It was early on in my mothering career when I discovered the wonderful soothing benefits of lavender. I had read about the way the smell of lavender could calm a fussy baby and decided to give it a try after a particularly rough night with my three-month-old.
After adding just a drop of two of lavender oil to my baby’s bath, I felt his tension decrease and, as a result, both of us felt more relaxed. Since then, I have often turned to lavender oil in times of stress, and I enjoy growing lavender in my garden for its delightful scent.
For centuries, lavender has been known for its calming properties. In fact, ancient folklore reveals the use of lavender-filled pillows as a natural sleep aid. Lavender oil is extracted from the flowers, stems and leaves of the lavender plant, mainly through steam distillation. The lavender plant comes in 39 different species, but only one — Lavandula angustifolia — is considered to be the official plant for therapeutic-grade lavender oil.
As an essential oil, lavender is antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Look for oils that are labelled CPTG (Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade). Essential oils are highly concentrated, so realize a small bottle will last a long time, and, as with any essential oil, talk with your doctor before using lavender oil on very young children or if you are pregnant or nursing a baby.
Today, a growing body of research is confirming the anecdotal evidence of the benefits of lavender. Researchers at Australia’s Charles Stuart University, for example, measured the effects of two essential oils thought to have effects on mood and alertness: invigorating rosemary and soothing lavender. They found that the lavender group felt less depressed and the rosemary group had lower levels of anxiety than before aromatherapy.
A University of Miami study found that a group of participants who were given brain scans before and after lavender aromatherapy had noticeably less signs of anxiety and stress. In addition to its relaxing properties, lavender also has a wide variety of other benefits.
Here are some of the many uses of lavender:
1. Air Freshener. Repurpose an attractive jar by filling it about half full of baking soda along with about a dozen drops of lavender oil. Poke several holes in the jar’s lid and place the covered jar in your bathroom or anywhere else in your home that needs a little freshening.
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2. Calming effect. During periods of stress, try placing a drop or two of lavender oil on your wrist or temple for a quick calming effect on the entire body. Research shows the scent of lavender can lower your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure.
3. Dandruff prevention. Lavender oil can help dry, flaking scalp conditions. Mix about 10 drops of lavender oil in two tablespoons of olive oil  or almond oil. Microwave the solution for about 10 seconds. Apply the warm solution to your scalp after you have wet your hair and toweled it dry. Put on a shower cap and let the mixture set for about an hour before shampooing it out. Some cases may need several treatments before results are noticeable.
4. Earache remedy. Place a closed bottle of lavender oil into a bowl of hot water to warm it. Then gently massage a few drops into the skin around the outside of the ear to help soothe an earache. For babies and young children, add two to three drops of lavender to olive oil and then apply to skin around the ear.
5. Headache relief. Put several drops of lavender oil onto a folded washcloth that has been soaked with hot water. Wring out excess moisture. Apply the hot compress to the forehead to reduce the pain of headaches or sinus infections.
6. Insect bites and stings. Add one or two drops of lavender oil directly to the bite or sting area for quick relief of pain and itching. Or, if you have sensitive skin, add two to three drops of lavender oil to one tablespoon of olive oil and apply to skin. Lavender is naturally anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce itching, swelling and redness. If your skin becomes irritated, try combining lavender oil with a carrier oil, such as olive oil or almond oil, next time.
7. Laundry fragrance. Ditch the chemicals in commercial laundry scents and instead add several drops of lavender oil to your washing machine’s final rinse cycle to give clothes a light, clean-smelling fragrance. Similarly, you can use a few drops of lavender oil on a cloth in the bottom of your laundry hamper or diaper pail to mask unpleasant odors.
8. Mattress Refresher. The next time you change your bedding, freshen up your mattress by adding about five drops of lavender oil to a cup of baking soda and sprinkling the mixture over your mattress. Let it sit for about an hour before vacuuming the mattress thoroughly.
9. Pain relief. Lavender oil can help reduce pain associated with muscular aches, sprains, backache rheumatism and lumbago. Use oil as-is or combined with a carrier oil to create a gentle and comforting massage oil.
10. Respiratory aide. Lavender oil can help relieve the congestion associated with respiratory conditions, helping the body naturally eliminate phlegm. Add a few drops to a vaporizer or inhaler or apply a few drops of oil to the skin of the neck, chest or back when you have a cough or cold.
11. Skin care. Lavender helps relieve dryness, soothe itching and reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scarring. Add about five drops of lavender oil to one tablespoon of a carrier oil and apply gently to the affected area of the skin. Lavender oil is also useful in moisturizing and softening and soothing dry skin on your feet.
12. Sunburn. Add 10 to 15 drops of lavender oil to about five ounces of distilled water. Pour solution in a spray bottle and gently mist skin with the soothing spray. Reapply as needed to help relieve pain and to promote healing. Want double-duty for your spray? The same solution is an effective deterrent to mosquitoes.
You’ll soon discover that lavender may be the most useful and versatile of the essential oils.
Do you know of other uses for lavender? Tell us in the comments section below.