Lavender is an aromatic subshrub native to the low mountains (1,970-3,940 feet) of the Mediterranean basin. It is cultivated in France, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, the nations of the former Yugoslavia (Montenegro, Serbia, etc.), China, Russia, Moldova, Argentina, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.1,2,3,4 It should not be confused with the hybrid lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia Emeric ex Loisel), which is more widely cultivated and far exceeds lavender in essential oil production.4 Because lavenders have been cultivated for such a long time throughout history, garden lavenders are mostly hybrids and identification is often difficult.3 The dried flowers, containing not less than 13 ml/kg of essential oil, and the essential oil obtained by steam distillation from the flowering tops are the official articles of the European Pharmacopoeia.2,3,5,6
HISTORY AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
Of all the essential oils, lavender is probably the most versatile, possessing an extremely diverse range of clinical and economic properties.
While L. stoechas is mentioned by Pliny the Elder (23-79 BCE) as being used medicinally by the Romans, L. angustifolia was apparently unknown to them at that time.4 It has been widely published that lavender’s genus and common names come from the Latin lavare, to wash. However, since neither lavender flowers nor oil are mentioned in a comprehensive review of Roman bathing, this commonly held belief is probably in error. It is more likely that the genus and common names came from the Latin livere, meaning livid or bluish.4 Various species of lavender were reportedly used to disinfect hospitals and sick rooms in ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome.7 In the time of Pliny the Elder, the blossoms sold for 100 Roman denarii per pound. Knowledge of its healing abilities spread to India and Tibet. In the 17th century Persian medical text Makhzan-El-Adwiya, it is called the broom of the brain, because it is reputed to sweep away impurities. The Gyu-zhi, or Four Tantras, by Chandranandana is the earliest Indian medical text to be translated into Tibetan (8th Century BCE). In it, lavender is included as part of psychiatric formulas. These formulas are in an edible ointment or medicinal butter form and are still used today in Tibetan Buddhist medicine for treating insanity and psychosis.7
Lavender preparations are traditionally employed to treat symptoms of certain nerve-related disorders like minor sleeplessness.1 In European systems of traditional herbal medicine, the main use for lavender flower teas, baths, and pillows is as a mild sedative.8 In European folk medicine, lavender preparations are also used for their spasmolytic, carminative, stomachic, and diuretic actions. Lavender flowers and oil have also been used for laryngitis, asthma, sinusitis, and candida infections.9 When lavender oil is massaged into the temples, it can help relieve many forms of headache. It can also relieve many causes of muscular pain. In aromatherapy, lavender is used for many varied skin conditions, including insect bites, burns, inflammation, and for healing small cuts.9,10
Fresh lavender flowers are added to jams, ice cream, vinegar, and herbal teas.11 The aromatic oil possesses a soothing fragrance used to scent many cosmetics, shampoos, and industrial products. Lavender oil is used as a flavor component in food products, including beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), aromatic vinegars, baked goods, candy, frozen dairy desserts, gelatins, and puddings.12
The internal use of lavender flower (as tea infusion, extract or bath additive) is currently approved by the German Commission E for restlessness or insomnia, nervous stomach irritations, and nervous intestinal discomfort.2 It is also approved for treatment of functional circulatory disorders in bath therapy. The current German Standard License (GSL) for lavender flower tea approves its internal use for treatment of disorders such as restlessness and sleeplessness, and functional upper abdominal problems such as nervous irritable stomach, Roemheld’s syndrome, flatulence, and nervous intestinal discomfort.13 For bath therapy (10 to 50 g dried flowers per 10 liters water), the GSL monograph indicates the use of lavender flower for treatment of functional circulatory disorders.13
