Lavender is an herb native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. The herb is highly regarded for skin and beauty and is commonly used in fragrances and shampoos to help wash and purify the skin.
In fact, the word lavender originally stems from from the Latin word lavare which means "to wash".
However, there are also many medicinal properties associated with lavender.
Lavender is becoming increasingly grown for the production of its essential oil, which comes from the distillation of the flower spikes of certain species of the plant.
Lavender oil is believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which can be used to help heal minor burns and bug bites.
Some studies even suggest that lavender can help digestive issues such as vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling.
Effectiveness of lavender
A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology found that lavender oil could be very effective in combating the incidence of antifungal-resistant infections.
Lavender oil was tested by scientists from the University of Coimbra in Portugal against a range of pathogenic fungi.
The researchers found that the oil was lethal to a whole range of skin-pathogenic strains.
Co-researcher, Professor Lígia Salgueiro explained that the essential oils distilled from the Lavandula genus of the lavender plant work by destroying the fungal cell's membrane.
Salgueiro said "Lavandula oil shows wide-spectrum antifungal activity and is highly potent. This is a good starting point for developing this oil for clinical use to manage fungal infections. What is now required is clinical trials to evaluate how our in vitro work translates in vivo."
A study carried out at Celal Bayar University, Turkey, and published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared the effects of several treatments for wound healing on laboratory rats.
The researchers compared the effects of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), saline solution, povidine-iodine, and lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia).
The study authors wrote "Wound closure progressed more rapidly in the TENS and lavender oil groups than in the control and other study groups."
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCB) currently rates lavender as possibly effective for treating alopecia areata, a condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body. There is evidence that lavender can promote hair growth by up to 44 percent after 7 months of treatment.
Anxiety disorder and related conditions
Dr. Siegfried Kasper, Prof., MD, from the Medical University of Vienna in Austria wrote a Review Article in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, titled "An orally administered lavandula oil preparation (Silexan) for anxiety disorder and related conditions: an evidence based review".
Dr. Kasper wanted to evaluate how effective Silexan might be for patients with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and subsyndromal anxiety. Silexan is a lavender oil preparation in gelatine capsules containing 80 mg.
Kasper and colleagues reviewed data on seven clinical trials, four of which had a treatment duration of between six and ten weeks.
The team found that Silexan had an anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effect on patients with GAD or subsyndromal anxiety within two weeks.
Dr. Kasper concluded "Silexan had beneficial effects on typical co-morbidity symptoms of anxiety disorders, for example, disturbed sleep, somatic complaints, or decreased quality of life. Except for mild gastrointestinal symptoms, the drug was devoid of adverse effects and did not cause drug interactions or withdrawal symptoms at daily doses of 80 or 160 mg."
Lavender scent may help anxious dental patients, researchers from King's College London found.
Co-researcher, Metaxia Kritsidima said: "A substantial number of people avoid going to dental surgeries because they are 'scared of the dentist', which can have a significant impact on their dental health. The anxiety experienced by these patients once they get to the dentist is stressful not only for them, but also for the dental team. Working under a state of increased tension may potentially compromise their performance, as well as lengthening appointment times. This is why finding a way of reducing dental anxiety is really important."
The investigators measured the dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients while they were waiting at the dentist's waiting room for their appointment.
Half the patients were exposed to lavender scent, while the other half were not.
The team found that those exposed to lavender scent reported lower levels of anxiety compared to the other patients. The calming effect of lavender was present regardless of the type of dental appointment patients had.
Kritsidima concluded "Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective 'on-the-spot' anxiety reduction in dentists' waiting rooms."
Post-tonsillectomy pain in children
A team of researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran, carried out a study to determine whether aromatherapy with Lavandula angustifolia essential oil might reduce symptoms of pain in children after tonsillectomy (having their tonsils taken out).
The study included 48 children aged 6 to 12 years. They were randomly selected into two groups of 24:
- The *acetaminophen plus lavender aromatherapy group
- The acetaminophen only group
*Acetaminophen is also known as Tylenol or paracetamol.
All the children were monitored for three days after surgery for frequency of acetaminophen use and nocturnal awakening due to pain. Pain intensity was also measured.
The researchers reported in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology that those in the acetaminophen plus lavender group used much less acetaminophen than the children in the other group. However, there was no significant difference in how often they woke up at night and perceptions of pain intensity.
Premenstrual emotional symptoms
Researchers from Shitennoji University, Kyoto University and the Center for Advanced Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, all in Japan, carried out a study to determine whether using lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) aromatherapy treatment might help alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.
As background information, Tamaki Matsumoto explained in the journal Biopsychosocial Medicine that a significant proportion of reproductive-age women experience a range of symptoms in the premenstrual phase, commonly known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Even though PMS is common, no single treatment is universally recognized as effective, so many women turn to alternative therapies, including aromatherapy.
This crossover study involved 17 women, average age 20.6 years, with mild-to-moderate premenstrual symptoms. The participants spent one menstrual cycle with no lavender aromatherapy treatment, and another cycle with lavender aromatherapy.
The researchers concluded "The present study indicated that lavender aromatherapy as a potential therapeutic modality could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms."
The NMCB says that there is "insufficient evidence" to rate effectiveness of using lavender to treat:
- Psychological well being
- As an insect repellent
One study, conducted at the Department of Nursing, Keukdong College, Chungcheongbuk-Do, Korea, found that "lavender fragrance had a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression in women college students." However, the authors pointed out that "repeated studies are needed to confirm effective proportions of lavender oil and carrier oil for insomnia and depression."
The U.S National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns people to be cautious when combining lavender with the following:
- Barbiturates - lavender may increase the sedative effects of these drugs and make people feel very sleepy.
- Benzodiazepines - mixing lavender with benzodiazepines can similarly increase the sedative effect of the drugs.
- Chloral hydrate - lavender increases the effects of chloral hydrate - causing extreme drowsiness.
Risks and precautions
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that repeated topical use of lavender oil may cause prepubertal gynecomastia, a condition which causes enlarged breast tissue in boys before puberty. "Topical" means applying onto the skin.
In addition, the safety of taking lavender during pregnancy or while breast-feeding is not completely certain - if you plan to use lavender treatment during pregnancy or breastfeeding tell your doctor.
As lavender is thought to slow down the central nervous system, doctors advise patients to stop using lavender at least 2 weeks before surgery.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist