One of the highlights of our aromatherapy diploma in 2003 was the trip to Provence where we experienced when and how to use lavender. We visited cultivated fields and went walking to compare the scent with Frances' exquisite wild crafted lavender in the higher altitudes.
Did you know there are many varieties of lavender? Each region has their own special type that grows best. And each type works slightly differently in your body. One of them should NEVER be used on children or babies - but which one and why?
Read on to have the insider secrets only taught inside aromatherapy courses, revealed to you in plain English. You won't need a chemistry degree for this either.
The name lavender comes from the Latin word lavare, meaning ‘to wash’.
Roman nobles scented their bathing water with lavender, while in the Middle Ages, it was a cure-all for digestive complaints and even used in cooking.
In fact, lavender flowers are still used in baking - you could try them in a delicate shortbread reciupe.
Just as there are many types of oak or apple trees, Lavender comes in many forms.
- True lavender
- French lavender
The most common, and cheapest priced is Lavendin. It's what gets used in candles, soaps, room sprays, shampoos, conditioners, food and flavourings.
Lavendin (lavandula x intermedia hybridii) is a cross between true lavender (Lavandula augstifolia) and spike lavender (Lavandula spica). It's a clone or hybrid that bees and other insects creates through cross pollination. The downside with clones is that they are sterile, so need propagation through cuttings. The bonus is that clones flower at the same time, with uniform aroma and flower size flower making harvesting easy. Lavendin produces 5-6 times the volume of true lavender. Most of the French lavendin harvest is a variety called Grosso, with a low ester content.
Lavender is native to the South of France and also grows in Spain, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia and Argentina. It is a hardy fragrant shrub, growing to a height of one metre, with narrow, lanceolate leaves and pale bluish-mauve flowers in terminal spikes, borne on slender stalks. Lavendin is a larger plant than true lavender, with more woody stems. The flowering tops are distilled to create the essential oil with a yield of approximately 1%. Being a hybrid, lavendin itself is infertile and has to be propagated by cuttings for large scale cultivation.
Perfumers describe the scent as fresh and herbaceous with soft floral yet bittersweet notes. Lavendin is more camphoraceous than true lavender, but less harsh than spike lavender. It's a middle note, sometimes used as a top note.
How do you tell the difference between the lavenders?
True lavender has small delicate flowerheads. There are no side shoots from its stems. It's fragrance is the most subtle and sweetest of all the lavenders. It beckons rather then screams at you.
True lavender also grows in the higher altitudes, at heights above 600 m.
In contrast, lavendin and spike lavender are larger and have side stems. They are both more camphoraceus and grow at lower altitude.
Lavendin is more' medicinal' in scent than true lavender,making it really useful for unclogging blocked noses. Think of how Vicks works. Spike Lavender is like double dose of Vicks in hot boiling water kind of camphoraceous.
NB: Caution: Due to their camphor content, lavendin and French lavender are contra indicated for anyone under 2 years of age, those with epilepsy or fever, pregnant or breast feeding an infant under two years.
Interestingly, lavendin is almost twice as effective as true lavender in alleviating anxiety. It has a calming effect on the cerebro-spinal activity so can be used for depression, stress, insomnia, hysteria, shock. Lavendin's analgesic properties make it useful for headaches, neuralgia, vertigo, and sciatica. A weird fact: small quantities are calming for the heart and blood pressure, vs larger quantities that have the opposite effect.
Lavender helps with menstrual cramps, muscular aches and cystitis.
As a skin heal-all, lavender is the first choice for most skincare formulators and aromatherapists. From acne and allergies, fungal infections and athletes foot, to first aid for bruises, bites, sunburn and burns....make sure you have a jar handy in your kitchen, for burns from the cooker or iron, and take it with you when camping, hiking or travelling.
Naturopath and Kineseologist, Robbi Zeck, recommends lavender for self nurturing and self nourishment where one has been worn down looking after the needs of everybody else except oneself. She says it nourishes and nurtures the heart and emotions. What mother has not felt herself worn down from all the daily duties?
How to use lavender essential oil and hydrosol at home:
Lavender is a must-have for the home. Not just first aid but also helping ease the stresses and strains - those on the Autistic spectrum may love or loathe it - the key is to keep the dose low and if the essential oil is too strong, buy lavender hydrosol and use that as a calming facial mist or pillow spray.
Lavender hydrosol is gentle enough to use in babies bath water and mist over the backs of horses. Remember to always provide clean drinking water that hasnt had any droplets of hydrosol added, if you are thinking about adding lavender hydrosol to their water bowl.
If you are stressed out, anxious, depressed, worried, studying for exams, moving home or looking after elderly relatives.. consider adding lavender to your routine in some way. You can buy products that are already lavender scented.. or add your own drops of essential oil. Be sure to dilute them well.. 0.5% is a safe ratio for most skincare.
If you live in colder, darker climates where winters feel oppressive... Seasonal Affective Disorder can be softened with daylight lamps and lavender oil. (as well as eating enough nutritionallly dense foods not just binging on Netflix and simple sugary carbohydtaes)
Lavender is also useful if you find communicating difficult. If you are the type who bottles up your anger and frustation till you explode... and go around irritable like a bear with a thorn in her foot.. then time for some gentle TLC with lavender.
Herbalist Peter Holmes describes lavender as “both habit-breaker and crisis smoother” – what better way to start 2019 than with this powerful natural ally, lavender!
During winter, look out for lavendin - it's high content of camphor makes it ideal for using in humidifiers, chest and back rubs.
If you've overextended yourself in the garden, nature trail or gym, try adding a few drops of lavender to your bath to relieve muscular aches and pains.
In fact, if you're having a sweaty time of the peri menopause and battling insomnia, add lavender to your bath or shower gel. While it might not knock you out into la-la land, it does calm the mind and help you to feel relaxed... During stressful times like exams, moving home are opportunities to use lavender for self care .
Natural formulators and massage therapists can include lavender inside blends designed to be used when clients are trying to quit smoking or change other unhelpful habits. Combined with the energetic power of beginnign new habits on the new moon, lavender is even more powerful when used with intention.
With young children be sure to use High Altitude lavender. It costs more than the lavendin of course but for your wee ones, they are worth it.
And of course, keep a bottle of lavender on hand for burns, insects bites, sunburn and other mishaps. A small vial will last you a long time as you only need a drop or two!
Try adding a drop to your an aloe vera gel if you have got burnt in the sun.
Natural Healing for Women by Susan Curtis and Romy Fraser
The Blossoming Heart by Robbi Zeck
The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia
Course notes from ITHMA Diploma