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Lavender

Latin Names: Lavandula vera (True Lavender); Lavandula angustifolia (Narrow leafed Lavender); Lavandula stoechas (French Lavender)

Other Names: Lebanta, Stoikas (Greek); Lavande (French); Ustukhddus (Arabic, Persian); Stoechas (English for French Lavender)

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Lamiaceae (Mint) family

Part Used: Flowers; leaf and herb; essential oil

Basic Qualities: Hot 1, Dry 2

Other Qualities: First warming and stimulating, then relaxing, refreshing and calming.  Light, fresh and aromatic.  The French variety, or Stoechas, is more astringent and binding than L. vera / angustifolia, and is therefore stronger in its properties as a cicatrizant.

Taste: Very aromatic; bittersweet and pungent.

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – Disinfects and relieves fermentation and putrefaction in the GI tract; soothes and beautifies the skin.  Phlegmatic – Phlegmolytic due to its aromatic properties; a mild diuretic.  Choleric – mildly facilitates the flow of bile.  Melancholic – Relieves neurological and muscular aches and pains due to cold; relieves muscular cramps and spasms; relieves wind or flatulence; relaxes and rebalances the autonomic nervous system.  Avicenna states in the Canon of Medicine that Lavender’s warming properties mainly make it effective at moving and relieving congestions of the cold humors: phlegm and melancholy.

Tropism: Mind and Spirit; nerves and neuromuscular system; skin; stomach, gall bladder and GI tract; lungs and chest; urinary tract.

Constituents and Pharmacology: The chief active constituent of Lavender is its essential oil. An analysis of Cretan L. stoechas oil is as follows: Fenchone (30%); Camphor (14%); Myrtenyl Acetate (10%); a-Pinene (5.5%); 1.8 Cineole (4%); a-Cadinol (3.6%); Limonene (1.7%); Camphene (1%); Cadinene (1%); trans- and cis- Carveol (1 and 0.7%); Copa-Borneol (0.9%); with minor quantities of Apo-pinene; Fenchene; Sabinene; p-Cymene; Fenchyl Acetate; Triterpine 4-ol; Carvone; p-Cymen-8-ol; and Tetra-hydro-spirol.

Medicinal Properties: Anodyne, antiflatulent, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, cholagogue, cicatrizant, cosmetic, diuretic, expectorant, mucolytic, relaxant, stomachic.

Cautions and Contraindications: Never use the essential oil internally in large doses exceeding 3 to 5 drops. There have been some reports of Lavender use being associated with gynecomastia in men, but these may be spurious. The tea is best prepared as an infusion and taken in standard doses.

Medicinal Uses: The tea is often drunk as a digestive aid after meals, either singly or in combination with other herbs, where it serves to calm the stomach, improve the flow of bile, remove wind and flatulence, and reduce colic and bloating.  The tea also has a mild diuretic effect due to the action of its essential oil.  In either tea or powder form, the flowers have an antifungal, anti-candida effect that is a gastrointestinal antiseptic , relieving fermentation and putrefaction in the digestive tract.  The aromatic properties of Lavender, when taken as a hot tea, have an expectorant or mucolytic effect that opens up the lungs and chest, and makes breathing easier.  The essential oil, when rubbed into the temples, is useful in calming headaches and migraines.  In powders, pills, tinctures and electuaries, Lavender, especially French Lavender, or L. stoechas, is a nervous restorative and warming anodyne that is useful for calming all neuromuscular aches and pains due to cold.  In aromatherapy, the fragrance of Lavender is very calming and relaxing, and balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic halves of the autonomic nervous system.  The essential oil applied topically is also useful for soothing minor skin irritations like cuts and insect bites.  Because it is a muscle relaxant and antispasmodic, essential oil of Lavender is a common ingredient in massage oils and balms.

Other Uses: Because of its clean, fresh scent, Lavender has many uses in cosmetics, perfumery, cleaning products and aromatics.

Preparation and Dosage: The whole herb or flower is fairly gentle and mild, and can be prepared and taken, even internally, in standard doses, in teas, powders, pills, electuaries and tinctures. When making a tea, Lavender is best prepared as an infusion and not a decoction, as excessive boiling will dissipate its essential oil content. Taken internally, the dose of the essential oil is 3 to 5 drops, but it may be applied topically in liberal amounts, as needed.

Herbal Formulation: Lavender is best used in combination with other aromatic digestive herbs of a similar taste, energy and character, to act synergistically upon one another.  It also combines well with bitter and pungent herbs that have a similar action to relieve nervousness, indigestion, poor appetite, wind and melancholy.   French Lavender, or Stoechas, is the chief ingredient of an herbal paste or electuary used in Unani Medicine, called Itrifal-e-Ustukhddus, which is used to treat neuralgic and neuromuscular pains due to cold and melancholy.  In addition to French Lavender, the formula contains various forms of the Chebulic Myrobalan, or Haritaki; Amla berries, Rose petals; and Cuscuta, or Dodder, as its other active ingredients.

