Uses of Lavender
One of the phrases we commonly use in our guided tours and in our educational exhibits at the farm is ”lavender has more uses than any other plant known in the Western world, and a longer history of such uses”.
We arrive at this statement both from our reading the literature and from personal experience. This widespread use over the centuries is no accident. Few plants have as many inherent properties, and it is these properties that are responsible for lavender's widespread deployment in so many cultures.
With its strong visual appeal, lavender has been used for centuries in a variety of household decorative settings, both indoors and outdoors.
Its superb fragrances – highly varied among the hundreds of lavender flower varieties - have led to its being a long-time fragrance of choice in the perfume industry, both as a pure essence or in blending.
Less known by some in more modern times (a situation that is rapidly changing), lavender’s use as a superb culinary herb in both savory and sweet applications has an equally long history.
Among the more significant therapeutic properties of lavender are …
Antiseptic – used alone or in combination (as a constituent of many lotions, creams, etc) on the skin in the treatment of abrasions, cuts, burns, inflammatory skin conditions (both acute and chronic) etc, lavender helps to promote better healing by inhibiting the propensity for many of these to become inflamed and/or infected. Being one of the few essential oils that can be safely applied to the skin, lavender essential oil can be used in its undiluted form for optimal potency, or in more dilute form as lavender hydrosol.
Topical anesthetic – among its most potent properties, being most dramatically used in burns, abrasions, cuts and insect (or even marine animal) bites or stings. The effects are almost instantaneous and with no known associated toxicity.
Sedative – probably the longest recognized therapeutic property. Reports of lavender as a safe and effective calming, relaxing and even sleep-inducing agent appear frequently In the literature and as far back as the early Greeks and Romans, and it remains one of the most favored of all essential oils in massage therapy.
Lavender is also a potent insect repellant with a long folkloric use in the placement of sachets in cupboards and drawers to keep away moths and other cloth-devouring insects (“the original mothball” – and a lot better smelling), or as a mosquito repellant by applying directly on the skin or in a mini-sachet or locket worn around the neck.
Lavender’s forgotten use as an organic solvent and its ability to cut through other oils, while commonly known through the nineteenth century, is nowadays no less extraordinary simply due to this ignorance. It will rapidly help remove grease, glues and paint from various surfaces – and all the while with a much more pleasant (and safer to smell) odor than other chemical solvents.
Further information regarding these and other properties is covered in our discussions of our various products in the lavender products section.
The wonderful fragrance and visual beauty of lavender are largely unquestioned, notwithstanding the occasional individual who claims to dislike either or both. The enduring popularity of its use as an agent of fragrance in personal care products speaks for itself. And while use claims for lavender are as prevalent as those for many other herbs, depictions of some of these in historical texts have found confirmation in more modern settings.
Historical descriptions are often interesting in their own right, even as some of the details and embellishments vary among different authors. At a minimum they provide testimony to human ingenuity and the power of critical observation. Overlaying modern scientific research may lend additional veracity to claims of utility as it attempts to substantiate or refute claims of benefit, but rarely is it used to discover them.
That said, a small but growing community of modern scientific researchers have taken an interest in exploring one or more of the therapeutic claims of lavender, as much out of scientific curiosity as out of a desire to understand better the mechanism of action or to provide evidence that might persuade others of the particular benefit in question. With the passage of time, the implications of this work could be quite significant, especially given the apparent absence of lavender toxicity in humans.
Other uses of lavender will likely continue to be claimed as more people try lavender in a variety of settings to address various needs. Among the more intriguing of these are the several anecdotal reports of the inhibition of scar formation, especially following burns, and even a published report of hair growth restoration. However, until there is more persuasive evidence available for the last-mentioned, we will leave it there for now to sustain our credibility.
Uses like culinary are by definition more subjectively appreciated than others. Others are more easily objectively demonstrated. Ultimately what counts is the benefit they produce for, in or on the individual. Folklore is indeed one of the oldest and one of the most basic tools of civilizations, incorporating the collective social wisdom over the centuries. Indeed, It could rightfully be considered intellectually arrogant to regard the absence of so-called “scientific evidence” as a basis to dismiss a claim of benefit. Skepticism is healthy when it promotes the search for better knowledge, but can be unduly inhibitory if overly interlaced with the inclination to dismiss the ideas or reports of others without deeper examination.
Further, on an increasingly frequent basis, we also get to hear from the direct experience of visitors to the lavender farm or those who have received a gift of one of our products. When we are sufficiently impressed, we search for corroborative evidence. If we are really impressed, we test the idea ourselves for possible inclusion into one of our product lines, if not, then at least into the information we share with others.
Where these contributions from others are testimonials, we identify them as such. Where we come upon them by other means, we try to cite our sources wherever we can without making the presentation overly academic. Our sole objective is to disseminate what we judge to be information worth knowing – positive or negative.
Throughout our lavender products section, we share what we have heard, read, or experienced personally. Backgrounded in medicine and clinical research, we initially approached many of the folkloric claims of therapeutic efficacy with a significant dose of skepticism, only to become believers through personal experience or the sufficiently detailed descriptions of the experiences of others.
So regardless of what we present here, by far the best approach in determining whether to use lavender in its multiplicity of uses is to try it for oneself.