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lavender

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction
Possible Side Effects

Cautions
References

Evidence Based Rating Scale
 

What Is It?

Recognized around the globe for its fresh and heady fragrance, the lavender plant (Lavendula angustifolia) is a flowering evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region that boasts a long history in herbal healing.

Romans scented their baths with lavender (in fact lavare means to wash in Latin), and the Tibetans still make an edible lavender butter to use as part of a traditional treatment for nervous disorders. Today, the essential oil of lavender is widely used across Europe--both topically and internally--for a host of ills, from anxiety to sunburn.

Various Lavendula species have been used medicinally, not just L. angustifolia (sometimes referred to as L. spica or L. officinalis). Also popular are L. latifolia (spike lavender) and L. pubescens. A hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender--Lavandin, or L. hybrida--is also widely used: while it produces almost twice as many oils as the other lavender species, it's not as fragrant.

For packaging purposes, the fresh flowering tops and stalks of the lavender plant are collected and dried, and the essential oil is distilled from them by various methods. Countless soaps, perfumes, and a potpourri of commercial products also draw on the appeal of lavender's signature scent.

Health Benefits

In the past several decades, researchers have examined the lavender flower and its extracts more closely with interesting results. Lavender tea is popular in many parts of Europe for treating appetite loss, stomach upset, and intestinal gas pain. It's not clear how lavender works for these ailments, but German health officials have declared it effective. (1) And one Extract (perillyl alcohol, a distillate of L. angustifolia) is being studied for preventing and treating various cancers (breast, ovarian, pancreatic, liver, prostate). (2)

Specifically, lavender may help to:

Prevent cancer. The perillyl alcohol extract of lavender is believed to have some anticancer activity. (2) In a preliminary study in 1995, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that rats given this extract experienced a reversal in the growth of advanced mammary tumors, mediated by enhancing tumor cell loss through apoptosis (programmed cell death). (3) A 1997 study showed that mice treated with the perillyl extract demonstrated a 22% reduction in lung tumor incidence and a 58% reduction in tumor multiplicity. (4) A 1997 study found that the colon tumors of mice fed a diet heavy in perillyl alcohol exhibited increased apoptosis compared to those fed a control diet. (5) Studies have shown similar effects on apoptosis in other cancers, including esophageal and pancreatic cancers. (6-8) In contrast, a 2000 study in rats with liver cancer found that perillyl alcohol did not demonstrate a protective effect on liver tumor growth. Rather, the extract seemed to exhibit tumor-promoting activity in these animals; thus some conflicting evidence exists. (9) Further studies are needed to determine efficacy in humans.

Lower cholesterol. Some preliminary reports have shown that lavender may help to lower cholesterol. A 1990 study evaluated the effect of inhalation of the essential oils of lavender and bergamot (a plant in the citrus family) to treat high cholesterol in rabbits. Although blood cholesterol levels were not affected, there was a reduction in atherosclerotic plaques in the aorta. (10) In a study done in Russia with 150 patients who had chronic bronchitis, lavender essential oil seemed to promote normalization of total cholesterol levels. (11) However, research is limited. More studies are needed.

Slow hair loss. Preliminary evidence indicates that a preparation containing lavender oil may help to slow hair loss in alopecia areata, a form of hair loss that occurs in patches anywhere on the scalp. A 1998 randomized, double-blind, controlled trial involving 86 patients indicated that a blend of lavender and other essential oils (thyme, rosemary and cedarwood) was more effective than placebo oil in treating alopecia areata. The study found that rubbing the oils into the affected area improved hair growth by as much as 44% after seven months of treatment. (13) However, research is limited to this study. More studies are needed.

Treat sunburn and minor cuts and scrapes. The aromatic lavender flower has natural antiseptic and astringent properties that folk healers recognized centuries ago. Applied topically, as a lotion containing lavender oil or with cool compresses soaked in strong lavender tea, it can soothe and protect sunburned skin and possibly prevent infection in blisters that often accompany more severe sunburns. A 2002 review of lavender's anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties found some scientific and clinical data to support the traditional use of lavender for minor burns, cuts and scrapes. (14) However, the review indicated some of the studies were of poor methodology, and it called for more high-quality studies to confirm or refute efficacy.  

