Lavender Essential Oil: History, Benefits, and More
Prepare for better sleep, better thoughts, and better health for your skin and digestive system!
Lavender is the swiss army knife of essential oils.
That is why it is so popular. That’s why there are so many cosmetic, odorous, and medicinal products made with lavender from candles and lotions to nasal strips and car fresheners.
And that’s why essential oil users take lavender with them everywhere.
Emotionally, lavender has a grounding, relaxing influence that is nice to have around when life throws you an emotional curveball. Say your car breaks down, your sister calls with bad news, or you’ve simply had a stressful day—lavender can help you calm down and approach your problems in an emotionally healthy way.
As for the physical benefits, you’ve probably been in plenty of situations already where lavender would have been useful.
- Have you ever heard a child screaming from the pain of an insect sting?
- Do you often wake up because your spouse is tossing and turning at 2 AM?
- Did someone cut or burn themselves while preparing dinner?
Lavender has been known to help improve sleep, alleviate anxiety, and even help treat skin blemishes. It’s the perfect oil for those who want to be prepared for anything.
Best Uses for Lavender
History of Lavender
It’s difficult to say exactly when lavender became so popular. Mankind has probably enjoyed the smell of lavender since long before there was any recorded history.
We do know that the Egyptians, masters of perfume and pioneers of cosmetics, used a less-concentrated form of lavender than the essential oils used today, to embalm the dead and perfume the living.
So, yeah, popular for a really long time.
Lavender didn’t stay in Egypt though. It spread to the Greeks and Romans who used it against insomnia, insect bites, “sadness”, laxative purposes, and as a perfume for their baths. In fact, the Latin word “lavare”, “to wash”, is the suspected root of lavender’s name.
Lavender went on to be used as a plague deterrent in medieval Europe, an anxiolytic in China, and a pillow-stuffing for King Charles VI of France.
Another reason that lavender deserves its place at the forefront of aromatherapy is that it was a favorite of René-Maurice Gattefossé, the father of aromatherapy. After an accidental explosion in his lab, Gattefossé was surprised at how well lavender oil healed his burns.
Gattefossé’s work was continued by Dr. Jean Valnet in the 20th century, and now lavender is a growing, global industry catering to millions who want phytochemical solutions to their anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and other issues.
H2: Lavender Essential Oil Uses
Emotional Benefits of Lavender
We all want to be able to go through our day with clarity, purpose, and energy. We all want to be able to enjoy life to the fullest without having to slog through a tundra of emotional turmoil, fatigue, and confusion.
Can lavender help with anxiety?
The research is certainly encouraging.
- Multiple human trials and reviews have found positive results with Silexan (lavender oil capsules) for chronic, subthreshold, and subsyndromal anxiety (Yap 2019, Kasper 2010, Woelk 2010, Kasper 2018, Kasper 2014, Kasper 2013, Kasper 2013).
- Other human trials have found positive results for lavender interventions regarding acute anxiety and stress (Abbasijahromi 2020, Ghaderi 2020, Darzi 2020, Kadriye 2020, Ogata 2020, Jafari-Koulaee 2020, Shady 2019, Ayik 2018, Bahrami 2017, Salamati 2017, Koomesh 2017, Rajai 2016, Tayebi 2015, Sayorwan 2012).
Can lavender help with depression?
Again, the research is encouraging.
- Few human studies have focused on chronic depression (Jafari Koulalee 2020, Nikfarjam 2013), but multiple human studies have found positive results in dealing with acute depression (Jafari 2019, Araj-khodaei 2020, Tayebi 2015, Bahrami 2017, Nikfarjam 2017) and there may even be applications for postpartum depression (Amin 2020).
As a bonus, many researchers point out that, unlike many prescription drugs, lavender is less likely to prompt other unpleasant side effects like insomnia, fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, and impaired memory. Peace without the cost of side effects? Yes, please.
Other Emotional Benefits of Lavender
Since lavender works so well in relaxing you when you need to relax, the consequence is that you feel energized in other areas of your life. Think of all you could do with fewer emotional obstacles and more energy!
Even if you aren’t clinically diagnosed with depression or anxiety, we all need a healthy pick-me-up every once in a while— and lavender is the oil to do it.
