Lavandula officinalis and related species
Fragrant, healing lavender traces its origins back to the Euphrates River. Known as nardus to the ancient Greeks, the virtues of lavender are proclaimed by healers as diverse as St. Mark, who called it spikenard, and Pliny, who wrote of its great material worth. Lavender was loved and valued by the Romans, who added it to bath water and used it to scent a room in preparation for childbirth. An ancient legend says lavender sprinkled over the head helps keep one chaste.
Lavender's scent is sleep-inducing, nerve-soothing, pain-relieving and markedly antidepressant. Victorian grandmothers dabbed a bit of lavender oil onto their hankies and then sniffed to calm excited nerves. Aromatherapists use lavender for its remarkable ability to soothe the nervous system. It acts on the olfactory bulb, which lies near the reticular activating center, the part of the brain that controls sleep/wake cycles. Scientists speculate that lavender's ability to induce sleep has to do with the way its chemical constituents interact with this part of the brain. Lavender is often the primary ingredient in dream pillows.
Perillyl alcohol, produced naturally in lavender flowers and found in minute quantities in lavender essential oil, has caused complete regression of breast tumors in the majority of laboratory animals tested and shows encouraging results against leukemia and other cancers, including those of the liver and pancreas. According to one study, sixty to eighty percent of tumors completely regressed when laboratory rats were fed perillyl alcohol. Scientists claim that perillyl alcohol is ten times more potent than its cousin limonene, present in orange peels. Both these substances are members of a class of compounds called monoterpenes. Monoterpenes appear to interfere with growth-promoting proteins, reduce a tumor cell's capacity to make energy by blocking the synthesis of coenzyme Q (CoQ), and increase levels of anti-cancer antioxidants. Monoterpenes may indirectly increase levels of transforming-growth-factor-beta, known to inhibit the growth of mammary cells. Rather than killing cancer cells, perillyl alcohol and limonene appear to convince them to stop dividing rapidly so they lose their tumor-like characteristics. However, ingesting lavender oil in the concentrations necessary for an anticancer effect would be lethal.
Instead, wild hearted wise women use essential lavender oil externally in a carrier oil. I've found that any infused herbal oil with lavender is wonderful massaged on breasts and helps keep them healthy and lump free. I add essential oil of lavender to infused oils such as comfrey, St. John's wort, calendula and dandelion. I start by adding five drops for every ounce of infused oil, cap the bottle, shake well and then smell to ensure the scent of lavender is mild, yet fully present. When the oil is applied to the warm surface of my skin its aroma arises more fully, so if I want more scent, I use only a drop at a time.
I have to buy essential oil of lavender but I can make my own infused oil of lavender. It is a luxurious moisturizer and superb as an after-bath oil to keep skin healthy. It also feels exquisite rubbed into sore muscles. Lavender has antispasmodic abilities, relieves soreness and cramping, and is deeply relaxing to muscles. I like to apply infused lavender oil or a lavender poultice to the abdomen and sore muscles including the uterus, to aid blood flow to the area and relieve cramping. Grandmothers say to sip a cup of lavender infusion to help relieve pain and ease tension. I've found lavender especially healing for sores, wounds and burns, removing the pain almost immediately. When I burned my foot, I soaked it in a lavender bath made from infusion and it promptly relieved my pain and probably helped speed healing.
To relieve headache, I like to soak a cloth in lavender infusion, apply to my head where it hurts, and breathe in the healing aromas as I rest with my eyes closed. Even simply crushing a fresh leaf or rubbing some infused oil on my temples lets me take in lavender's soothing scent. European grandmothers rubbed lavender infused oil onto paralyzed limbs and feet to bring back feeling and movement. They drank the tea to relieve colds and flu, as a digestive aid, as a nervine, and called upon lavender when their heads ached or when they wanted to bring on menstruation.
Lavender is an excellent nervine. The next time you feel irritated, roiled, riled, pissed, miffed, nettled, annoyed, peeved or steamed, try a bit of lavender tincture in some water to calm your impatience and help you find your center again.
Lavender has an ancient history as a plant with a special affinity for women. Bringing courage and strength to those who use it, lavender offers a stabilizing, revitalizing and empowering influence before, during and after the menopausal years. I spray lavender and rose hydrosols around my home, and put the dried herbs in a little pouch inside dresser drawers. I encourage all women to immerse themselves in the gray-green waves of relaxing and uplifting lavender, a woman's herbal ally extraordinaire!