Counter insomnia and promote restful sleep. In Germany, a tea made from dried lavender flowers is an officially recognized remedy for restlessness and difficulty sleeping. Both animal research and human studies indicate that lavender's sedative qualities are real. Experiments in mice have shown that lavender can slow the central nervous system, calm motor activity, counter the stimulant effect of caffeine, and boost the narcotic effects of certain drugs. (15) A small study evaluating lavender to promote sleep was published in The Lancet., Four nursing home patients, three of whom had been withdrawn from extended use of conventional sleep medications, slept significantly longer and with less restlessness when lavender oil was introduced into their ward with an odor diffuser. (16) In a 2005 randomized, single-blind, cross-over study of ten patients (five male and five female) with insomnia, using lavender oil in a vaporizer overnight significantly improved insomnia scores. Women and younger participants with milder insomnia improved more than others. (17) More, large studies are needed. 

Relieve nervous tension and lift mild depression. Although research is somewhat limited, lavender's calming effects are famous. Massage therapists are known to add a few drops of lavender to massage oils to enhance the relaxing effect. A 2004 randomized, controlled trial of 42 cancer patients in a palliative care setting found that while weekly treatment with a lavender essential oil massage did not seem to improve pain, anxiety or quality of life, sleep and depression scores were significantly improved after treatment. (18) In a 2006 study of 36 healthy, first-time mothers, treatment with a 30-minute aromatherapy-massage with lavender on the second postpartum day helped to improve physical and mental status, as well as to facilitate mother-infant interaction, compared to a control group. (19) A 2008 study of 58 hospice patients with terminal cancer showed that an aromatherapy hand massage using a mixture of the oils of bergamot, lavender and frankincense significantly improved pain and depression compared to placebo oil. (20) Large studies are needed. 

In aromatherapy, the distilled essential oil of lavender is widely recommended as a remedy for depressed mood, fatigue, stress, nervous tension, and anxiety. At the University of Miami, a small study reported in 1998 found that after three minutes of lavender aromatherapy, participants appeared drowsier, less depressed, and more relaxed. In an unexpected finding, the study also noted that individuals could even complete simple math problems faster and more accurately after aromatherapy than before. (21) A 2002 study of 17 hospice patients with cancer found that humidified lavender oil aromatherapy led to slight improvements in blood pressure and pulse, pain, anxiety, depression, and sense of well-being. However, a group treated with humidified water (without lavender) showed similar improvements. (22). A 2003 study of 113 patients undergoing radiotherapy found no beneficial effect of aromatherapy using the oils of bergamot, cedarwood and lavender on the treatment of anxiety or depression. (23) However, in another study tincture of lavender was compared with the conventional medication imipramine (Tofranil) both alone and in combination. While lavender was less effective than imipramine as a single therapy, the combination was significantly more effective than either therapy alone. (24)

Forms

  • Tincture
  • oil
  • dried Herb/tea
  • capsule         

Dosage Information

Special tips:

--To make a tea, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried lavender flowers to 1 cup (8 ounces) of hot (but not boiling) water. Steep for five to 10 minutes, then strain. Drink as needed or apply topically.

--Alternatively, try eating a sugar cube laced with a maximum of four drops of the essential lavender oil.

For alopecia areata: A combination of essential oils including three drops of lavender (108 mg), three drops of rosemary (114 mg), two drops of thyme (88 mg), and two drops of cedarwood (94 mg), all mixed with 3 ml of jojoba oil and 20 ml of grapeseed oil has been used. For best results, apply the mixture daily by massaging into the scalp for two minutes and placing a warm towel around the head to increase absorption.

For sunburn: Twice a day, apply cool compresses soaked in lavender tea, and then gently rub in a few drops of lavender oil mixed with 1/2 ounce of almond oil or another neutral oil. Alternatively, add a few drops of the oil to a cool bath.

For cuts, scrapes, and other minor skin wounds: When treating a cut or scrape, dab 1 or 2 drops of lavender oil on the wound two or three times a day, but only after thoroughly cleaning the wound and waiting for the bleeding to stop. You can also apply lavender tea compresses or add a few drops of lavender oil to a cool bath.

For insomnia: Add several drops of lavender oil to warm bath water, or to a humidifier overnight.

For nervous tension and mild depression: Up to 60 drops of lavender tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol) taken orally daily for four weeks has been used. Also, drinking a cup of lavender tea three or four times a day as needed is recommended. Excessive use, however, can cause drowsiness.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Lavender, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

In aromatherapy, diffusers (which spray particles of the oil into the air), fragrant baths, and potpourris containing lavender are quite popular. The amounts of essential oil of lavender needed in aromatherapy preparations are usually quite small. For an aromatherapy bath, simply add 5 to7 drops of the oil to the water. For a massage, use the same number of drops per tablespoonful of neutral carrier oil (like almond, jojoba, or grapeseed). 

Store lavender oil in a dark, dry place, in a closed container made of a material other than plastic. 

General Interaction

There are no known nutrient interactions associated with lavender or lavender oil.

