Lavender Oil Benefits, Facts and Uses

Purple lavender flowers used in making lavender oil.

What is Lavender Oil

Lavender essential oil, most commonly referred to as simply lavender oil, is a natural botanical extract distilled from the buds and flowers of the lavender plant. Clear in color, lavender oil has a floral, woody, and herbaceous aroma known for its calming properties and ability to mix well with other essential oils. Due to its reputation as a soothing balm and talent for complementing a variety of aromas, lavender oil is often included in essential oil blends for relaxation.

Lavender oil also has a long history of being used medicinally and cosmetically.Today, the benefits of lavender oil are put to use in many aromatherapy and natural bath products as well as essential oil DIYs. In this article, we will explore how and why lavender oil has been used throughout history as well as the benefits and uses of lavender oil in modern times.

Lavender Oil Benefits

artnaturals Lavender Essential Oil displayed on a table with lavender flowers.

Calms and soothes: Lavender oil is famous for its reputation to calm the body and mind from a spiritual and psychological standpoint. In fact, aromatherapy practitioners generally add lavender oil to any recipe involving peaceful repose or relaxation. However, there is also some evidence indicating the physically calming effects of lavender oil inhalation. (1)

Pleasant fragrance: Humans have prized the aroma of lavender oil and lavender plants for thousands of years. The herbaceous scent falls into perfume categories of both top notes and middle or “heart” notes, lavender oil is one of the most versatile essential oils for creating custom blends. (2)

Fights bad odors: Not only does lavender oil smell pleasant, it also has shown promise in improving the quality of indoor air by reducing fungal contamination, which can help get rid of bad smells instead of just masking them. (3)

Surface disinfectant: Lavender oil has also demonstrated the ability to help reduce surface bacteria. (4) Lavender oil is often used in beauty, minor first-aid and household cleaning when there is a desire to avoid harsh synthetic chemicals.

Pain management: Essential oils do not cure illness or disease, but research has shown aromatherapy in general to be an effective pain management tool. (5) In some studies, children with tonsillitis benefited from the inhalation of lavender oil (6) and lavender oil has also shown promise for use in lessening migraine symptoms. (7)

Natural Insect repellent: Lavender flowers are often used in gardens to deter aphids and other insects that can cause damage to plants. There is also evidence that lavender oil can be used to deter mosquitoes and other insects. (8)

Increased desire: Lavender oil has a long history of seduction in folklore, though its proclaimed use as an herbal remedy for sexual dysfunction is anecdotal at best. While it may not be a cure for such problems, new research does suggest that lavender oil may increase sexual arousal in some men. (9)

Summary of Lavender Oil Benefits:

  1. Calm & Soothes
  2. Pleasant Fragrance
  3. Fights Bad Odors
  4. Surface Disinfectant
  5. Pain Management
  6. Natural Insect Repellent
  7. Increased Desire

Lavender Botany & Varieties

Lavandula angustifolia (L. angustifolia) or “English lavender” is the most common species of lavender used to make lavender oil for aromatherapy and cosmetic uses. (10) French lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is also sometimes used to produce lavender oil, as it provides more oil than L. angustifolia, but it’s generally considered to be of lesser quality.

Both L. angustifolia (English lavender) and L. angustifolia (French lavender) are species of the genus Lavandula, which is part of the Lamiaciae (mint) family. (11) While English and French lavender are the most commonly grown lavender species for lavender oil production, culinary use and ornamental gardening, there are over 45 different species and 450 varieties of lavender that have been classified. (12)

Lavender is a herbaceous perennial, or evergreen shrub, indigenous to Europe and more specifically the Mediterranean basin. Although the foliage of lavender is aromatic year-round, the fragrant purple flowers used for making lavender oil bloom from June to August. A typical lavender plant will grow about 2-3 feet tall with a 2-4 foot spread. (13)

The grey-green leaves of lavender plants generally grow 1-2 inches long, and can be either simple or pinnate. The spiky flower stalks of lavender plants grow between 8 and 16 inches tall and are topped with a spiral of tiny purple flowers. (14) Highly prized simply for its attractive and fragrant flowers, lavender is also often used in ornamental gardening to attract butterflies. (15)

Botanical diagram showing identifying the various parts of the lavender plant, including the stem and the parts tha comprise the spike.