Essential oil of lavender is an effective repellent against mosquitoes and flies. Dried lavender smells good in the closet and protects fine materials from moths. Lavender is anti-parasitic, too. It can be used to prevent, as well as repel, lice and fleas (and probably anything else that infests an animal's coat). When our neighbor’s dog had patches of hair missing on his rump, we rubbed infused oil of lavender into it. Over the next few weeks, as we continued our treatment, Spotty's coat grew back nice and healthy. I rubbed infused lavender oil into a lamb's fleece when we suspected parasites, and learned it will work in children's hair, like its cousin rosemary, as a preventative during lice outbreaks at school.
Flower Essence I've used lavender flower essence to help develop intuition, and to aid me in returning to a sense of wholeness.
Magical Lore Lavender is used in all mystical ceremonies but especially to celebrate summer. At Blessed Maine Herb Farm, we use it as a primary ingredient in the smudge we burn on Midsummer's Eve. I love burning lavender because it makes me feel calm and centered. It is often burned to bless a home, or in a birthing room to welcome the soul of the newborn babe, and to calm, uplift and focus. Burning it before starting a classe brings everyone together. It’s also been burned to attract financial success. For centuries, people have woven beautiful, aromatic lavender into wreaths carried or worn during the marriage ceremony.
In Southern Italia, the flowers, called spicaddosa, decorate statues of San Giovanni on his feast day, June 24. I gather lavender in bunches and use it to sprinkle holy water. I hang bundles of it in our home for its protective qualities. Lavender attracts vibrational energies which bring increased awareness and inner calm. Old wives say it helps one remember past lives and shake loose ancient memories.
Lavender's wooly leaves grow upward, always aiming for the sky, as if to say “look up!” Its flower, held high above the plant, seems like a special offering. This evergreen perennial possesses a glorious spirit, aspiring to uplift and energize in a calm, clear way. Lavender produces an aroma that links us to our ancient past, to the elements, to the strong, stable core of the mother, to the very soul of nature. I encourage you to open your wild heart and engage the spirit of lavender. Discover an ally that can help you develop a strong, healthy, generous, compassionate spirit, nerves of steel and a wise heart wealthy with healing ways.
Culture I am fond of growing lavender. We start seeds inside early each spring after a week or two of stratification. Lavender starts out tiny, and stays that way a long time. We transplant seedlings, about eight weeks after germination, into beds kept well-weeded. The plants eventually get bigger and look beautiful growing in rows of grayish-green needle-like, sturdy, shrubby bushes. About midsummer, lavender sends up a gorgeous, deep-purple-blue flower spike on a stiff stem. During the flowering stage I visit my plants often. I sit with the plants, taking note of the pollinators that visit them, soaking in their beauty and their aromatics as they waft through the air. When their aroma is at its peak, I cut the bushes to within a few inches of the soil, or prune individual sprigs. I lay the branches on screens, or hang them to dry in small bunches for teas. The smell of lavender drying is wonderful! I'm always sure to wrap some into fumigation bundles and I love the way it feels on my hands. I also infuse fresh lavender in oil, honey or even vinegar.
And, I enjoy distilling freshly gathered lavender in our copper alembic still to make a hydrosol. I use it anytime I want to feel calm and relaxed, spray it on my fresh sheets and pillowcases and add some to my bath.
A multitude of pollinators are attracted to lavender when it’s in flower, including hummingbirds, and it’s an important nectar source for the great spangled fritillary butterfly.
Make a Dream Pillow Choose a pretty material. A natural fabric, like cotton, linen or silk is best. Your pillow doesn't have to be very big. I like mine small enough to slop inside my pillowcase. Sew up three sides. Fill with the dried herbs of your choice, such as lavender, roses, skullcap, mugwort or oatstraw. Don't overfill. A slim pillow is more comfortable. Stitch up the remaining side and you’re done. Your dream pillow will help put you to sleep, and may stimulate dreaming or dream recall.
Breast Care Oil Infuse fresh dandelion roots and flowers, violet leaves and flowers and Our Lady’s mantle in olive oil. Strain after six weeks and add 6-8 drops of essential oil of lavender per ounce of infused oil. Use for breast massage regularly.
Lavender Salts Grind dried lavender leaves and/or flowers into a fine powder and mix with Epsom salts, Dead Sea salts, pink Himalayan salts or plain sea salt. Add half to one cup of this herbal salt mix to the tub for a calming, relaxing, protective, pain and tension-relieving bath.