If you have ever visited the South of France, you may have seen endless fields of blooming lavender. All across Europe, specialised stores offer a wide range of lavender products: tea made of dried flowers, soap, sachets, creams, essential oil, shampoos... But is it all about the lovely scent, or does lavender have real health benefits?
Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) originates in North Africa and the Mediterranean, thriving in dry and sunny climate. In folk medicine, lavender has been used to treat a wide variety of health issues, such as insomnia (people would fill pillows with it), headache (it would be placed on hats), stomach ache, acne, nausea, and fatigue. It was used in medicinal baths for joint pain, as insect repellent, and even to treat wounds in the First World war.
What modern science reveals
Quite a few recent studies prove the medical potential of lavender, though some of them have been small and only performed in vitro or on rats, and not all benefits ascribed to lavender by folk medicine have been verified.
It has been shown that lavender does help treat stress and anxiety: a team of scientists from Vienna has studied the effects of lavender on patients with anxiety disorder (you can find details here ), while a research team from King’s College in London found that it helps relieve stress in dental patients.
A study by Kyoto University suggests that lavender can alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms in women, which are notoriously difficult to treat.
Finally, a study by Korean scientists has demonstrated that lavender can be used to help treat insomnia among college students , though more research needs to be performed as far as insomnia is concerned.
Another unexpected result is lavender’s efficiency in treating fungal effections resistant to traditional antifungal treatments; this was found by researches from Coimbra in Portugal.
It has be noted, however, that since lavender relaxes the nervous system, it should not be taken together with sedatives. Further, as any herb, it can have side effects, such as nausea and dizzyness. It is not recommended for children, and pregnant women should consult their physician.
Preparing lavender tea
While lavender essential oil can be used for massage, baths and inhalations, drinking lavender tea is the easiest way to benefit from the herb’s anti-stress and relaxation properties. Lavender tea is nothing but dried lavender flowers, and you can prepare it just as you would any other herbal infusion; just remember to heat your cup or mug with hot water first, then add fresh hot (but not boiling) water to a teaspoonful of dried flowers, cover and let it steep for ten minutes; then filter or strain. You can add some honey or chamomile.
If you cannot find dried lavender where you live, or it costs too much, remember: you can easily grow lavender in pots at home! It likes full sun and sandy soil, and you can start it from seeds that you’ll find in your local gardening store. After you harvest and dry the flowers, you will have your own supply of organic lavender tea to last you through the gloomy winter.