavender?
A: Lavender flowers are purple in color, and the color purple has been used as a symbol of royalty and elegance. Lavender flowers are also associated with serenity, calmness, and purity. (16)
Q: What can lavender be used for?
A: Lavender can be used for potential medicinal and therapeutic purposes — insomnia, acne, depression, anxiety, hair loss, high blood pressure, and pain. It can also function as a natural fragrance, and some recipes call for the buds and flowers of lavender plants. (2,3,4,5)
Q: What does lavender repel?
A: Lavender can deter certain household pests, such as moths, flies, mosquitoes, and fleas. Keep a bouquet of lavender on your front or back porch to repel unwanted guests. (21)
Q: Is lavender toxic to humans?
A: When used for aromatherapy, lavender oil is not dangerous or toxic. But ingesting the oil can cause unpleasant symptoms, like diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing difficulty. Still, lavender capsules may be safe to take orally. Just be sure to clear it with your healthcare provider first. (22)
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A Final Word on Lavender Benefits and Whether to Use It
As you can see, lavender is far more than just a color or a vibrant plant. Between its pleasant aroma and its potential to help you cope with a variety of ailments, you may benefit from adding this remedy to your regimen — whether the lavender is in oil, capsule, or tea form.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- Karadag E, Samancioglu S, Bakir E, et al. Effects of Aromatherapy on Sleep Quality and Anxiety of Patients.British Association of Critical Nurses. March 22, 2017.
- Orchard A, Vuuren S. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. May 4, 2017.
- Huang S, Fang L, Fang S-H. The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy With Lavender Essential Oil in Relieving Post Arthroscopy Pain. JMED Research. May 28, 2014.
- Peana AT, D’Aquila PS, Panin F, et al. Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Linalool and Linalyl Acetate Constituents of Essential Oils. Phytomedicine. December 9, 2002.
- Darshan S, Doreswamy R. Patented Anti-Inflammatory Plant Drug Development From Traditional Medicine.Phytotherapy Research. May 26, 2004.
- Yazdkhasti M, Pirak A. The Effect of Aromatherapy With Lavender Essence on Severity of Labor Pain and Duration of Labor in Primiparous Women. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. November 2016.
- Salamati A, Mashouf S, Mojab F, et al. Effect of Inhalation of Lavender Essential Oil on Vital Signs in Open Heart Surgery ICU. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. 2017.
- Ueno-lio T, Shibakura M, Yokota K, et al. Lavender Essential Oil Inhalation Suppresses Allergic Airway Inflammation and Mucous Cell Hyperplasia in a Murine Model of Asthma.Life Sciences. July 17, 2014.
- Kazemzadeh R, Nikjou R, Rostamnegad M, et al. Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Menopause Hot Flushing: A crossover Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Chinese Medical Association. September 2016.
- D’Auria FD, Tecca M, Strippoli V, et al. Antifungal Activity of Lavandula Angustifolia Essential Oil Against Candida Albicans Yeast and Mycelial Form. Medical Mycology. August 2005.
- Lavender Oil Has Potent Antifungal Effect. Society for General Microbiology. February 16, 2011.
- Lee B, Lee J, Kim YC. Hair Growth-Promoting Effects of Lavender Oil in C57BL/6 Mice. Toxicological Research. April 2016.
- Uzun?akmak T, Ayaz Alkaya S. Effect of Aromatherapy on Coping With Premenstrual Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. February 2018.
- Bahrami T, Rejeh N, Heravi Karimooi M, et al. Effect of Aromatherapy Massage on Anxiety, Depression, and Physiologic Parameters in Older Patients With the Acute Coronary Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial.International Journal of Nursing Practices. October 25, 2017.
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- Henry J. Lavender Mint Tea. All Recipes.
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- Plants That Repel Mosquitoes and Other Insects. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. June 13, 2018.
- Lavender. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. November 30, 2016.
- Lavender and Tea Tree Oils May Cause Breast Growth in Boys. National Institutes of Health. January 31, 2007.