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The lavender plant, endemic to the Mediterranean, has long been cherished for its scent, therapeutic qualities and cooking use. Essential oil of lavender is referred to as the “mother” of aromatherapy oils by essential oils teacher Salvatore Battaglia. Lavender’s flowery, yet gentle, the scent is subtle and supportive. Unlike rose or jasmine flower essential oils, lavender’s aroma is not overbearing but instead buoys the spirit and assists in the rebalancing of physical and mental bearings. These reasons make lavender an excellent plant for overcoming symptoms of stress.
The term lavender is derived from its Latin root levare, which means “to wash,” because of its time-honored use as a bathing herb. French cooking has long incorporated lavender flowers in its bountiful cuisine, primarily in the medley herbes de Provence. The flowers also provide a unique pollen source for local bees, resulting in widely-sought lavender honey. This simple evergreen has also developed a name for itself globally as an indispensable medicinal aid in a variety of therapies. True lavender, and its relatives lavandin, maritime lavender, and spike lavender, are now grown in countries ranging from Japan to Russia to Italy.
Lavender is, by far, the most widely used and multifaceted of the common essential oils. Culling essential oil from lavender involves extracting lavendulol and ester linalyl acetate from the plant’s delicate violet flowers. Whether cultivated at high altitudes or gathered in lowland meadows, true lavender is the most aromatic and powerful of the species and can be used with great effect in all essential oil applications. The plant’s energetic qualities of balancing the nervous system make it a powerful oil for soothing nervous exhaustion, and its ability to cool the body enables lavender to combat fiery emotions, such as frustration and agitation.
Lavender’s versatility has long been acknowledged by aromatherapists and naturopaths, but current scientific research is verifying lavender’s ability work as an axiolytic, or anxiety-combatant plant. A recent study, published by the University of Central Lancashire, employed lavender as an anxiolytic therapy during a test conducted on participants watching an anxiety-provoking film clip. Lavender was taken orally in 100 or 200 micro doses. Researchers found lavender was responsible for reducing symptoms of anxiety in both male and female test subjects. Women were especially affected by lavender in 200 micro doses. Female heart rates were more controlled, and men elicited positive electrodermal response readings. Scientists concluded that decreased stress responses due to lavender indicate the plant is efficacious in dealing with low-stress stimulation.
“High stress” can certainly be an individual definition, yet a frequently shared experience of anxiety is waiting for dental or medical work. In a test developed by a medical school in Vienna, one hundred people, ranging in age from 18 to 77 years old, were given lavender aroma before a dental procedure. The resulting changes in anxiety symptoms suggest lavender can be a powerful, natural anxiolytic during times of worry over personal safety. The Kumugaya Geka Hospital in Japan conducted its own study on lavender in relation to patients preparing for gastroscopy. Researchers established what they felt was an ideally calming atmosphere, including giving patients their own essential oil diffuser for use prior to and during the gastroscopy. Those patients using lavender elicited decreased anxiety levels, especially lowered blood pressure, again confirming this plant’s ability to work in higher stress situations.
Recovering from medical procedures can also be extremely mentally and physically grueling. In order to test lavender’s ability to combat post-procedural stress and recovery, NYU Medical Center implemented a test on twenty-five women receiving breast biopsies. Subjects were given aroma of lavender in their oxygen supply during post-procedural recovery. A promising relationship was noted between how satisfied patients were with their pain recovery and the use of lavender aromatherapy. This is significant, as control group subjects seemed to experience more discontentment with pain management post-surgery. A second study, at the same university, sought to determine whether lavender could be an effective pain management tool in laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Traditionally, opioids and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are administered to combat post-operative pain. In this study, lavender was used in conjunction with these medications to again test its efficacy as a pain-management tool. Researchers found lavender aroma lowered patient’s dependence on traditional medicines, offering hope that this plant could be used with other medical procedures.
The central nervous system, both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, respond powerfully to lavender’s soothing qualities. Because it affects the entire nervous system, lavender is capable of alleviating symptoms of stress ? raised heart rate, frustration, worry? without interfering with our capability to deal with stressors that require immediate action. Anxiety and stress often find their sources in situations which are not always related to actual threats or emotional turmoil but are instead simply turnings of the mind in response to feelings of helplessness or heightened expectations or fears. Discovering ways of calming stress responses is imperative for creating harmony in the body and mind. Lavender penetrates the central nervous system, making it a perfect plant for working with daily stress and also for pacifying our nerves at the end of a long day when we so dearly need our sleep.
Lavender oil is easily combined with a variety of carrier oils for massage application, to create compresses, for dermatological use and as a salve or balm. As its Latin root implies, it is excellent when used in bathing, and it can also be used with youngsters. It creates a heavenly mood when used in a vaporizer or diffuser in your home, office or car, and won’t likely offend others with its gentle scent. Lavender buds can also be tossed into gourmet cooking and add an intriguing aroma to herbal decoctions. And don’t forget those delightful flax and lavender eye pillows ? if insomnia plagues your nights, lavender is your best ally. For daytime stress, keeping a bottle of lavender essential oil in your car or bag can neutralize a wide variety of symptoms that keep you from functioning at your best. Just stop, breathe deep and let this beautiful oil show you how to regain your footing once more.*