While you might imagine lavender as a flowering meadow in rural France—and you wouldn’t be too far off—it is actually an herb grown right here in the US, and used across cultures for its medicinal and culinary purposes. Lavender is a fragrant, flowering plant that is technically named lavandula, and is usually a pale purple color with a unique and relaxing smell.

Lavender’s medicinal and health benefits are many, ranging from stress support to relief from insomnia. The dried leaves and flowers can also be used in teas, lemonades, desserts, and savory dishes, and lavender is commonly used in the form of essential oil.

Fun Facts About Lavender

  • The word “lavender” comes from the Latin verb lavare, which means “to wash.” The Romans used lavender to “wash” their environments—using its sweet fragrance to scent baths, hair, clothes and more.
  • Many claim that the unique scent of lavender makes for a perfect pest deterrent, especially against flies, mosquitoes, and mice.
  • Lavender is probably the most commonly used ingredient in potpourri.
  • Lavender shares a family with mint.
  • Lavender nectar is used to make a delicious honey.
  • The lavender plant does not always come in purple; there are also brilliant pink and yellow varieties.
  • Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the mummification process.

History of Lavender

Lavender has a rich and interesting history as both a culinary and medicinal herb. While its exact origin isn’t completely agreed upon, it is thought to come from the Middle East, India and parts of the Mediterranean, with a history going back (likely) over 2,500 years.

Nowadays, lavender is cultivated not only in its countries of origin, but also in North and South America, New Zealand, Australia and parts of Europe. The demand for its many uses is great, not to mention it is a very aesthetically pleasing plant to grow (and it adds a delicious smell to your garden).

According to Good Lifestyles Today,

Lavender has been thought for centuries to enflame passions as an aphrodisiac, and is still one of the most recognized scents in the world. The German Commission E commended lavender for treating insomnia, nervous stomach, and anxiety. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia lists it as a treatment for flatulence, colic, and depressive headaches, and many modern herbal practitioners use the herb to treat migraines in menopause. In Spain, it is added to teas to treat diabetes and insulin resistance.

Before diving deeper into lavender’s many health benefits, let’s first explore the most common ways to use lavender, both as medicine and food.

Uses for Lavender

Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender oil (or lavender essential oil) can be used in a surprising number of ways. The most common reasons are for its benefits in aromatherapy, cooling inflammation, healing insect bites, cuts and sunburns, and also as a disinfectant. [1]  Keep lavender oil on hand for motion sickness during travel, to calm nerves or to relieve a headache.

Lavender Seeds

Lavender is one of the most popular herbs to grow in your home garden, as it provides a luscious appearance and deeply relaxing and comforting scent. There are many varieties to choose from, and depending on where you live, certain ones will be better suited. With a little research online or visit to a local nursery, you can buy the right lavender seeds to meet your needs.

Dried Lavender Flowers

Dried lavender flowers are what you’ll find in potpourri or any type of fragrant sachet, and can be used to place in a clothing drawer, on your nightstand or in your closet. You might also used dried lavender flowers alone or mixed with other dried flowers as a sweet-smelling centerpiece of your dining room table.

Health Benefits of Lavender

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

According to initial studies, lavender oil aromatherapy has proven effective in anxiety management and depression. [2] More research is needed, but lavender capsules administered orally has also shown to be a powerful anxiety support, and far safer than prescription anxiety medications that come with many potential side effects.

Protects Antioxidants

It is well known at this point that free radical damage plays a major role in aging and age-related degenerative diseases, and that antioxidants are key for mitigating this potential damage. [3] Studies have found that the use of lavender essential oil can help your body produce certain key antioxidants. [4] A lavender diffuser in your bedroom, for example, is another method for reaping this particular health benefit.

Works to Balance Blood Sugar

One study found significant results with using lavender essential oil in the treatment of diabetics. The treatment produced improved results in symptoms such as increased blood sugar levels (blood glucose), weight gain, kidney and liver dysfunction and metabolic disorders. [5]  If you are a diabetic or suffer from another metabolic disorder, using lavender essential oils and/or an oil diffuser with lavender could be a safe addition to your treatment plan, but should (as always) be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Improve Your Mood

Other studies have shown that lavender oil can be an effective part of treatment for neurological issues such as migraines, stress, nervousness, anxiety and depression. [6]  Other studies have found that lavender can help with postpartum depression in women, and might even help in the recovery of those who have suffered strokes.

