Lavender – the Quintessential Oil
There is no doubt, lavender, alongside rose, is one of the most useful, dynamic, essential oils. It’s beneficial properties are numerous. An amazing skin healing agent, Lavender’s cleansing, anti-microbial, pain relieving, calming and emotionally uplifting qualities, renders it one of the best first aid oils to have in your collection – indeed, if you could only have one essential oil, then lavender would be your oil of choice.
This evergreen woody shrub, with its slender stems topped with clusters of small highly aromatic purple or violet-blue flowers, is native to the rocky calcareous areas within the Mediterranean basin, especially France and the Pyrenees mountains of Northern Spain, North Africa and Western India. Historically cultivated by the Greeks, Romans and Elizabethans in England. Lavender is naturalized in Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugosphere, Australia and Tasmania.
The wide variation and adaptability of lavender sees species growing well in climate zones from cold to subtropical. Lavender can tolerate moderate frost and drought, but spike lavender cannot tolerate frost. All lavenders are sensitive to high levels of humidity and high summer temperatures adversely affect the quality of their essential oil. There are 48 species of lavender with hundreds of genotypes. Essential oil composition will vary according to the species, altitude, rainfall, climate and geographical location of growth, and the age of the plant (1).
The three main essential oil producing lavender species are:
• Lavandula angustifolia (true and English lavender) – also referred to as L. officinalis, L. vera, L. spica
• Lavandula latifolia (spike, broad leaf)
• Lavandula angustifolia x lavandula latifolia hybrid (lavandin)
Lavandin hybrid produces higher yields of flowers and higher concentration of essential oils than true or spike lavenders. English lavender produces the sweetest lavender, preferred by the perfume industry. The best quality essential oil is extracted from the flowering heads, just as the lower flowers begin to open. A lesser quality oil is extracted from the leaves and stalks.
Linalool (alcohol) and Linalyl acetate (ester) collectively form the largest proportion (70-90%) of the phytochemicals comprising lavender essential oils. All chemicals present within an essential oil are significant in that they create a unique synergistic mixture, however, the main chemical components give a general indication of the essential oils’ predominant qualities. Linalool is antimicrobial, uplifting and warming, Linalyl acetate is anti-inflammatory, sedative, and aids wound healing (2).
A recent study found that essential oils with a high content of Linalool diffused during meditation created a synergistic effect that significantly reduced feelings of anxiety and encouraged a sense of equanimity (3). Lavender essential oil is an immune stimulant (Spike latifolia), aids skin healing and regeneration (English or true angustifolia), is anti-infectious, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, balances the nervous system, aids sleep, eases headaches, joint and muscle pain, and feelings of anxiety and mild depression (4).
Apply as an inhalant (drop on tissue or diffused into the atmosphere) or blended in a carrier medium (vegetable oil, non-perfumed lotion, cream or ointment) for massage or topical application -1-3 drops at a time, six drops per day.
(1) Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2209) Essential Oil Crops: Production Guidelines for Lavender: South Africa: http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/brochures/essoilslavender.pdf
(2) Tisserand, R.; Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety (2nd ed): Churchill Livingstone: p 15-22, 324-330
(3) Marilú Roxana Soto-Vásquez, Paúl Alan Arkin Alvarado-García (2016) Aromatherapy with two essential oils from Satureja genre and mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety in humans: Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: 2017 Jan; 7(1): 121–125.
(4) Godfrey, H. (2018) Essential Oils for Mindfulness and Meditation: Inner Traditions, Bear & Co. USA
by Heather Godfrey Fellow Member IFA