Classic Combinations: With Blessed Thistle to soothe and stimulate a nervous, colicky Melancholic digestion and appetite.  With Sage to balance and improve stomach and liver function as well as appetite, and for a mild calming effect.  With Yarrow to improve appetite and digestion, stimulate the bile flow, in cases of a nervous, colicky Melancholic digestion and appetite; this combination of whole herbs can also be stuffed into a pillow to improve sleep and brighten the dreams.  With Cardamom, and also with Ginger, as a stomach and digestive tonic and stimulant.  With Patchouli as a stomach and digestive tonic, and to relieve fermentation and putrefaction in the gut; this combination is also popular as an aromatic in perfumery.

Description:

Although Lavender has always been a perennial favorite in cosmetics, perfumery, aromatics and herbal body care, its fortunes and popularity as a medicinal herb have waxed and waned.  Although it is not held in very high esteem as a medicinal herb in Western herbal medicine, the French variety, Lavandula stoechas, known and used as Ustukhuddus in Unani Medicine, has never gone out of fashion.  It was also used extensively by medieval herbalists in the West, who simply called it Stoechas.  The regular English variety is distinguished by its small, bead-like flowers, whereas the French variety is known by its tufts of hood like flowers, arranged somewhat like a shaft of wheat.  Although the etymological origins and derivation of the name Lavender is uncertain, a common opinion is that it originated from the Latin lavare, or the verb “to wash”, which was doubtless inspired by its fresh, clean scent. 

When brewing Lavender flowers as a tea, it is best to do so as an infusion, since excessive boiling will dissipate its aromatic essential oils, which are the main source of its therapeutic properties.  An herbal infusion of Lavender flowers will work mainly on the stomach and digestive organs, to stimulate stomach and digestive function, facilitate the bile flow, relieve wind and flatulence, as well as gas, distension and bloating; its antiseptic properties also relieve fermentation and putrefaction in the gut, and have an antifungal or anti-yeast effect.  To relieve turbidity, fermentation and putrefaction in the GI tract, Lavender combines well with herbs of a similar antiseptic, antifungal character like Cardamom, Patchouli and Mastic gum.  As a digestive tonic in cases of a sensitive, colicky Melancholic digestion, Lavender combines very well with herbs like Sage, Blessed Thistle and Yarrow. 

In the fields of aromatherapy, perfumery, cosmetics and body care products, Lavender is, and always has been, a perennial favorite.  Lavender has a refreshing, relaxing aroma that relieves nervous tension and stagnation by its very nature.  Rub some of the essential oil into the temples, and it will calm a headache or migraine.  Stuff a pillow case with Lavender flowers and sleep on it as an herbal sachet and it will promote sound, restful sleep, since its fragrance harmonizes and balances the two sides of the autonomic nervous system, Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.  Lavender oil’s properties as an antispasmodic and muscle relaxant assure that it will always be a favorite in herbal massage oils.  And lavender scented soaps and colognes are also a long time favorite.   Used topically, the essential oil of Lavender also has a soothing, healing effect as a cicatrizant in minor cuts, scrapes, bruises and insect bites on the skin.         

In Unani herbal medicine, French Lavender is used, and it is called Ustukhuddus.  Avicenna wrote in his Canon of Medicine  that Lavender’s warming properties make it effective at moving and relieving congestions of phlegm and melancholy; he also recommended frequent use of it for those who suffered from neuromuscular and rheumatic aches and pains brought on by an excess of cold and melancholy.  The main Unani herbal formula for treating these types of cold induced neuromuscular aches and pains is Itrifal-e-Ustukhuddus, or the Electuary of Stoechas; the chief active ingredients of the formula are discussed above, under Herbal Formulation.  In addition, Lavender’s warming aromatic properties are also useful in dissolving and relieving congestions of phlegm as an expectorant and mucolytic.  To relieve phlegm congestion and open up the lungs and chest in this manner, Lavender is best taken as a hot tea or infusion, either singly or in combination with other herbs for the respiratory tract.

Related Species: The essential oil of Spike Lavender is distilled from the leaves of Lavandula latifolia, a close relative of true Lavender.  Having a greater Camphor content and a more herbaceous and camphoraceous scent, somewhat akin to a blend of Lavender and Sage, with hints of Rosemary thrown in.  Although its therapeutic properties are similar in many ways to the essential oils of English or French Lavender, it is generally agreed that Spike Lavender is more stimulating and invigorating, with stronger properties against headaches (rubbed into the temples), and as an expectorant – either inhaling the essential oil or ingesting it in small doses.  The higher Camphor content of Spike Lavender oil has given some aromatherapy experts, such as Robert Tisserand, concerns about its potential for toxicity.

Sources: Greek Lavander, Lavandula stoechas
Spike Lavender Essential Oil
The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, pp. 625 - 628. @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications.

DISCLAIMER:  The information in this article is for educational purposes only, for general health maintenance and prevention, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical disease or condition. The reader assumes all personal responsibility and liability for the application of the information contained in this article, and is advised to seek the services of a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner should his or her symptoms or condition persist or worsen.