Lavender flowers have five key features. A long stem or peduncle, topped with spike covered in small groupings of tiny flowers. The tiny flowers buds are called a calyx and the individual petals in the bud is called a corolla. The spiral groupings of lavender flower buds is called a whorl. The part of the lavender plant used for making lavender oil is the calyx. (16)

Lavender Cultivation Information

Usually seeded in spring, lavender plants need full sun and do not require moist or fertilized soil in order to thrive. In fact, well-drained soil that may be poorly or only moderately fertilized is the best habitat for lavender cultivation. Humid climates and excess water can cause fungal diseases and root rot in lavender plants. (17) Harvesting for lavender oil production generally occurs in August after the flowers have bloomed.

Lavender plants are usually spaced 2-3 feet apart to accommodate the natural spread of the plant, but in ornamental gardens they are often planted directly next to rose bushes. It is common for home gardeners to plant lavender to naturally repel pests such as moths, fleas, flies, mosquitoes and in some cases aphids. (18) (19) Lavender oil and dried lavender bunches are often used by herbalists for similar purposes.

If lavender flowers are not harvested from the plants, lavender can self-sow. Meaning the plants will propagate all on their own by dropping the flower heads, which develop seeds at the end of the season. The only way to prevent lavender from sowing its own seeds is be diligent about removing dead flower heads. (20) (21)

History of Lavender Oil

Ancient History of Lavender Oil

Like many essential oils, lavender oil has its roots in the practice of herbal remedies and rituals that go back thousands of years to the major civilizations of antiquity. It is often said the spikenard plant mentioned in the Bible is actually referencing lavender. However, there are some biblical scholars that argue that lavender and spikenard are two different plants. (22) Historians have more concrete evidence of the use of lavender oil and herbs in ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.

In ancient Egypt lavender oil was used in perfumes and incense, both of which held very high spiritual significance. Unpleasant smells were associated with impurity and pleasant smells with a sacred presence. Aromatic oils, like lavender oil, were often used by priests to become one with the gods with different aromatic recipes being ascribed to different deities. (23) (24)

Lavender oil was also used in the mummification process. As ancient Egyptians equated smelling good with holiness, it was paramount that a body smell as pleasant as possible so it would be welcomed into the afterlife. Not only was the body filled with pleasant smelling herbs and spices after the organs were removed, but the linen wrappings were also dipped in lavender oil. (25)

The most famous evidence of the use of lavender oil and plants in Egyptian burial rights was unearthed in 1923. When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened, after being sealed for nearly 3,000 years, Howard Carter and his team reported the scent of lavender could still be detected. It is also reputed that Cleopatra used lavender oil to famously seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. (26)

When it comes to the romantic exploits of Cleopatra, fact and fiction are often hard to separate. Whether or not lavender oil truly played a part in her love life, is unclear. However, modern day science does seem to support the use of lavender oil as an aphrodisiac. (27)

In both ancient Greece and Rome lavender flowers were used to scent bath water. (28) Ancient Greeks referred to lavender as nardus after the Syrian city of Naardus. Medicinal nardus benefits (or lavender benefits) both internal and external are cited in the preeminent medical text of antiquity De Materia Medica. (29) (30)

Ancient Romans would have consulted De Materia Medica and used lavender herbal remedies as well. However, public baths were such a cornerstone of ancient Roman culture that the importance of lavender as a bath additive is evidenced by the language we still use today. The name “lavender” comes from the Latin verb “lavare” which means “to wash.” (31) (32)

