Can you smell that? Lavender, lavender everywhere.

I’m going to be honest right from the start and tell you that lavender is not one of my favourite scents. In fact for most of my life the smell of lavender has brought on a pretty intense headache that had me reaching for the nearest cold face washer and comfy bed. The problem with this is that lavender is everywhere – you can’t escape it. It’s in people’s gardens, it’s wafting from oil burners or incense sticks in every second store, it’s in lectures I attend as stressed out students apply it to their bodies by the litre, it’s in herbal teas and now it’s even in ice cream and cakes. Since lavender has found its way into every corner of my life I have slowly (very, very slowly) been able to reduce my adverse reaction to it. I’m not going to be setting up my own lavender aromatherapy station anytime soon but I no longer feel the need to stare down friends and strangers who approach me with even the tiniest hint of lavender on them (a bonus since telling someone they smell offensive tests even the strongest of friendships).

But it leaves me wondering – why is lavender everywhere? How does it make you feel, what’s its purpose and when that scent surrounds you in stores, is it really supporting you in making your best possible purchasing choices? Lets see what we can find out.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, the Arabian Peninsula, Russia and Africa but is now cultivated around the world1. It has a history of medicinal and cosmetic use and as previously mentioned is used commonly today in all sorts of areas such as aromatherapy, baked goods, candles, cosmetics, detergents, jellies, massage oils, perfumes, powders, shampoos, soaps and teas1. In herbal medicine** lavender is used as an antidepressant, antispasmodic, carminative, sedative and anxiolytic2,3. Conditions that may indicate the use of lavender include anxiety, mild depression, insomnia, intestinal colic, digestive weakness, nervous dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome2,3. It’s interesting to note that despite causing my headaches, lavender is also indicated in the treatment of headaches2,3.

There really is a lot of information available on lavender so today I’m just going to stick to two topics – anxiety and insomnia.

Anxiety
Research on the use of lavender in anxiety is still emerging. A systematic review conducted in 2012 looked at 15 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that included the use of different forms of lavender (aromatherapy, essential oil, massage, oral capsules etc) as treatment in healthy and stress-induced cohorts4. The review concluded that evidence for the use of lavender for anxiety/stress was promising but inconclusive as further studies and long-term follow-up data was required5. Additionally it concluded that the efficacy of lavender in aromatherapy, inhalation and massage was not currently supported by good evidence5. However, a randomised placebo-controlled trial published in 2016 involving 318 participants showed positive outcomes using Silexan (an active substance produced from the flowers of Lavandula angustifolia)6. The study concluded that when compared to placebo, the use of Silexan in patients with mixed anxiety and depressive disorder showed anxiolytic and antidepressant effects that improved impaired daily living skills and health related quality of life6.

Insomnia
A small study involving 10 volunteers assessed the efficacy of using lavender oil in an aromatherapy device for insomnia7. The study was conducted over four weeks and showed promising results, especially in women with mild insomnia who displayed more improvement than other groups7. However, due to the small size and nature of the study, a larger RCT would be required to be able to draw definitive conclusions on the use of lavender as a hypnotic for mild insomnia7. A second study looking at lavender essential oil and insomnia involved 67 women aged between 45-55 broken up into two groups8. One group received education on sleep hygiene with no other intervention while the second group received 20 minutes of lavender inhalation via an aromatherapy diffuser twice a week for 12 weeks8. The aromatherapy group were also instructed to avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least three hours before the start of the aromatherapy session8. The study showed that the women in the aromatherapy group experienced improvements in their sleep quality following the inhalation sessions while the education group did not show any improvement8.

Hopefully this has provided you with a small insight into lavender – the discussion could go on and on, it really is a popular herb! So, do I think the next time you are out shopping and get a whiff of lavender as you enter a store you’ll make amazing purchasing choices? Probably not but you might feel calmer about whatever choice you do make!

Let me know your thoughts on lavender in the comments section below.

 

**Whilst it is great to be passionate about maintaining your health, you should never self medicate and always ensure that you consult a medical or health professional before including a new item in your diet or health routine.

 

References:

  1. Natural Medicines 2015, ‘Lavender’, Natural Medicines Therapeutic Research Centre, viewed 10 May 2017, https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/
  2. Bone, K 2007, The Ultimate Herbal Compendium: A desktop guide for herbal prescribers, Phytotherapy Press, Warwick, Queensland
  3. Thomsen, M and Gennat, H 2009, Phytotherapy Desk Reference, 4th Edition, Global Natural Medicine Pty Ltd
  4. Braun, L and Cohen, M 2015, Herbs & Natural Supplements: An Evidence-based guide Volume 2, 4th Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Chatswood, NSW, Australia
  5. Perry, R, Terry, R, Watson, LK and Ernst, E 2012, ‘Is lavender an anxiolytic drug? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials’, Phytomedicine, iss. 19, pp. 825-835, viewed 10 May 2017, www.sciencedirect.com
  6. Kasper, S, Volz, HP, Dienel, A and Schläfke, S 2016, ‘Efficacy of silexan in mixed anxiety-depression – A randomized, placebo-controlled tiral’, European Neuropsychopharmacology, iss. 26, pp. 331-340, viewed 10 May 2017, www.sciencedirect.com
  7. Lewith, GT, Godfrey, AD and Prescott, P 2005, ‘A Single-Blinded, Randomized Pilot Study Evaluating the Aroma of Lavandula angustifolia as a Treatment for Mild Insomnia’, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 631-637, viewed 10 May 2017, www.ebscohost.com
  8. Chien, LW, Cheng, SL and Liu, CF 2012, ‘Lavender Aromatherapy Alleviates Insomnia’, Massage Magazine, viewed 10 May 2017, www.ebscohost.com

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