Natural Antibacterial Agent

Lavender has been well studied for its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and can therefore be used in combating infections and treating minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. [7]  It could be especially effective when combined with other oils such as tea tree oil, clove oil, cinnamon oil, and/or coconut oil.

Soothes Headaches and Migraines

Research also shows that people suffering from migraines experienced significant improvement after inhaling lavender oil for 15 minutes. [8] Try combining lavender oil with peppermint oil for a potent headache and migraine treatment, and rubbing it onto your temples.

Improves Sleep

Last but certainly not least, lavender is well documented for improving sleep quality with no side effects (which can definitely not be said for most sleep medications on the market today). [9]

Top 10 Ways to Use Lavender

Now that we’ve gone over some of the powerful medicinal properties of lavender and its oil, let’s take a look at some easy ways you can begin using it. There are many ways to incorporate lavender into your life, but here are the top 10 most common and simple uses:

1. Make an Herbal Tea

You can buy the dried herb form of lavender at your local health food store, co-op, farmers market or online. Steep it in a tea bag just as you would any other tea, or mix it with chamomile for an incredibly relaxing, before-bed tea.

2. Use it in a Relaxing Bath

Add just a few drops of lavender essential oil to a hot bath, and try mixing it with epsom salt. This is a fantastic way to soothe tired and sore muscles, and to relax.

3. Take it in a Tincture to Improve and Promote Sleep

Visit your local herbal pharmacy to buy a lavender oil tincture to promote sleep. Ideally, you will discuss the best options with an herbalist.

4. Rub it on Your Temples for Headaches

Rubbing just a drop or two of lavender essential oil on your temples can help soothe a headache or migraine. Breathing it in through a diffuser can also have a similar effect.

5. Make Your Own Potpourri or Eye Mask

Add the dried herb to a buckwheat pillow or eye/sleep mask alone or with other dried herbs. This works well to put in drawers, in your closet, under your pillow or on your bed-side table.

6. Make Lavender Jam as a Gift

While there are many delicious recipes out there, try this one for a blueberry lavender jam. Makes the perfect gift (be sure to make some extra for yourself, too).

7. Use for Minor Burns and Skin Irritation

Add several drops of lavender essential oil to a cool water in a spray bottle, and use to spray on sunburns, insect bites, or any minor skin irritation. You can also apply a drop directly to acne or other skin irritations, but discontinue if the condition worsens.

8. Use Dried Lavender to Repel Bugs

Sitting outside and the bugs are attacking? If you have a lavender plant around, simply crush the leaves and rub them all over your skin. Works to repel insects, and as a natural deodorant.

9. Buy (or Make) Lavender Soap

Buy or make lavender soap to start your day off just a little bit more relaxed.

10. Bake with Lavender

 There are many ways to bake with lavender, but you can start by simply grinding some of the dried flower (a coffee grinder works for this) and mixing it into sugar or with other ingredients in a cookie or cake recipe. Start with a little bit and add as needed.

Where to Buy Lavender

You can purchase lavender oils at a local health food store, herb store, farmers market or online. Make sure to do a bit of research into the brand, and opt for organic whenever possible.

Lavender seeds will be sold at your local nursery (or farmers market, possibly), or online.

While dried lavender can also be purchased online, you can also dry it yourself (check out this resource to learn how).

Lavender Lemonade Recipe

A simple, homemade lemonade could be one of the easiest ways to start using lavender in your kitchen. It is delicious, nutritious and relaxing.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup honey (raw if possible, or use Grade B maple syrup)
  • 4-5 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup fresh lavender blossoms, crushed
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Ice as desired

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring about half of your water to a boil. Once boiling, turn off heat and mix in your honey, stirring well (you can always add more honey if needed for desired sweetness).
  2. Add in your lavender blossoms and cover, allowing your mixture to steep for about a half-hour. Then, strain.
  3. Pour this mixture into a pitcher with the rest of your water (or more, if you’d like), combine with lemon juice and ice, and serve!

Conclusion

Lavender has been used for thousands of years both for its unique taste and medicinal benefits, and for good reason. Whether you use it to manage stress, improve sleep, cure a headache or because you love the taste and smell in your kitchen and home, you really can’t go wrong with lavender in its many different forms. Visit a local grower for the freshest and highest quality lavender if possible, and/or opt for organically grown plants. However you choose to use it, your mind and body will thank you.

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