Monday, December 26, 2011

Lavender Essential Oil: The Top Ten List of Healing Uses

The genus Lavandula comes from the Latin word lavare meaning "to wash," and L. angustifolia, known as true or common lavender, is the species used medicinally. Lavender essential oil is steam-distilled from fresh flowers and is mainly produced in Bulgaria and France. Be sure to use a reputable supplier when purchasing lavender essential oil as it is one of the most commonly adulterated essential oils. A genuine and authentic essential oil should always list the botanical name, the part of the plant used, the country of origin and the method of extraction. The synthetic scent of lavender from fragrance oil is not the same as a pure essential oil - there are no health benefits from synthetic fragrance oils!

When I refer to "neat" application, this means applying a drop of lavender essential oil directly on the skin. While this is generally recognized as safe, instances of sensitization have occurred. Furthermore, it is not recommended to use other essential oils in this fashion, with the exception of tea tree. When I talk about using lavender in a carrier oil, this means diluting a few drops of the essential oil in a base oil. Different oils can be used for different purposes, but with this article focusing on first aid remedies, extra virgin olive oil is a great and convenient choice. As there are approximately 600 drops in one ounce, use six to eighteen drops of pure lavender essential oil per ounce (by volume) of carrier oil for a one to three percent dilution.

Here we go, my top ten healing uses for lavender essential oil:

# 10 - Bruises

Lavender is great for bruises because it is anti-inflammatory and analgesic which aids in the healing process while decreasing pain. Using lavender in a carrier oil, gently massage into bruised area. For best results, dilute lavender in arnica-infused oil. Arnica contains sesquiterpene lactones and polysacharides that stimulate phagocytosis, thus cleaning up debris and reducing healing time. Please note that arnica should not be applied to broken skin.

# 9 - Muscle Aches and Menstrual Cramps

Massage lavender diluted in a carrier oil (arnica-infused oil for additional relief) into painful area or, my favorite, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a warm Epsom salt bath for a deep muscle soak.

# 8 - Bug Bites and Bee Stings

Lavender's antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties make it a great choice for bites and stings as it reduces infection, swelling, and itching. To use, simply apply one drop of lavender essential oil neat to affected area.

# 7 - Earaches

There are two effective ways to ease the pain of an earache with lavender. The first is to gently massage lavender in a carrier oil into the outer ear and back of the ear. The second method is to put a drop of lavender on a cotton ball and gently place it on the outer ear. Never put it directly in the ear canal.

# 6 - Depression

Lavender is a restorative herb and is classified as a nervine, meaning that it has a calming effect on the mind and body. It works in powerful ways to bring feelings of comfort and peace and also helps with fatigue. Suggestions include inhaling lavender essential oil directly from a vial, spritzing your room with lavender diluted in distilled water, and infusing your space with lavender from a candle or incense. The options are endless.

# 5 - Headaches

Lavender's sedative effects make it a great remedy for headaches, especially when the headaches are caused by stress. Massage a drop of lavender diluted in a carrier oil into the temples and back of the neck, followed by a few deep, relaxing breaths of lavender essential oil directly from a vial. Add peppermint essential oil to the mix for even better headache relief.

# 4 - Sanitizer

Lavender was used in hospitals during World War I to disinfect floors and walls. Use lavender essential oil in a soap to cleanse, in water and vinegar for household cleaning, or try it in a base of grain alcohol as a hand sanitizer.

# 3 - Insomnia

Lavender works particularly well if insomnia is due to a restless and anxious mind. Before bed, spray your pillow and face with lavender diluted in distilled water, take a few deep breaths, inhaling lavender directly from the vial or from a drop on a tissue, or place dried lavender buds in a sachet in your pillow case.

# 2 - Burns and Sunburns

It was the French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who is famously cited for treating his severe burns and resulting infection with lavender essential oil. Apply a drop of lavender essential oil neat to minor burns. For sunburns, spray your body with lavender diluted in distilled water. Please seek medical attention for severe burns.

...And my number one healing use for lavender - Stress

lavender has balancing and harmonizing effects on the autonomic nervous system. In panic attack situations, inhale lavender essential oil directly from the vial and seek medical attention if necessary. For general stress and anxiety, spritz your face and room with lavender diluted in distilled water, take a relaxing bath with a few drops of lavender diluted in sea salt, or enjoy a massage using lavender-infused oil.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lavender Essential Oil to the Rescue

Whenever I travel I always take an "emergency kit" of essential oils with me. One of the essential oils I find most useful to have on hand is lavender. Thinking back to the times away from home when I've had to use it, many incidents come to mind. The most dramatic was the time in Florida when my husband was checking under the hood of the car and the radiator cap exploded into his face, hitting him on the forehead. The water bubbled up and his entire upper body was scorched.

I immediately doused him with undiluted lavender oil, then applied aloe vera gel, which I also had with me. I kept reapplying the lavender until the soreness subsided and also gave him a couple of Aspirins for the shock. Luckily, we had access to a swimming pool close by, and got there as soon as we could.

