24 September 2021 / Caitlin Devlin
Lavender Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits
Some people consider lavender essential oil to be where aromatherapy truly began.
One of the most popular oils for both diffusion and topical use, lavender has a wealth of benefits.
Lavender is truly the mother-plant of modern aromatherapy. Although the practice of inhaling oil has been around for thousands of years, the term ‘aromatherapy’ wasn’t created until the early 20th century, when French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse self-treated a burn with lavender essential oil.
He was hardly the first to use lavender for its healing qualities, however – the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all explored the calming, healing, and soothing qualities of lavender, and today lavender essential oil is still widely used to manage pain, mend wounds, and lift moods. In this article we will explore the benefits of lavender essential oil.
Lavender oil can help manage anxiety, depression and insomnia.
The calming effects of lavender have been documented for years. In 2018, a study in Japan found that this calming effect comes from the ability of one of lavender oil’s chemical constituents, linalool, to affect the brain via smell. The scent stimulates the olfactory system which in turn stimulates parts of the brain responsible for mood, heart rate, and blood pressure, with none of the side effects of regular medication.
Other studies have found that smelling lavender can improve symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, post-partum depression, and PTSD-caused insomnia. We know that linalool’s sedative qualities help to slow our heart rates and ease our worries, but research is still ongoing as to why it is that lavender is so beneficial for our mental health.
Learn more about using essential oils to combat anxiety here.
It heals and protects against infection.
One of the oldest uses of lavender oil is in the treatment of burns and wounds. Lavender oil contains a constituent called beta-caryophyllene that acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, which makes it ideal for treating burns, sunburns, and allergic reactions.
The application of diluted lavender oil to wounds can also assist in healing, as lavender can promote a collagen synthesis which allows our bodies to bind connective tissues faster.
The antimicrobial and antifungal properties of lavender are well researched – its two main constituents are linalool and linalyl acetate, which both have strong antimicrobial properties. A 2013 study suggested that these effects are even more powerful when lavender oil is mixed with another oil such as clove, cinnamon, and tea-tree oil.
It can reduce pain.
Not only does lavender oil have sedative and anti-anxiety qualities – it is also anticonvulsant, which means that it can relax constricted muscles. This has been found to have a positive effect on headaches and migraines.
A study in 2010 by nursing students even showed that lavender can have a positive effect on menstrual cramps, and heated lavender-scented pillows are commonly used to help manage menstrual pain.
It's a natural antioxidant.
Lavender oil contains polyphenols, which act as natural antioxidants to fight free radicals such as toxins, chemicals, and pollutants. Free radicals can destroy cells over time and are largely responsible for the aging process, setting of chain reactions to attack cells throughout the body. However, antioxidants stabilise free radicals, inhibiting these chain reactions.
The polyphenols in lavender oil work to increase the activity of your body’s most powerful antioxidants, such as glutathione and catalase. Lavender oil’s antioxidant properties also give it neuroprotective qualities – it is thought that this could potentially aid repair of neurological functions after a stroke, or contribute to the treatment of dementia, but so far this has only been tested in rats.
Learn more about antioxidant essential oils here.
There are many kinds of lavender oil.
These variations differ slightly in smell, but they are all near-identical in their benefits. Here are some of the most common:
- True lavender - The most famous lavender oil, true lavender is most commonly grown in either France or England, and may vary slightly in scent depending on the soil it is grown in. It may be sold as English or French lavender, but you can always spot true lavender by its botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia.
- Bulgarian lavender - Bulgarian lavender is usually still true lavender, only grown in Bulgaria. Look for that true lavender botanical name to make sure. It can sometimes have a stronger, fuller scent - this can depend on supplier.
- Spike Lavender - This variation comes from a sub species of the lavender plant also known as Portuguese lavender, and is known to have more invigorating properties than traditionally calming true lavender.
- Lavandin - A hybrid plant formed by the crosspollination of spike lavender and true lavender, lavandin has a much higher concentration of camphor than true lavender, and shares spike lavender's more invigorating properties.
- Lavender 40/42 - Whilst lavender 40/42 is still composed of 100% natural lavender oils, it is a standardised blend of 40% linalool and 42% linalyl acetate designed to give the most consistent lavender scent.
Although lavender has been in use for so many years, we are still studying and discovering its many benefits – it was even suggested by a recent study that lavender oil can help reverse hair loss and assist in the treatment of alopecia. What we do know is that lavender’s ability to assist in the healing of our bodies and minds is incredibly well documented, and it is this ability that makes it one of the most popular essential oils used globally.
Shop our lavender essential oil here.