Herb Spotlight: Lavender

Lavender is one of those herbs that people love or hate (similar to cilantro in reaction) and we are so glad that many of our customers love our Lavender Mint Dream tisane. We have found that in the right ratio, lavender goes well in teas, cookies, baths, and more. We use Lavendula angustifolia flowers in our recipes.

Lavender is a bushy, branching shrub about 3 feet in height. It is native to the Mediterranean area but naturalized to other areas. We have success growing it in our Southwestern PA garden and within a short drive from Pittsburgh is a beautiful lavender farm. Give growing it a try if you do not already have it in your garden. The flowers are small lavender purple whorls of 6-10 flowers at the end of 6-8 inch long stalks.(1) They flower at the end of June and beginning of July. (2) Leaves are silvery grey lanceolate, smooth edged and somewhat hairy. (1) The narrow opposite leaves are fuzzy grey when young but turn green as they mature. (3) The mature stems become dense and woody.

The draw for using Lavender is its sedative and relaxing effects. (1) The herb is considered tonifying for your nervous system (4) and also has antidepressant effects. (5) Many people use lavender for headaches (1) and stress headaches (6), mild anxiety, insomnia and other sleep problems, minor digestive problems (7), fatigue, and mild depression (8) among other uses.

Using Lavender essential oils added to your bath or inhaled as they evaporate is a very popular way to use lavender as linalool can help increase your pain threshold (8) and the essential oils irritate the olfactory nerves to stimulate the diencephalon region of your brain. (3) This area of the brain relays sensory information and connects to your nervous and endocrine systems to help manage emotions. (9)

As with many herbs, there are some situations to use caution with lavender or to avoid use. Lavender is considered a uterine stimulant and it is advised to avoid high doses when pregnant. (4) It is recommended that those with gallstones or obstructions of biliary tract avoid lavender. Also, use with caution or avoid if already taking sleeping pills. (8) Also be aware that using lavender while breastfeeding may pass through the milk and may provide carminative effect on the baby. (5)

(1) Kowalchik, Claire & Hylton, William H.  Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.  Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. 1987. P. 350-353

(2) Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Wordsworth Reference. 2007. P.159

(3) Weiss, Rudolf Fritz, M.D. Weiss’s Herbal Medicine Classic Edition. Thieme. 1985. P.302

(4) Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. DK Publishing, Inc. 1993. P.73

(5) Mills, Simon & Bone, Kerry. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety.  Elsevier Inc. 2005. P. 493-494

(6) Hoffman, David. An Elder’s Herbal. Healing Arts Press. 1993. P.232

(7) Meletis, Chris D., N.D. Complete Guide to Safe Herbs. DK Publishing, Inc. 2002. P.40

(8) Balch, Phyllis A. (2012) Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd Edition. Avery. p. 93-94

(9) http://biology.about.com/od/anatomy/p/diencephalon.htm