Physical Benefits of Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender hasn’t ridden this far in history with just emotional benefits.
Can lavender help reduce pain?
Very possibly. Human studies have tested lavender oil’s analgesic effects on various (often hospital-staying) groups dealing with various sources of pain, and the results are encouraging (Karimzadeh 2021, Usta 2020, Zayeri 2020, Darzi 2020, Abbasijahromi 2019, Seifi 2018, Nehbandani 2018, Ou 2012). There has even been one systematic review on the use of Lavandula stoechas in reducing labor pain (Karimzadeh 2021).
Though certainly not tested enough to replace prescribed analgesics, lavender may help in decreasing pain and getting patients off of pain medications sooner.
Can lavender help improve sleep quality?
Possibly. A handful of human studies have successfully used lavender oil to improve the sleep quality of various groups dealing with particular sleeping challenges, such as hospital-level illnesses and menopause (Lari 2020, Karger 2020, Hamzeh 2020, Mahdavikian 2020, Ayik 2018, Karadag 2015).
Sleep is vital to overall health. So if counting sheep isn’t working for you, trying lavender oil seems like a good option to help you catch an adequate amount of z’s.
Can lavender help with migraines?
Possibly, although the research is not extensive.
- Two human studies have shown positive results with lavender essential oil, one study showing a reduction in the severity of migraines (2012 Sasannejad) and another longer-term study showing a decrease in both frequency and severity (Rafie 2016).
All in all, it's not enough research to make lavender a clinically proven cure for migraines. But when your head is throbbing a whiff of lavender is worth a shot.
Can lavender help with nausea?
Possibly. Just one study (Karaman 2020) has found lavender to be helpful against postoperative nausea and vomiting. It was a human study with over 180 participants, but it is just one study.
If you’re just getting off of the teacup ride at Disneyland, lavender may help, but peppermint and ginger are likely to serve you better.
Can lavender help with skin damages like burns, insect bites, and wound healing?
Possibly. The range of available research on this subject is interesting. There is, for example, one review that cites multiple human clinical trials for wound healing (Samuelson 2020). But the rest of the available studies showing anti-inflammatory or wound-healing effects are animal studies (Mori 2016 , Vakilian 2011, Altaei 2012, Cardia 2018, Kutlu 2013). And anecdotal evidence, such as the famous story of René-Maurice Gattefossé using lavender oil to cure burns on his hands, is of interest.
But more scientific is needed before the “possibly” can become an absolute “yes”.
If prevention, rather than cure is your aim, there is some little evidence of lavender oil’s effectiveness in repelling insects (Lee 2018).
Can lavender help improve skin health?
Perhaps. Limited animal and in vitro studies have shown antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory activity in lavender oil (Predoi 2018, Behmanesh 2015, Bialon 2019, Rai 2020, Boukhatem 2020, Rapper 2016, Cardia 2018), but the research profile isn’t yet robust enough to speak with certainty.
Can lavender help with hair growth?
Maybe. The best evidence is a study with mice in which the mice treated with lavender grew their hair back faster than the mice in the control groups (Lee 2016).
Can lavender help with acne?
Maybe. One study has shown some evidence that lavender oil can reduce facial microbiota Bialon 2019, but it wasn’t a direct test on acne bacteria.
But as one considers that lavender more research backing for combating stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation—perhaps one of the best things lavender can do against acne is help prevent stress-breakouts.
Other physical benefits of lavender
Claims that lavender can combat eczema, treat dark spots, and reduce wrinkles are all over the internet. But the only evidence for these seems to be anecdotal. Some of those lavender face-mask recipes look pretty fun though.
Other Applications of Lavender Oil
Is lavender oil safe for pregnancies?
Lavender oil is not recommended for use during the first trimester. Even during the second and third trimesters, be sure to dilute your lavender oil before applying it topically, or just stick to diffusing.
Inhaled lavender has been shown to help with labor pain, so maybe pack it in with your hospital bag.
Is lavender essential oil safe for dogs?
Yes, just be sure to dilute it right because your dog’s sensitivity to smell is greater than yours and their body mass is probably less. It’s best to check with your veterinarian for the specifics.