Current research for external uses of lavender flower oil has shown some evidence for the relief of anxiety and depressive mood, ability to promote sleep, and as an antibacterial.14 Lavender oil’s antibacterial properties have been found effective in the healing of the perineum in post-partum women who had episiotomies while giving birth.15 In addition, lavender oil aromatherapy reduced the level of perceived anxiety and physical symptoms of anxiety in nursing students.16 In hospice patients, it has elicited a decrease in perceived pain and depression and an increased sense of well-being.17 In other studies, lavender oil was found effective in reducing anger-frustration moods and negative responses about the future.18 Lavender essential oil has also been studied for its ability to reduce agitation and mitigate the effects of dementia in elderly patients.19,20
Although lavender has been cultivated for centuries, little is known about its sustainability as a long-term crop. Lavender crops in the United Kingdom and France go 20 years without crop rotation. The Bridestowe Estate plantation in Australia is currently researching the sustainability of lavender and soil management with the long-term cultivation of lavender.21 Aspects being studied include possible trace element depletion and using rotation and green manure (organic matter) to restore organic matter levels.21
As of 2002, worldwide annual lavender essential oil production was estimated at 200 tons, produced mainly in Europe. The reason for this relatively low level is that much of the “lavender” of commerce is actually lavandin, a lavender hybrid that is much easier to grow and which produces more essential oil on a per-plant basis.21
The lavender industry in Australia is diverse and expanding.4 Lavender is grown in all the Australian states except for the Northern Territory, with Tasmania accounting for the largest area of commercial cultivation and the greatest lavender oil production in the southern hemisphere. Estimated lavender oil production in China as of 2005 was 50 metric tons. England produces a few metric tons per year. Bulgaria does not produce enough to satisfy its domestic market. France produced 60 metric tons in 2002. Russia produced almost 42 metric tons in 2000. Moldova and
Ukraine combined produced between 20 and 30 metric tons in recent years.4
- Teuscher E (ed), Brinckmann JA, Lindenmaier MP (translators). Medicinal Spices: A Handbook of Culinary Herbs, Spices, Spice Mixtures and their Essential Oils. Stuttgart, Germany: Medpharm Scientific Publishers. 2006;309-310.
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, eds. Klein S, Rister RS, trans. The Complete German Commission E Monographs—Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998.
- Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
- Upson T, Andrews S. The Genus Lavandula. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2004.
- Arctander S. Perfume and Flavor Material of Natural Origin. Carol Stream, IL: Allured Publishing; 1994.
- European Pharmacopoeial Commission. European Pharmacopoeia, 5th Edition. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe; 2006.
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Wichtl M (ed), Brinckmann JA, Lindenmaier MP (translators). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis, 3rd ed. Stuttgart, Germany: Medpharm Scientific Publishers. 2004;330-332.
- Keville K, Green M. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press; 1995.
- Schnaubelt K. Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 1998.
- Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.; 1996.
- Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
- Braun R, Surmann P, Wendt R, Wichtl M, Ziegenmeyer J (eds.). Lavendelblüten. In: Standardzulassungen für Fertigarzneimittel Text und Kommentar, mit 16. Ergänzungslieferung. Stuttgart, Germany: Deutscher Apotheker Verlag; 2005.
- Basch E, Foppa I, Kingsbury E et al. Lavender: Natural Standard Monograph. Available at www.naturalstandard.com. Accessed March 20, 2004.
- Hur M, Han SH. Clinical trial of aromatherapy on postpartum mother’s perineal healing. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. February 2004;34(1):53-62.
- Park M, Lee S. The effect of aroma inhalation method on stress responses of nursing students. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. April 2004;34(2):344-351.
- Louis M, Kowalski S. 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. Nov-Dec 2002;19(6):381-386.
- Morris N. The effects of lavender (Lavandula angustifolium) baths on psychological well-being: two exploratory randomized control trials. Complement Ther Med. December 2002;10(4):223-228.
- Smith D, Standing L, de Man A. Verbal memory elicited by ambient odor. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2002;74(2):339-343. Cited by: Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone; 2003.
- Mitchell S. Dementia. International Journal of Aromatherapy. 1993;5(2):20-24. Cited by: Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone; 2003.
- Peterson L. The Australian Lavender Industry: A Review of Oil Production and Related Products. May 2002. Available at: www.rirdc.gov.au/reports/EOI/02-052.pdf. Accessed March 23, 2004.