An herb that’s been used medicinally since the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians is proving its worth in modern labs around the world.
And while the ancient Greeks used it for breathing problems and the Egyptians put it in their cosmetics (and mummification chemicals), today the latest research shows that this fragrant herb is a valuable healing tool for everything from balancing blood pressure to boosting mood.
I’m talking about lavender.
Lavender’s modern name comes from the Latin word for wash – since the Romans used it in their bathwater. It originated in the Mediterranean, India and the Middle East. But today it’s grown on almost every continent.
Help For Wounds of All Kinds
Lavender is used in aromatherapy and as a topical treatment. The traditional use of lavender as a topical treatment to help heal cuts and wounds has received support from modern studies that have analyzed this herb’s healing properties. For example, laboratory tests in Japan confirm that when used topically lavender encourages wounds to close faster and stimulates the growth of collagen to heal cuts in the skin.1
Other research indicates lavender can be useful after childbirth when employed topically to ease the pain and discomfort from episiotomy (a surgical cut made to ease delivery) and help healing.2 Plus, when it comes to calming the nerves and soothing anxiety, there’s a lot of evidence for its effectiveness.
When researchers reviewed the studies of how aromatherapy including lavender can ease folks’ nervousness before dental procedures – what the researchers call “dental anxiety” – they found “conclusive evidence related to the effectiveness of aromatherapy on anxiety levels among dental patients.”3
The researchers point to how the aromas released by lavender affect the limbic system of the brain – which includes the amygdala, the cingulate gyrus, and the hippocampus. Each of these structures takes part in the formation of emotions and memory.
In addition, the research shows how lavender aromatherapy could be used to:
- Create a calmer environment in crowded hospital emergency rooms: Research demonstrates that lavender’s soothing effects could help reduce “over-crowded anxiety” in hospitals when emergency rooms start to fill up to capacity. The researchers note that crowding is “an important problem worldwide disrupting emergency department functions” and stressing healthcare workers.4
- Reduce anxiety in people having outpatient surgery: A study at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York indicates lavender aromatherapy soothes surgery patients.5 “Given the simplicity, safety, and cost-effectiveness of aromatherapy, healthcare providers should consider its use for managing this common problem,” says researcher Ashutosh Kacker.
- Improve nap time: A study in Japan found that using lavender aromatherapy eases stress and affects the sympathetic nervous system in a way that deepens naps and makes them more refreshing. The researchers note that “sleep quality can be improved.”6
In the future, it looks like we may also learn some new, rather remarkable and unexpected uses for lavender as scientists delve further into the health benefits of this ancient herb.
Lavender Beats Drugs For Better Blood Pressure
A study at the University of California-Irvine shows that lavender, which has long been used in folk medicine to lower blood pressure, can produce cellular and molecular changes in the body that no drug can duplicate.
According to the California researchers, lavender activates a specific potassium channel in blood vessels called KCNQ5.
This potassium channel functions in the muscles that line blood vessels. When it’s activated, this channel eases the tension in blood vessel walls and that relaxation lowers blood pressure.
Although a couple of other herbs have similar effects, the study shows that lavender is “among the most efficacious KCNQ5 potassium channel activators,” says researcher Geoff Abbott.7
If you decide to use lavender, never swallow lavender oil, it can be toxic. Instead, you can inhale lavender vapor through aromatherapy or use it topically.
Another consideration: Lavender oil should not be used topically on young boys who have not yet reached puberty – it can disrupt hormone balance because lavender is estrogenic. (Its effect on young girls is not known.) However, using lavender in aromatherapy should probably be fine for just about everyone.