Essential oil enthusiasts have used lavender oil to help their dogs with fleas, itching, anxiety, arthritis, and allergies.
What if lavender is the best for your friend’s anxiety and airplane nausea—but another oil would be more effective for your anxiety and airplane nausea?
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Lavender Essential Oil Manufacturing
Synthetic lavender may be able to imitate the smell of true lavender, but the only way to get the volatile compounds that make lavender medicinally useful is to go through Mother Nature. The highest quality of lavender oil has to be carefully grown, harvested, and distilled.
True to its Mediterranean roots, Lavandula angustifolia grows best in warm, dry climates. A careful balance has to be struck because too little water will, of course, prevent the flowers from growing and too much moisture in the soil will increase the risk of undesirable fungus growth on the plants. If lavender is grown anywhere that gets too cold, it may not survive outside of greenhouse conditions. Also, overly-nitrogenous soil and insufficient sunlight can damage the lavender crop as well.
Unlike some essential oil plants, Lavender isn’t quite so picky about where it keeps its oils. The flowers, the spikes, the leaves, stalks, and branches—almost the entire plant can be used in the distillation process.
One must pay attention to the flowers though, to know when the best time is to harvest. The flower buds of lavender are called “corolla” when they are open and “calyx” when they are closed. The buds at the top of the spike will turn from calyx to corolla first, and when the calyces at the bottom of the spike have almost all opened, it is time to harvest. If the flower buds are not yet opened enough or too shriveled, the quality of the oil will be compromised.
Late July and August are usually the best times to harvest. After the stalks have been cut, there is about a week’s window, give or take a few days, for distilling before the oil quality begins to go down.
At the distillery, the lavender oil is separated from the plant material through steam distillation, as is the case with most non-citrus essential oils. Modern distilling techniques get about 15mL of oil from three pounds of lavender plant material—luckily almost the whole plant can be used, rather than just the flower petals.
Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae family (also called the Mint family), a family that includes many other essential oil plants such as patchouli, rosemary, and sage.
True lavender essential oil is always distilled from the genus Lavandula and most likely from the species Angustifolia. It’s still not quite as simple as you think though. There are over a dozen varieties of Lavandula angustifolia alone, from the classic English Lavender to the white petaled ‘Nana Alba’ to ‘Rosea” which takes on a pinkish hue.
Of course, aromatherapists are less concerned with the color of the blossoms than they are about the chemical constituents cultivar they are working with. The different balances of linalool, linalyl acetate, flavonoids, and other constituents give different varieties of lavender different aromatherapeutic strengths and benefits.
English Lavender is the cultivar of choice for most aromatherapists. Its higher concentration of linalool, compared to other varieties, makes it a better sedative.
Occasionally other varieties and species are used by aromatherapists looking to capitalize on a particular benefit. For example, Spike Lavender (or Lavandula latifolia) varieties have a higher concentration of 1,8-cineole and camphor which makes the distilled oil better for anti-inflammation and lung benefits. Also, Lavandula stoechas oil has been studied as an option to help lower blood sugar.
Lavender is lauded as an oil that can be applied ‘neat’ to the skin, or in other words, without dilution. Still, if you use Lavender regularly, you’ll probably want to dilute it to avoid any toxicity from overuse.
Well, nobody’s perfect, not even Lavender. Even the best herbal supplements can be used wrong.
Whichever distributing company you got your lavender from—be sure to check their specific cautions, which may be different according to what species or concentration they use.
We’ll just cover some of the basic cautions here.
- DO NOT take lavender orally/internally. And even for external use, approach with caution.
- Use only as directed and only in the quantities suggested by your distributor.
Lavender is not recommended for boys who have not yet reached puberty. There are mixed reports that lavender can cause gynecomastia.
Stop using lavender if:
- You have any sort of allergic reaction.
- If you have a surgery scheduled in the next two weeks, consult with your doctor.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding (consult with your doctor).
- Taking other medications (consult with your doctor).
Lavender is an incredibly versatile essential oil—whether you are making lavender lemonade or combining it with aloe vera for a sunburn.
It’s the kind of oil you want to take with you everywhere and share with everybody because a prepared person can accomplish so much more than an unprepared person.
Don’t let the benefits of lavender pass you by!