Lavender’s association with love extends from Cleopatra to modern times. Tutankhamun’s tomb contained traces of still-fragrant lavender, and it’s said Cleopatra used lavender to seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Not so long ago, ladies wore small lavender pouches in their cleavage to lure suitors typified in the lyrics of a lullaby:
“Lavender’s green dilly, dilly,
You must love me, dilly, dilly
’cause I love you.”
Its name derives from the Latin root “lavare,” which literally means “to wash.” The earliest recorded use of lavender dates back to ancient Egypt. There, lavender oil played a role in the mummification process.
During later times, lavender became a bath additive in several regions, including Persia, ancient Greece, and Rome. These cultures believed that lavender helped purify the body and mind.
Since ancient times, lavender has been used to treat many different ailments, including:
mental health issues
Beyond scenting bed linen and clothing, lavender was hung above doors to protect against evil spirits. We know now it’s a strong antimicrobial that may help prevent certain diseases, but back then the idea was that lavender protected against evil fits.
Sixteenth-century glovemakers who perfumed their ware with the herb were said to not catch cholera. Seventh-century thieves who washed in lavender after robbing graves didn’t get the plague. In the 19th century, gypsy travelers sold bunches of lavender on the streets of London to bring people good luck and protect against ill fortune.
In Spain and Portugal, lavender was traditionally strewn on the floor of churches or thrown into bonfires to avert evil spirits on St. John’s Day. In Tuscany, pinning a sprig of lavender to your shirt was a traditional way to ward against the evil eye. Queen Elizabeth I of England had fresh lavender in vases at her table every day.
Use by ancient doctors
The Greek physician to the Roman army, Dioscorides, wrote that lavender taken internally would relieve indigestion, sore throats, headaches, and externally cleaned wounds.
The Romans named the plant after its use in their bathing rituals (“lava” is to wash), realizing lavender isn’t only relaxing, but also antiseptic.
Sixteenth-century English herbalist John Parkinson wrote that lavender was “especially good use for all griefes and paines of the head and brain,” and Charles VI of France insisted his pillow always contain lavender so he could get a good night’s sleep. People still use lavender in pillows today.
In Asian traditional medicine, lavender has long been used for its “cooling” effect and for helping the “Shen,” or mind, by cooling the heart, helping people relax and find relief from troubles in the mind that give rise to tension in the body.
In more recent history, lavender became famous for its skin healing when René-Maurice Gattefossé, the 1930s French chemist, burned his hand in his laboratory. He applied lavender oil to treat the burn and was so impressed by the quick healing process that he published a book, “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales,” and coined the word aromatherapy (the therapy of aromatic plants). Lavender was used by doctors during WWII to heal wounds.
At the same time, a French biochemist, Marguerite Maury, developed a unique method of applying these oils to the skin with massage — hence the practice of aromatherapy massage — now used all over the world.
1. Creates calm and lifts moods
Lavender (alongside the calming kava kava) has now been named as one of the few alternative medicines for generalized anxiety disorder that’s passed the rigors of scientific assessment for efficacy.
In controlled trials, lavender promotes calm and lowers anxiety or related restlessness in several settings, comparable to conventional drugs for anxiety.
In pilot studies, lavender also relieved anxiety before and after surgery, during dental treatment , during pregnancy,
For people in hospice, lavender may relieve depression and improve well-being, too.
Lavender in a controlled study was also found comparable to paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), for depression. When given with imipramine (the tricyclic antidepressant), lavender improved the benefits of the drug for depression.
The scent of lavender has also been found to increase interpersonal and, as a tea, promote a short-term bonding effect with infants and new mothers.
2. Induces sleep
Lavender has been known to improved sleep in people who are in intensive care or have cancer. Students with sleep problems also self-rated improvements in sleep quality and energy, and pilot studies showed a reduction in restless leg syndrome.
3. Improves memory
Inhaling lavender reduced working memory under normal circumstances, but improved working memory during stressful situations.
4. Relieves pain
The essential oil may also relieve pain. in the following conditions:
lower back pain
during surgery and postsurgery
Antiseptic effects. Topically applied lavender can treat bruises, burns, and wounds. Controlled trials found it especially effective for birth injuries to the mother.
Insecticide abilities. Topical lavender is also clinically shown to help treat fleas and lice in humans (and other animals).
Skin-healing effects. Its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and wound-healing properties can benefit the skin.
Many people believe that gentle touch in massage has its own important effect in the healing process.