Those taking barbiturates, CNS depressants, or chloral hydrate should avoid using lavender, as it may increase the sedative effects of the drugs.

Possible Side Effects

There are no known side effects or contraindications to lavender tea or oil. In rare cases, however, lavender oil can cause an allergic skin reaction.

Cautions

Given lavender's apparent sedative properties, take care when mixing the herb with known sedatives, such as tranquilizers, painkillers, or alcohol. 

Because lavender does work to relieve anxiety, it's possible that using an excessive amount could cause drowsiness. 

References 

1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000, 226-9.
2. The Review of Natural Products by Facts and Comparisons, 5th ed. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Co., 2008.
3. Mills JJ, Chari RS, Boyer IJ, et al. Induction of apoptosis in liver tumors by the monoterpene perillyl alcohol. Cancer Res. 1995 Mar 1;55(5):979-83.
4. Lantry LE, Zhang Z, Gao F, et al. Chemopreventive effect of perillyl alchohol on 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1 butanone induced tumorigenesis in (C3H/HeJ X A/J)F1 mouse lung. J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1997;27:20-5.
5. Reddy BS, Wang CX, Samaha H, et al. Chemoprevention of colon carcinogenesis by dietary perillyl alcohol. Cancer Res. 1997 Feb 1;57(3):420-5.
6. Liston BW, Nines R, Carlton PS, et al. Perillyl alcohol as a chemopreventive agent in N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-induced rat esophageal tumorigenesis. Cancer Res. 2003 May 15;63(10):2399-403.
7. Stark MJ, Burke YD, McKinzie JH, et al. Chemotherapy of pancreatic cancer with the monoterpene perillyl alcohol. Cancer Lett. 1995 Sep 4;96(1):15-21.
8. Crowell PL, Siar Ayoubi A, Burke YD. Antitumorigenic effects of limonene and perillyl alcohol against pancreatic and breast cancer. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1996;401:131-6.
9. Löw-Baselli A, Huber WW, Käfer M, et al. Failure to demonstrate chemoprevention by the monoterpene perillyl alcohol during early rat hepatocarcinogenesis: a cautionary note.
10. Nikolaevskii VV, Kononova NS, Pertsovskii AI, Shinkarchuk IF. Effect of essential oils on the course of experimental atherosclerosis Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter. 1990 Sep-Oct;(5):52-3.
11. Siurin SA. Effects of essential oil on lipid peroxidation and lipid metabolism in patients with chronic bronchitis. Klin Med (Mosk). 1997;75(10):43-5.
12. Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. Arch Dermatol 1998;134:1349-52.
13. Cavanagh HM, Wilkinson JM. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res. 2002 Jun;16(4):301-8.
14. Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. Terry C. Telger, transl. 3rd ed. Berlin, GER: Springer, 1998.
15. Hardy M, Kirk-Smith MD. Replacement of drug treatment for insomnia by ambient odor. Lancet. 1995 Sep 9;346(8976):701.
16. Lewith GT, Godfrey AD, Prescott P. A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):631-7.
17. Soden K, Vincent K, Craske S, et al. A randomized controlled trial of aromatherapy massage in a hospice setting. Palliat Med. 2004 Mar;18(2):87-92.
18. Imura M, Misao H, Ushijima H. The psychological effects of aromatherapy-massage in healthy postpartum mothers. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2006 Mar-Apr;51(2):e21-7.
19. Chang SY. Effects of aroma hand massage on pain, state anxiety and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2008 Aug;38(4):493-502.
20. Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Jan 1998;96(3-4):217-224.
21. Louis M, Kowalski SD. Use of aromatherapy with hospice patients to decrease pain, anxiety, and depression and to promote an increased sense of well-being. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2002 Nov-Dec;19(6):381-6.
22. Graham PH, Browne L, Cox H, Graham J. Inhalation aromatherapy during radiotherapy: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trial. J Clin Oncol. 2003 Jun 15;21(12):2372-6.
23. Akhondzadeh S, Kashani L, Fotouhi A, et al. Comparison of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. tincture and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2003;27:123-7

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.

 

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

Cancer prevention

   

Animal studies indicate efficacy in preventing breast, esophageal, lung and pancreatic cancers and tumor growth. Studies have shown conflicting effects in liver cancer. Human research is needed to determine efficacy. (2-9)

Cuts and scrapes  
Traditional use and a review of studies indicate efficacy to speed healing of minor cuts, scrapes and burns. More research is needed. (14, 15)
Depression  
Small studies indicate aromatherapy and aromatherapy massage may help to improve anxiety, mood and depression. Some conflicting evidence exists. Large studies are needed to confirm or refute efficacy. (19-25)
 

Hair problems   Date Published: 04/18/2005
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