Who would have thought that an all-purpose medicine could smell so lovely? Well-known for its use in making perfume, soaps, and scented sachets, lavender — either as a tea, tincture or ointment, or essential oil — has been used in healing for centuries.
Along with garlic and cloves, lavender was an ingredient of the 'Four Thieves vinegar', an infamous brew attributed to 18th century grave robbers who washed their hands with it before stripping corpses of their valuables. Lavender does, in fact, contain tannins that kill bacteria and prevent minor cuts from becoming infected. Add 10 drops of lavender oil to 1/2 cup of water and use to wash the wound.
European doctors recommend lavender tea as a digestive aid. It has an antispasmodic effect, helping to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and prevent cramping of the stomach and intestine. It also helps to ease and expel wind. To make tea, put a heaped teaspoon of fresh, unsprayed flowers (or one lever teaspoon of dried lavender) in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes; strain and add honey, if you wish.
In 1910, French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse noted that when he burned his hand, lavender oil resulted in faster healing. This discovery sparked research into the capabilities of essential oils: it was, in fact, Gattefosse who invented the word aromatherapy. Put a drop or two of undiluted lavender oil on small burns to ease pain immediately. The discomfort of sunburn can also be alleviated with a compress of cold lavender tea.
Help for headaches
Queen Elizabeth I was said to have favoured lavender tea for her frequent tension headaches, and lavender farmers of old would wear a spray of the flowers beneath their hats — it was apparently a notable fact that they never suffered from headaches, despite working in the bright sun all day. Apply a little neat oil to temples and massage it in for remarkable relief, or sip cool lavender tea.
Lavender's natural antibacterial, antiseptic, and oil-regulating effects make it ideal for treating acne and other inflammatory skin problems, including eczema and psoriasis. It also helps to reduce scarring. Add 10 drops of lavender oil to 50ml of witch hazel, and dab directly onto spots.
A lavender-scented bath is not just a fragrant treat, it provides relief from musculo-skeletal pain, including arthritis, sciatica, sprains, strains, muscle spasms, labour pain, and period pain. Not only does the lavender reduce the actual pain, it also eases anxiety and tension about the pain, which can be a trigger in itself. Add 10 drops of oil to a bath.
According to a Japanese study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, linalool — a substance found in lavender — 'switches off' stress-induced activity in more than 100 genes. Add lavender oil to a diffuser to disperse the scent through a room, or if you have the luxury of time, take a stress-busting soak.
Ease emotional upset
Lavender's aroma comes from airborne molecules of linalyl esters, oils that stimulate the olfactory nerve in the brain and have a balancing effect on the central nervous system, making it very helpful for treating shock, panic, faintness, hysteria, anxiety or depression. Researchers have also discovered that lavender increases the production of particular brain waves that are associated with relaxation and calm. Massage lavender oil down either side of your spine, or inhale it, either via a diffuser or on a tissue.
Stop the sting
Lavender oil helps to reduce the transmission of nerve impulses that carry pain signals, giving it a mild analgesic effect. Apply it neat to relieve the itching and irritation of insect bites and stings — this will also ease redness and swelling.
Get a good night's sleep
It is no accident that lavender is a universal ingredient in sleep pillows. Its calming and mildly sedative effect encourages you to sleep soundly and wake refreshed. A few drops of oil on a pillowcase is very effective; this is also comforting for a child having nightmares.
Caution: Avoid lavender in first trimester of pregnancy or if blood pressure is very low.
Your say: What is your favourite herbal remedy?
Video: Food colourings and kids