Lavender Part 1: Amazing Herb With Calming Benefits

lavender

December 31, 2017   |   Heidi Moretti, MS, RD

When I decide on a weekly blog topic, I often go with what I’m craving or needing the most.

This morning, I woke up fantasizing about the taste of lavender.  I want to share with the world the beauty and taste of this amazing plant. It is vastly underused for its flavor. 

Recently, my thoughtful daughter searched high and low to find me a dark chocolate bar with lavender as a gift for me, remembering how much I loved this combination. 

After my last bite of this delicious treat disappeared, I’m still dreaming of it. 

The Most Versatile Plant

I rarely go a day without using lavender in some way. Why?  It simply is one of the most versatile plants around.

Lavender is practical in so many ways: It is:

  • Easy to grow

  • Inexpensive to buy

  • Full of scientifically proven health benefits. 

  • Cleansing

  • Smells amazing

  • Delicious

I love it in teas, coffee,  and savory dishes.  

It works in oatmeal, berry spreads.

I use it for my laundry and my home humidifier; much safer than chemical additives or perfumes. 

I love the scent.

I use it to relax. (Bath time? Yes, please.)

Lavender Species: Variety Abounds

Lavender has approximately 40 species and countless varieties because it easily cross-pollinates with other varieties of lavender. 

Lavender is part of the enormous family of mint plants. Lavender varieties are all are beautiful as a flower, but they vary a bit in how they taste and function.  Click here for more information. 

Lavendula augustifolia is the most commonly grown and used variety; it is often referred to as true lavender. 

Lavender in History

  • Originated in the Mediterranean, but now is grown virtually in all parts of the globe

  • Ancient Egyptians used lavender for mummification

  • Lavender has biblical lore 

  • Lavender was thought to help fight the plague (AKA Thieves oil). 

  • Lavender oil was used by Roman soldiers to fight wound infections. 

  • It has long been used for romantic, spiritual, and healing purposes. 

  • It is believed to have been Cleopatra’s love secret for seducing Mark Antony and Julius Caesar

Lavender Reduces Anxiety Symptoms

The most legendary use for lavender is for its calming effects.  But does it really work?  

Lavender is approved by the European Medicine Agency for use to relieve stress and anxiety. 

A review of 7 clinical studies concluded that lavender capsules are effective for reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and also improved sleep and quality of life (standardized lavender, Silexan, 80 mg per day) (1).  

When compared to Lorazepam, a drug commonly prescribed for anxiety, lavender oil, taken as a capsule, was as effective as the drug. It is an appealing alternative because it doesn’t have the sedating effects or side effects of Lorazepam (2). 

Lavender was able to reduce anxiety symptoms after acute heart issues and also reduced blood pressure, heart rate and mean arterial pressure compared to placebo (3)

Use of lavender oil also reduced anxiety symptoms during dental exams (4). 

Lavender and sandalwood oils compared to placebo were effective for reducing breast biopsy-related anxiety (4).

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Lavendar’s Actions Against Anxiety

Interestingly, lavender oil binds with a very important neuro-receptor called NMDA.  It also protects cells from neurotoxicity and may have anti-depressant effects because it affects serotonin transporters (5).

Lavender may additionally be calming because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Both of these effects likely help protect the brain.

An important matter to consider when thinking about effectiveness for stress and anxiety is to also consider the potential drawbacks of medications used for treating stress and anxiety.

Benzodiazepines, while useful, have sometimes crippling withdrawal and rebound effects.

Side effects of lavender are very minimal to none.

Lavender also has pain-relieving benefits compared to placebo (6).

Here are a couple of great lavender case reports from my friend and colleague, Calene Van Noy, RD:

I was hiking one day with my kids and a child from another family suddenly cried out in pain – he had been stung by a wasp. I quickly offered to put lavender oil on it, they said “sure”, and within seconds he was fine. My own son was playing in a sand box and came running into the house screaming. He had not one, but FIVE wasp stings. I put Lavender on them as fast as I could and in less than a minute he was totally fine. Then, at “Kindergarten Round-Up” the kids went out to play while the teacher talked with the parents. Within a couple minutes a child started screaming and it was another wasp sting. Again- I had my lavender with me – put a dab on it and he was fine. It feels pretty awesome to come to the rescue – I love my lavender!

Ability to calm:

My 2 yr old son was in the hospital with a sudden, severe case of croup and they wanted to keep him overnight to make sure he was fine. It was 2 am…the nurses had just checked on him – said he was fine and that I should try and get a little sleep. I laid down on that pullout hospital chair with a warm blanket but was unable to sleep as my mind kept spinning -going through everything over and over. My son was sleeping peacefully and breathing just fine, but I simply couldn’t calm my mind down enough to sleep. I remembered my lavender and it’s ability to calm so I pulled it out, put a couple drops in my hand – rubbed them together and cupped it over my nose, taking deep breaths. I laid back down and quickly fell asleep. I awoke to the nurses checking on my son again and my outlook was so different – I felt hopeful, relieved, and grateful.

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Lavender Recipes

I purposefully do not add amounts in many of my recipes.  Why?  The best chefs taste as they go. Some may not agree.  It’s America. 

Lavender strength preference is a very personal one.  I want the flavor to have a strong impact.

Others may not want it so strong.  That’s ok. Everything feels ok after having some lavender.  

Websites caution using lavender in cooking, citing that it can quickly overpower flavors.  Not a problem if you ask me.  Bring on the potent flavor!

Lavender chocolates or chocolate sauce

  • Dark chocolate bars

  • Lavender oil or dried lavender buds

  • Butter

  • Coconut milk

Melt chocolate,  add lavender.  Done.

If you want to make this into a sauce, add the butter and coconut milk to achieve desired consistency. 

Lavender-Coconut Tea

  • Boiling water

  • Earl Grey tea leaves 

  • Lavender buds or essential oil

  • Coconut butter

  • Coconut milk

  • Honey

Add tea leaves and lavender buds into a tea diffuser.  Pour boiling water over and steep for 3-5 minutes.  Mix in coconut butter, milk and honey. You can use cream if you prefer over coconut.

Sometimes, I don’t bother with tea bags or diffusers; I get lazy.  Just throw the buds right in.  Don’t worry, you can take them out with a spoon later.  Or I use essential oils, which is really easy. 

No need to reinvent the wheel.  Check out these links for more recipes:

Lavender Ice Cubes

Fresh herb omelet with lavender potatoes

Slow roasted tomatoes

Roasted lavender and hazelnut encrusted salmon

Citrus-lavender vinaigrette

Lavender and honey roasted chicken

Herbes de Provence

Add lavender buds or essential oil to just about any type of tea, infused water or beverage.

Before using lavender essential oils or supplements:

If you are cooking with or eating lavender oils, make sure you find a high quality form that is food grade.  

Lavender is generally recognized as safe.  As with anything, check with your healthcare provider before increasing the amount of supplemental lavender you take. 

If you are allergic to lavender (develop rash), please avoid its use.

A word of caution: a few case reports of prepubertal boys using lavender for extended periods of time noted gynecomastia.  This reversed after stopping use of lavender.  Use of lavender in this age group is cautioned (7).

What’s Next

In my next blog, I will expand on lavender’s health benefits for pain, treatment of infections, digestive benefits, menstrual disorders, colic, hair loss, and more. 

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.

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