Lavender: The Flower With Many Faces

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lavender

Story at-a-glance -

  • Lavender is a perennial flowering shrub native to North Africa and the Mediterranean region, with a history dating back to more than 2,500 years ago
  • Lavender is composed of over 150 active constituents that are rich in esters, which are aromatic molecules that contain antispasmodic, calming and stimulating properties

Lavender is a perennial flowering shrub native to North Africa and the Mediterranean region, with a history dating back to more than 2,500 years ago. It has been used by ancient civilizations, such as the Phoenicians, Arabians and Egyptians, for perfumes and mummification. The Greeks, Romans and Persians added it to their bathwater to wash and help purify their skin.1

Today, lavender is sold in different forms, and is a common fixture among households and professionals. It can be used in different ways, such as for cooking, home decorations and aromatherapy. Lavender has a sweet, floral, herbaceous and slightly woody scent.

The Various Benefits of Lavender

Due to the rich, long history of lavender, it's no surprise that many cultures have used it in various ways to help treat different conditions. Below are some of lavender's research-backed health benefits:

Promoting hair health — According to a study published in Archives of Dermatology, lavender oil, along with a mixture of other essential oils, may help treat alopecia areata (hair loss), and that it was able to show improvement in 43 percent of the total test participants.2 In another study that used mice as test subjects, lavender oil exhibited hair growth-promoting effects.3

Eliminating microbes — Research shows that lavender oil possesses antibacterial properties that are effective against 65 different strains, such as E. coli and S. aureus. In addition, it may also help fight fungi.4

Improving blood circulation — Lavender may help boost proper blood circulation throughout your body.5

Relieving respiratory disorders — If diffused via an inhaler or a vaporizer, lavender essential oil can help treat inflammatory respiratory conditions like asthma.6

Providing pain relief — Applying lavender essential oil to your muscles may help relieve soreness, joint pain and rheumatism.7

Boosting skin healing — A 2016 study notes that topical application of lavender oil can help promote acceleration of collagen synthesis and differentiation of fibroblasts, thereby promoting wound healing.8

Other Great Uses of Lavender

Aside from the therapeutic and topical benefits of lavender, it has other useful applications for:

  • Cooking — Dried lavender buds or petals can help enhance the aroma of dishes, most notably desserts and salads. Make sure to grind them finely first before cooking so that when you eat the finished product, you don't have leaves or petals stuck in your mouth. Use them sparingly as well, as they have a powerful flavor and aroma that can overpower the other ingredients in your dish.9
  • Keeping air fresh and clothes fragrant — Lavender sachets can enrich the atmosphere in your house, making you feel like you live right beside a lavender field in rural France. To liven up your home, you can leave lavender sachets inside your drawer to make your clothes fragrant. They're also a safe insect repellent that may help preserve your prized clothing.10
  • Home decorating — Lavender flowers are very pleasing to the eye, making them popular choices for home decorations. You can plant them in patterns to create natural borders in your garden, construct a path or grow a hedge.11 The possibilities are endless when it comes to decorating with lavender, and there are many home decoration tips you can find online to help you.

How to Grow Lavender in Your Home

Growing lavender can be easily done in the comfort of your own home. Not only does it provide you easy access to its amazing health benefits, but it also makes your garden look better. To grow lavender, there are three aspects you need to focus on:12

Planting and soil conditions — Plant lavender seeds in an open area that has lots of circulation and full sunlight exposure, spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart. The soil must have a pH between 6.7 and 7.3, and should be well-drained. This is important because lavender flowers should not have excess water in the soil, or the quality of the plants will suffer.

As the plants bloom, clip any wilted flowers to maintain the quality and prune them lightly to promote branching. Expect the flowers to fully mature when summer arrives.

Maintenance — It's important to remember that in growing lavender, you should have an area with a good water circulation system and good air exposure. When watering, always add moderate amounts to prevent excess water from building up. If you're watering during the hot season, add sand to the soil to increase evaporation speed, because humid surroundings can cause fungi growth, causing the plants to deteriorate.

Harvesting and storage — Once fully mature, you can harvest the flowers at your own leisure. To dry the flowers, gather a group of stems and hang them upside down in a dark, well-ventilated place to prevent molds from growing. In terms of storage, the flowers can maintain their fragrance for months if you harvest them before they entirely open.

Cooking With Lavender: Peach and Feta Salad With Lavender Dressing

If you want to try incorporating lavender into a meal, a salad is a great way to experience it. This recipe, which comes from Honest Cooking, contains a mixture of lettuce, onions, feta and peaches to provide various essential nutrients for optimal health. It’s easy to prepare, tastes great and best of all, smells amazing thanks to the lavender.13

Ingredients

  • 3 cups romaine lettuce, torn
  • 1 red onion, cut into rings
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 peaches, cut into segments

Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon fresh lavender flowers
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Juice of half a lemon (at least 4 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Procedure

  1. Mix the lemon juice, salt, lavender, mustard, garlic and balsamic vinegar in a bowl, then whisk. Slowly drizzle the olive oil while whisking until you’ve added enough.
  2. Add the onion rings to the dressing. This helps remove some of the sharp flavor of the onions.
  3. Lightly cook the peaches on a grill or in a pan on the stovetop.
  4. Arrange the torn lettuce in a plate, then top with the grilled peach segments.
  5. Remove the onions from the dressing then arrange on top of the lettuce.
  6. Top with the crumbled feta cheese, and decorate with a few lavender twigs.
  7. Drizzle the dressing on the salad and serve.

Lavender Essential Oil — The Best Way to Use Lavender

Out of all the various uses lavender is known for, its essential oil form is probably the most popular. Lavender oil is prized for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal and therapeutic benefits. It's rich in esters, which are aromatic molecules that contain antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic properties.14

Making Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender essential oil is manufactured through steam distillation. In this process, lavender flowers are placed over a still and are slowly steamed. Eventually, the steam forces the essential compounds of the flowers to be released in oil form, which is then gathered and packaged.15

Using Lavender Essential Oil

There are many ways to apply lavender essential oil. Some of the most commonly used methods include:

  • Bath — Adding a few drops of lavender oil to your bathwater may help you experience the therapeutic benefits throughout your body almost instantly.16
  • Massage — You can apply diluted lavender essential oil directly to your skin and massage it to help feel relaxed.17 You can use it on athlete’s foot and other fungal infections as well to help speed up the healing process.18 Diluting it with a carrier oil is important because it has a very strong aroma, and an undiluted application can possibly sting your skin.
  • Diffuser — You can use a diffuser to help ease any respiratory conditions you might have. This method can help you feel relaxed and may help you breathe easier.19
  • Compress — Adding lavender oil to a cold towel compress may help ease plant stings caused by poison ivy or stinging nettles.20

Things to Remember Before Using Lavender Essential Oil

Before using lavender essential oil, or any essential oil for that matter, it's always important to do a skin test to check for any allergic reaction. To perform the test, apply one drop of diluted lavender oil to your arm to see if your skin becomes irritated. If nothing happens, then you can proceed with using the oil (make sure it's diluted with a carrier oil when you do so). Should any irritation occur, stop using the oil immediately and contact your doctor if the irritation doesn't subside.