Loved for its sweet fragrance and beauty, and un-ironically named for the color of its blooms, lavender is an herb of great culinary and medicinal versatility. The benefits of lavender range from its potential to help us sleep better and digest more easily to helping to heal our wounds, ease our aches and pains, and more. Plus, it’s the ultimate herb for relaxing and pampering yourself with botanicals.
Learn more about this incredible plant including 19 science-backed health benefits and uses, key botanical features, history, and more.
Meet Lavender, Botanically Speaking…
- There are about 39-45 different species of lavender. Among them, Lavandula angustifolia is the most commonly cultivated.
- Lavender is a small, herbaceous perennial shrub in the mint family that matures to about 2-3 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide.
- Leaf shape is pretty diverse across the Lavandula genus, but they’re typically grey-green in color. The characteristic flowers range from light violet to deep purple.
- This plant is a sun lover! Just picture her basking in the sun on the Mediterranean coast, getting spritzed by the cool, misty breeze coming off the sea. Lavender loves a sunny, but mild climate, not too hot and not too cold.
- Lavender is generally pretty draught-tolerant. In fact, overwatering or trying to grow in a climate that is too wet is the most common problem with growing lavender.
- Typically, lavender is grown as an ornamental or for its essential oil, but it’s also a great pollinator species and natural pest repellant.
- The word lavender comes from the Latin word lavare, meaning to wash, referring to the traditional use of lavender infusions.
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Culinary Uses of Lavender
Lavender is one of those ingredients that people either love or don’t love. We’ve all heard the comparison between lavender and our grandmother’s soap. And I’ll be honest, there’s some validity to the comparison.
Too much lavender can leave a soapy aftertaste in your mouth. But don’t let that stop you from including this beautiful and versatile herb in your spice cabinet. Learning how to use lavender in your food and beverages is simple. As a general rule of thumb: go easy on the lavender. A little goes a long way.
- Due to its antimicrobial properties, lavender found itself in many traditional foods, perhaps more for practical reasons than flavor. Before refrigeration and our modern food sanitation practices, we had antibacterial and anti-fungal herbs and spices. Using these in our cooking helped to preserve our food and protect us from food-borne illnesses.
- Both the leaves and flowers are edible! The leaves can be used anywhere you’d use rosemary leaves. Although, lavender has a much milder flavor than rosemary, and using the flowers in food is much more common.
- Lavender’s versatility is perhaps its most fascinating culinary aspect. It suits both sweet and savory foods. You can find lavender in everything from infused oils and vinegars, herbal salt rubs, spice blends like Herbs de Provence, herbal honeys, shortbreads and cookies, cakes and ice creams, cocktails and mocktails, and more!
Science-Backed Health Benefits of Lavender
Lavender has a long history of medicinal use. Today, many of the folk medicine traditions of using lavender have been validated by modern science. Most of these studies evaluate the health benefits of lavender essential oil and its wide variety of internal and external uses.
Insomnia & Sleep
- SLEEP QUALITY: Many studies have found lavender aromatherapy (using lavender essential oil) to be effective in improving sleep quality (but not necessarily quantity). Studies included college students, hemodialysis patients, postmenopausal women, and those experiencing sleep apnea.
Lavender essential oil is a non-toxic, easy, and affordable addition to a healthy sleep routine with many potential benefits. It may help to improve insomnia, decrease frequency of sleep disturbance, and enhance overall sleep quality. Its soothing effect has been found to also increase feelings of being well-rested.
Herbal Products You May Enjoy!
You’ll find lavender essential oil in many aromatherapeutic sleep blends like this Sleep Essential Oil Blend and Sleep Ease Aroma Oil with clary sage, bergamot, and chamomile from Mountain Rose Herbs. This lovely Lavender Linen Spray is the perfect accompaniment to sweet dreams. Or sip on this Sweet Repose Tea with chamomile, peppermint, rose, and more before bedtime.
Lavender has also proven itself a great tonic for the hair, scalp, and skin.
- HAIR GROWTH: Topical application of lavender oil to the scalp has demonstrated hair growth promoting effects in mice. This suggests its possible application in treating alopecia in humans. Many hair growth promoting products heavily laden with chemicals come with the possibility of many negative side effects. These side effects include an increased risk of allergic reactions. Thus, lavender may be a much safer alternative to these products.
- DANDRUFF: As an antimicrobial, lavender can help to prevent bacterial and fungal infections that can lead to a dry, itchy, and flaky scalp. Lavender shampoos have been proven an effective treatment for dandruff, as well a pleasant addition to overall hair and scalp hygiene.
- HEAD LICE: A 2011 study found that both tea tree oil and lavender essential oils were effective in the treatment of head lice due to their anti-microbial properties. This essential oil combination demonstrated greater effectiveness than using eucalyptus and lemon tea tree oil. And again, lavender oil may be a safer alternative to conventional treatments for head lice.
Herbal Products You May Enjoy!
Check out this Fresh Locks Dry Shampoo with lavender and rosemary. There are options for both dark & light hair!
- CANDIDA & OTHER FUNGAL SKIN INFECTIONS: Another amazing benefit of lavender’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties is in helping to treat fungal skin infections such as Candida albicans, athlete’s foot, ringworm, and more.
Many of these common fungal skin infections are becoming resistant to anti-fungal medications! Lavender may be a safer, more effective treatment without the possibility of developing resistance.
- ECZEMA: In more severe cases of eczema that may lead to skin infections, treatment with lavender essential oil may be an appropriate alternative to prescribed antibiotics.
However, lavender oil also contains a certain compound that may actually cause an allergic reaction. Those with particularly sensitive skin (ie. if you commonly react with laundry soaps and cosmetics) may want to avoid using lavender oil. Overall, lavender oil allergy is incredibly rare.
