Ah lavender, widely recognized as the most versatile and commonly used essential oil available. Join us in this in-depth blog post for a deeper understanding of this valuable plant's many attributes including its history, chemical composition and medicinal as well as non-medicinal uses.
Let's start with the basics. True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a small shrub with aromatic green foliage and fragrant spear shaped purple flower heads. Originating in the Mediterranean it was favored by the Romans for use in their bathing rituals. The pilgrims introduced lavender to the new world in 1620 and have since been regarded for its calming effects and soft floral aroma.
Have you ever heard of Rene Maurice Gattefosse? Gattefosse was a French chemist who inherited his father's essential oil and perfume business. In 1910 he suffered severe burns to his hands in an explosion that happened in his laboratory while experimenting with essential oils. He self-treated his wounds with lavender essential oil and was so fascinated with how his body responded to it that he devoted much of his life to essential oil research. Rene Maurice Gattefosse published his first book "Aromatherapie" in 1928 in which he tells of the accident and explains the amazing healing action the lavender had on his burns. He writes: "In my personal experience, after a laboratory explosion covered me with burning substances which I extinguished by rolling on a grassy lawn, both my hands were covered with a rapidly developing gas gangrene. Just one wash with lavender essence stopped the gasification of the tissue. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing began the next day."
Rene's story is a testament to the incredible healing properties that lavender hosts. Many of us have been told or have read that lavender is great for burns, helps calm your nerves and promotes rest and relaxation among other benefits on it's long list of properties, but do you know why it works? People who aren't familiar with aromatherapy may even dismiss these benefits as myth or reduce them down to a placebo effect. The truth though really comes down to science - chemistry, and biology.
The chemical composition your brand of Lavender will differ based on where the herb is grown, how and when it's harvested as well as altitude and growing conditions. Some of these factors will produce slight variations in composition and others, such as country origin can have a surprising effect on the composition of an essential oil even within a specific species.
For example Doterra's Lavender (sp. Lavandula augustifolia) comes from eastern Bulgaria. The Linalool content of Bulgarian lavender is 27.1% Compared to 44.4% observed in lavender that originates in France where Young Living farms and produces their lavender oil. When you look at the rest of the top constituents of lavender and the chemical makeup of lavender oil produced across the world it's really quite interesting to see how much a species of plant can change from location to location.
So, what makes lavender work the way it does in our bodies? Let's have a look at the chemical families present in true lavender oil and the concentrations of those families. Then we'll talk about the specific actions of those families have when introduced to the human body. When I say that I mean whether inhaled, applied topically or otherwise used in or on the body.
Lavender oil contains a high volume of esters. 45% is the average ester content of Lavandula augustifolia. Esters affect the systems of the bodies in the following ways.
Nervous system - antispasmodic, calming, cheering, healing, uplifting.
Endocrine system - balancing
Circulation and Immune system - calming
Skin, muscle and body tissues - antifungal, anti-inflammatory, cell regenerator, soothing for rashes, good for scar tissue, vulnerary (wound healing)
Respiratory system - anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic
Digestive system - anti-inflammatory, calming
Urinary system - anti-inflammatory, calming
Reproductive system - calming.
Esters are also generally safe and gentle in nature. They are a good choice to be used with young, old or frail.
Considering that lavender is almost half constituents that belong to the ester family it's very easy to understand why it's regarded as gentle, safe, and calming to the various systems of the body, hence calming of the mind, aiding in sleep and calming of the skin to ease aggravated skin conditions such as rashes and burns.
Next, Lavender on average is about 36% of constituents belonging to the alcohol family. Let's explore the effects of alcohol on the various body systems:
Nervous system - stimulant, tonic, uplifting, warming
Endocrine system - balancing, hormone-like, stimulates secretions
Circulatory and immune systems - antiviral, strongly bactericidal, decongestant, may lower blood pressure (depending on specific constituents)
Skin, Muscle and body tissues - antifungal, antiseptic, free from irritation
Respiratory system - antiviral, bactericidal,
Digestive system - stimulant, warming
Urinary system - diuretic
Reproductive system - can be aphrodisiac (especially sesquiterpenols)
Alcohols are gentle but powerful in action.
That leaves 19% of the constituents that are broken down as follows: %5 sesquiterpenes, 4% Ketones, 4% monoterpenes, 2% oxides, 1% aliphatic aldehydes, 1% aromatic aldehydes, 2% other. All of these other chemical families have their own unique properties which I will write about and link to at a later date.
Now let's look at the more etherial uses for lavender oil. You may or may not be familiar with the concept of subtle aromatherapy. This is a method of aromatherapy that works mostly with the vibrational energies of essential oils. It's more like homeopathy in that the dosages are very mild and aim more at using essential oils to enhance or rectify the body's own vibrational energies. In subtle aromatherapy, Lavender is considered a balancing oil. It can be used to deepen meditation and cleanse a room of negative energy.
When used in conjunction with Ayurveda (working with the chakras) Lavender helps to bring the energies of the higher and lower chakras into harmony with each other. This is why it has such a strong connection to the solar plexus which lies just above the belly button. The crown chakra also has a deep affinity to lavender oil where it works to expand and heal those energies.
On an emotional level, Lavender has been named the oil of communication. It helps individuals move past obstacles that prevent them from truly expressing themselves. It helps to dissolve tension and fears that may be associated with being truly honest and outright about one's thoughts and feelings.