Though the Romans are responsible for handing down the name “lavender,” the continued use of the herb today is more likely due to the innovations of the ancient Arabians. Not only were ancient Arabians the first to farm lavender, but they also created the first distilleries that made essential oils, including lavender oil. Arabian physicians used lavender herbs and lavender oil to encourage sleep, calm the nervous system, kill germs and clean wounds.(33)

Lavender Oil in the Middle Ages & Renaissance

In Europe during the Middle Ages, by and large, physicians still depended heavily on the medical texts of antiquity. Tapping into the ancient use of herbal remedies, the distillation of essential oils, like lavender oil, became a widespread practice in medieval Europe. (34)

Lavender, considered an “herb of love” in medieval Europe, was used as a multipurpose ingredient in many folk remedies concerning sexual reproduction or relationships— sometimes with contradictory purposes. For example, lavender oil was commonly used as an aphrodisiac. Yet it was also believed that sprinkling lavender oil on your lover’s head would keep them chaste. Lavender flowers were often scattered across castle floors to combat the bad odors believed to cause disease. (35)

The belief that disease is caused by bad smells (miasma theory) persisted throughout the era and is a very likely contributing factor to the medieval popularity of lavender oil and other aromatic herbs. (36) The oldest written text about English herbal medicine, the Saxon Leech Book of Bald, describes vapor and herbal baths of aromatic plants prescribed for various ailments. Lavender, for example, was often prescribed for headaches. (37)

The medieval theory of fighting “bad air” with aromatic essential oils, like lavender oil, continued through the bubonic plagues of the 14th and 17th centuries. In the 14th century people typically used lavender to “ward off” the Black Death by hanging crosses of lavender above their door, tying bunches of the flower to their wrists and just generally carrying lavender with them wherever they went. (38) (39)

Some famous users of lavender in the Renaissance included King Charles VI of France (1368-1422) and Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). King Charles liked the herb to be included in his pillows because he believed in the use of lavender for a more restful sleep. Queen Elizabeth drank lavender infused tea and always kept the vases on her table filled with fresh lavender. (40) (41)

During another wave of the Great Plague in the 17th century (well into the Renaissance period) physicians still adhered to the miasma theory and the use of lavender oil increased. There are stories documented of thieves who covered themselves in lavender oil to break into plague houses and a town that escaped the Plague entirely because it’s main economy was producing lavender oil. (42)

No one knows for sure why the thieves and the town survived, but modern scientists looking to explain these extremely rare cases suggest lavender oil may have played a part. Today we know that the Plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pesti. The thieves and the town producing lavender oil may have been inadvertently lowering their chances of infection by helping reduce bacteria or repelling the fleas and ticks that carried the disease. (43) (44) (45)

In 1619 Charles de l’Orme (chief physician to Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV), invented the plague doctor mask to help protect doctors from the “miasma” that caused the Plague. The iconic beak shape was to accommodate dried herbs and oils, lavender oil and flowers being one of the chief herbs in the mix. (46)

Lavender Oil & and Modern History

In modern times, lavender oil has primarily been used in the perfume industry. However, there are some modern day culinary applications and lavender oil has popped up in modern history as a natural antiseptic from time to time. For, example, lavender oil is the star of the popular legend of the “discovery” of aromatherapy.

According to a myth, in 1910 perfume chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé accidentally burned his hand, plunged it in nearby bucket of lavender oil and voilá— aromatherapy was invented. The true historical account is documented in Gattefossé’s book Aromathérapie published in 1937. Gattefossé’s own words describe a chemist methodically testing lavender oil rather than accidentally stumbling upon miraculous lavender oil benefits. (47)

One of the most notable references to lavender oil in modern history is its several uses in World War I. Part of Gattefossé’s research involved experimenting with the use of essential oils (including lavender oil), on treating otherwise fatal infections from amputations. (48) Nurses, dealing with wartime shortages of antiseptics, relied on traditional herbal remedies out of necessity, using sphagnum moss and lavender oil to dress wounds. (49) There are also first person accounts of civilians making lavender filled bags to help wounded soldiers cope with the unbearable odors of wartime hospitals. (50)

How to Use Lavender Oil

artnaturals essential oils displayed by an oil diffuser.