- SUNBURN: Lavender sprays are popular sunburn remedies. Its anti-inflammatory properties are really soothing to sunburned skin. However, lavender can also be drying. Combine it with a moisturizer like aloe vera or coconut oil.
There are so many different ways to use lavender to help with sunburn relief. A popular herbal sunburn spray consists of water, aloe vera, jojoba oil, and a few drops of lavender essential oil.
- MOSQUITO REPELLANT: Lavender is commonly used by gardeners to help deter rabbits and deer from munching on their garden goodies. It’s also an effective mosquito repellant! The essential oils in the plant that humans find so lovely and relaxing are the same essential oils that mosquitos can’t stand!
The smell is so strong that lavender works in a way similar to DEET in that it overloads their senses and keeps them away. Lavender essential oil sprays or roll-ons are also a much safer alternative to DEET-containing conventional bug sprays.
Stress, Anxiety, & Depression
- GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD): Lavender has proven itself a safe and effective alternative to benzodiazepines, prescription medications commonly prescribed for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Because prescription medications for anxiety can be sedating and come with a high risk of drug abuse, anti-anxiety herbs like lavender are much-needed alternatives.
- DEPRESSION: The relaxing aroma of lavender has directly led to its therapeutic use in treating mood imbalances. Studies have found that lavender oil taken internally can also be effective in treating depression.
One study found that 80 mg per day of a high-quality lavender essential oil demonstrated an effectiveness that is comparable or better than both benzodiazepines and kava. Plus, lavender is also a safer alternative without the risk of side effects or the potential of drug abuse.
- STRESS-INDUCED HOT FLASHES: One 2016 study found that aromatherapy with lavender essential oil (20 minutes twice a day) effectively reduced hot flashes in menopausal women. While hot flashes don’t pose any medical threat, they are incredibly uncomfortable and can cause a significant decrease in quality of life.
Herbal Products You May Enjoy!
Both herbal teas with lavender and lavender essential oil are great ways to use lavender for stress, anxiety, and depression. Try this Peace Tea with cinnamon, passionflower, and rose. Or take advantage of lavender’s mood-elevating properties with this Uplifting Aroma Spray with lavender, jasmine, and clary sage.
Cognitive Function & Memory
- ENHANCED COGNITION & MEMORY: Both lavender and rosemary have long histories of use in enhancing memory. One 2018 study on short-term memory found that lavender helped to enhance image recall in students aged 13-17.
Interestingly, lavender does not seem to help with numbers! Instead, lavender oil aromatherapy seemed to actually weaken the memorization of numbers. You may want to skip the lavender oil when taking math tests!
- DEMENTIA: One 2010 study demonstrated that topically applied lavender oil can be effective in reducing agitated behaviors in nursing home patients with severe dementia. This suggests that lavender oil may be a safer alternative to traditional treatments for these behaviors that may include pacing and aggression.
Pain & Inflammation
- MIGRAINE HEADACHES: Lavender essential oil has also shown to be beneficial to those that suffer from migraine headaches. One study showed that inhaling lavender essential oil for 15 minutes significantly reduced migraine severity. And another study showed it to be effective as a preventative in helping to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
- ACUTE & CHRONIC PAIN: Lavender essential oil comes to the rescue again! Massage with lavender oil has been found to significantly reduce neck and back pain. It can also help improve movement in the cervical and lumbar spine.
Lavender may also help with pain associated with arthritis and childbirth. Lavender’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may be beneficial for a wide variety of pain and inflammation.
- MUSCLE TENSION: Lavender is a popular ingredient in many massage oils, and for good reason! Not only does the smell of lavender serve as a stress tamer, but its anti-inflammatory actions serve to also help relax muscle tension. Muscular jaw tension causing limited mouth opening has been found to be improved by massage with lavender oil, as has menstrual cramping of the uterine muscles.
Herbal Products You May Enjoy!
Try this Goddess Dreams Massage Oil made with other soothing and anti-inflammatory herbs like calendula, rose, and damiana.
- HEALTHY DIGESTION: Lavender is an amazing carminative herb that helps to support health digestion by helping to relax the smooth muscles in our guts. In doing so, lavender tea can help to prevent gas and bloating, painful stomach cramping, indigestion, and other symptoms of poor digestion.
The calming effects of lavender can also have a beneficial effect on digestion. When we’re less stressed, we digest more efficiently.
- IMMUNE SUPPORT: By way of its ability to help calm us down, put us into more of a rest and digest state (as opposed to a fight or flight stress response), and support healthy digestion, lavender can also help to boost our immune systems.
When we’re less stressed and less inflamed, our overall health is in much better shape.
Blood Pressure & Heart Health
- HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: It always comes back to stress and inflammation, doesn’t it? One 2017 study found that placing a cotton swap dipped in lavender oil under the oxygen mask of open heart surgery patients effectively reduced both blood pressure and heart rate.
The positive effect on vital signs demonstrated in this study suggests so many potential benefits to those experiencing chronic high blood pressure or other negative cardiovascular events.
You Might Enjoy These Recipes With Lavender
Use lavender to make your own All-Natural Herbal Bug Spray.
Throw this Chamomile, Rose, & Lavender Bathtub Tea into your bath and call it a night!
Indulge with these healthy Elderberry & Fig Galettes with Lavender-Tulsi Honey.
Make your own Anti-Anxiety Herbal Tea blend with lemon balm, lavender, and rose hips.
Lavender’s benefits cover such a wide range of uses that it’s deserving of a place in our every day lives. Even if you’re one of those who think it tastes like soap, I hope the information here will convince you to give it another try.
Science has proven over and over again that lavender can not only be an effective treatment for many different conditions, but that it’s often a much safer one. There are so many ways to reap the rewards of this incredible plant medicine!
DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.