Perfume/ odor control: The pleasant smell of lavender oil can be used in a variety of ways to perfume the body or the air. Lavender oil properly diluted with a natural carrier oil like jojoba or castor oil can be dabbed on pulse points as a natural perfume.* Diffusing lavender oil helps reduce fungal contaminants that cause unpleasant odors while also adding a floral aroma.

*Remember, it’s important to always do a small skin patch test whenever applying new products to your skin.

Simple first aid: Lavender oil can be used to reduce the risk of bacterial infection in minor wounds that you would treat at home with a general first aid kit (small cuts, scrapes, mild burns, etc.). Rinse the wound in running water to remove debri, wash the wound with soap and water , pat dry. Mix 1-2 drops of lavender oil with a dime size dollop of aloe vera, apply to the wound and cover with a bandage.

Skin cleanser: Reducing bacteria is one way to help prevent breakouts. Lavender oil can be added to natural face wash recipes and DIY face masks to help keep your face bacteria-free.

Natural cleaning spray: Lavender oil is great to add to natural cleaning sprays because it helps reduce bacteria on surfaces. The lavender oil fragrance also helps balance the strong scent of natural cleaners like vinegar.

Soothe minor aches: The inhalation of lavender oil and other essential oils have demonstrated positive effects on pain management. Using lavender oil in an essential oil diffuser, or directly inhaling it can provide temporary pain relief for minor aches.

Relaxation: Lavender oil is well known for its relaxing and calming effect. It can be used in a variety of ways for daily relaxation including diffusing lavender oil, direct inhalation, or using a personal lavender oil rollerball blend. One of the best ways to take advantage of its relaxing properties, is to mix a few drops of lavender oil with a natural carrier oil for a soothing massage.

Sleep meditation: Although the relaxing effects of lavender oil are well established, it cannot cure serious sleep disorders like insomnia. However, lavender oil can help you create an environment that helps promote a more restful sleep. Diffusing lavender oil and meditating before bed helps quiet the mind and put you in the mood for bed.

Natural bug spray: Lavender oil combined with ingredients like witch hazel and distilled water are a popular way to naturally keep bugs away when you’re spending time outdoors. (51)

Lavender Uses Summary:

  1. Perfume/ Odor Control
  2. Simple First Aid
  3. Skin Cleanser
  4. Natural Cleaning Spray
  5. Soothe Minor Aches
  6. Relaxation
  7. Sleep Meditation
  8. Natural Bug Spray

Lavender Oil Safety & Side-Effects

Lavender oil is considered likely safe for most adults when applied topically or inhaled, as long as safety guidelines and dilution ratios are followed. We recommend always diluting essential oils, including lavender oil, with a carrier oil or other natural substances like aloe vera, witch hazel or castile soap. In rare cases of people with sensitive skin, lavender oil can cause irritation. You should always do a small skin patch test before applying any new substance to your skin.

Although some herbalists include lavender oil in their recipes and lavender flowers are often used for culinary purposes, we do not recommend ingesting any pure essential oils. Overusing lavender internally has been known to cause constipation, headache and increased appetite.

The relaxing effect of lavender oil has shown promise in pain management for patients in recovery. However, we recommend stopping all use of lavender oil before undergoing surgery. When combined with anesthesia and other medications needed for surgery, lavender oil may slow down the nervous system. Therefore, avoid lavender oil products 2-3 weeks before any scheduled surgery.

Lavender Oil aromatherapy precautions: Using an essential oil diffuser is the safest way to enjoy the benefits of lavender oil, or any essential oil. When diffusing essential oils, always do so in a well-ventilated area taking regular breaks every 30 minutes or so. Lavender oil is considered safe to diffuse around most pets; however, it is always a good idea to make sure pets have the option to leave the room while you are diffusing. Pets, especially cats, can be very sensitive to certain scents so extra caution should be exercised. Talk to your veterinarian to figure out the safest way to practice lavender oil aromatherapy around your specific pet. (52) (53) (54)

Lavender Oil and Children

Lavender oil is one of the safest essential oils to use with children and babies after 3 months and older as long as dilution and ventilation safety guidelines are followed. We don’t recommend using lavender oil or any essential oils with babies under 3 months. For premature babies, it’s best to wait until at least 3 months after their due date to begin using lavender oil around them.

Caution should be exercised using lavender oil with young boys before puberty. In very rare cases, some boys developed gynecomastia breast growth correlated with the regular use of lavender oil products. The results were atypical (not seen among the general population) however, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before using any new products with young children. (55)

You should never give lavender oil or any other essential oil to babies orally (at any age) without permission from your doctor.

DIY Lavender Oil Recipes

Detox & Chill Lavender Oil Face Mask

What it does: Helps reduce bacteria on skin, clears and tones pores, and deeply hydrates. Relaxing lavender oil scent creates a chill vibe for unwinding before bedtime.

What you'll need:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp fractionated coconut oil
  • 4 drops lemon oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil
  • Mixing bowl & fork
  • Headband (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Peel and cube 1 ripe avocado
  2. Combine avocado and fractionated coconut oil (FCO) in bowl and mash into a paste
  3. Add lavender oil and remaining ingredients and mash until thick, but easy to spread*
  4. With clean hands, spread mixture all over face. Avoid eyes, mouth and nostrils.
  5. Relax for 10 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
  6. Repeat once a week before bedtime

*You want the mixture to be thick enough to stay on your face nicely and not slide off. If the mixture is too thick, you can add more FCO as needed— just add a tiny bit at a time.

Relaxing Lavender Massage Oil

What you'll need:

  • 1 oz jojoba oil
  • 5 drops rosemary oil
  • 5 drops lavender oil
  • Small bottle for mixing/storing*

Instructions:

  1. Add lavender oil and other ingredients to bottle, cap and mix well
  2. Rub a quarter sized dollop of the mixture between the palms of your hands
  3. Massage oil onto sore areas in wide circular motions
  4. Add more oil to hands as necessary

*Use blue or amber glass bottles for essential oil blends whenever possible and store in a cool dark place to keep the oils safe from light and heat.

Breathe Easy Lavender Massage Oil

What you'll need:

  • 1 oz jojoba oil
  • 7 drops lavender oil
  • 3 drops eucalyptus oil
  • Small bottle for mixing/storing*

*Use blue or amber glass bottles for essential oil recipes whenever possible and store in a cool dark place to keep the oils safe from light and heat.

Instructions:

  1. Add lavender oil and other ingredients to bottle, cap and mix well
  2. Rub a quarter sized dollop of the mixture between the palms of your hands
  3. Massage oil onto chest and any sore spots on neck and shoulders
  4. Add more oil to hands as necessary

All-Natural Lavender Oil Bug Spray

What you'll need:

  • 2 oz witch hazel
  • 2 oz distilled water
  • 4 oz spray bottle
  • 40 drops lavender oil*

*IMPORTANT ESSENTIAL OIL SAFETY: For children 3+ only use HALF the amount of lavender oil. For children under 3 years old, do not spray on skin, we recommend spraying on clothes instead.

How to use it: Fill spray bottle with witch hazel and water. Add lavender oil, mix well. Give the bottle a quick shake before spraying to disperse the oils and apply as often as needed.

Best Lavender Oil Blends for Your Diffuser

Odor Busting Lavender Oil Blend

  • 3 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops lemongrass oil

Lavender Oil Bedtime Diffuser blend

  • 3 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops sweet orange oil
  • 2 drops rosemary oil

Cough & Cold Lavender Oil Diffuser Blend

  • 4 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 1 drops peppermint oil

Disclaimer

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please confirm any information obtained from or through this web site with other sources, and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with your physician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on this website.

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