My husband stayed neck deep in the pool for about twenty minutes. When he came out, there wasn't a mark on his body except for where the radiator cap had struck his forehead. Our friends who witnessed this said it was a miracle - they had never seen burns heal like this.

One time when I was telling this story, a lady told me that this same type of accident had happened to her husband and he had to spend time in the hospital with third degree burns. Thank goodness for lavender!

Another time lavender came to my rescue was when my son picked me up at the Vancouver airport, saying we'd have to hurry to get to an emergency clinic, as he had just been stung by a bee. He has a history of violent allergic reactions to bee stings; each one getting a little worse. His hand was already swollen to twice its normal size and the swelling was rapidly moving up his arm. Fortunately I was wearing a pendant that contained lavender and I immediately applied it to his bite, stopping the swelling and eliminating the rush. We didn't go to the clinic.

Over the years I have used lavender on numerous people who have had bad reactions to insect bites. It nearly always helps. It is also great for taking the itch out of mosquito bites.

Lavender is also one of my standbys for treating headaches. Just a drop rubbed into the temples and another under the hairline at the back of the neck will usually do the trick.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How Growing an Aromatic Lavender Hedge Can Be Good for You and Your Garden

There are very good reasons why growing lavender has been so popular with generations of gardeners and farmers. Perhaps the most important reason is that it has a beautiful, fragrant smell. When it flowers we are all immediately reminded of summer, and in many places around the world flowering lavender is cause for celebration. But as well as being admired for its beauty it also has a long history as a healing and restorative plant.

Lavender originates from the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean, but it now flourishes throughout southern Europe, Australia, and the United States. Like another well-known herb, rosemary, it's a heavily branched short shrub that grows to a height of between 2 and 3 feet. For this reason it's an excellent herb for growing as an aromatic garden hedge. In this article I'll explain how you can grow a lavender hedge and how to put its flowers to use in many areas around your home.

To help you understand how easy and straightforward it is to grow a lavender hedge I have structured my article as six short paragraphs:

- Where to plant your lavender hedge
- What sort of lavender to plant
- Buying or growing your lavender?
- How to plant your lavender hedge
- Looking after your lavender
- Putting your lavender to healthy uses

Where to Plant Your lavender hedge

When you are looking for a site to plant your lavender hedge, bear in mind that lavender loves a sunny location and light, dry, well drained alkaline (ph 7.5 to 8) soil. If you plant lavender in moist and shady conditions it won't flourish and becomes prone to fungus.

When you choose a site for your hedge also bear in mind that lavender is excellent at repelling insects (with the exception of bees and butterflies which it attracts). This makes it a good companion plant for orchards and other areas of your garden where insects such as flies and mosquitoes are a nuisance.

What Sort of lavender to Plant

Don't just buy the first lavender you see in your garden center or shop. There are many types of lavender plants available, but to keep things simple I'll introduce you to just two of them, both of which are suitable for growing a lavender hedge.

Lavandula stoechas (commonly called French lavender) has short, fat spikes of dark purple flowers topped with butterfly wing bracts (small leaves attached to a flower)

Lavendula augustifolia (commonly called English lavender) which has small purple flowers.

French lavender will grow a little taller than English lavender (up to 3ft instead of 2ft), but English lavender has a stronger smell which is good if you intend to harvest the flowers to make potpourri and aromatic oils.

Buying or Growing Your lavender

I don't recommend trying to grow your lavender from seed because seeds frequently don't produce plants that are true to type. Either buy small plants that are ready for transplanting or take your own cuttings from another plant. If you decide to take cuttings, take 2 inch stems from the tips of the lavender in mid to late summer. Trim off the upper and lower leaves of these stems and then plant them in a mixture of 2/3 course sand and 1/3 peat moss. Keep the soil on the dry side until the roots have formed and shoots appear, and then replant the young plants in pots ready for planting out.

How to Plant Your lavender hedge

Plant your lavender hedge in either the spring or the fall. Make a trench about 16 inches deep and 18 inches wide, and fill this up with a mix of potting compost and coarse sand. Plant your young lavender plants about 2 feet apart (which will to allow for growth). If you plant in the spring, remove any blooms to force the energy into root growth. If you plant in the fall all the plant's energy will be directed into growing its roots.

Looking After Your lavender

Keep your plants watered, even during the winter, although in the winter months the plants are largely dormant, and you'll see no new growth until mid-May. Feed your lavender plants with a suitable fertilizer in early spring and again in mid-summer.

Lavender tends to get woody and needs to be maintained by pruning. Do this in March/Early April before new shoots have formed and at the end of the season when flowering has finished. It's a good idea to shape your lavender hedge. I prune mine to create a circular bush in the spring, and aim to take off about 1/3 of its height when I carry out a major prune at the end of the summer.

Pruning your lavender plants at the beginning and end of the season will encourage healthy growth and lots of flowers. I also dry my pruned cuttings and use them as kindling wood during the winter. They release a wonderful scent as they burn.

You will also probably want to cut lavender flowers during the growing season to use in the home in some of the ways I have described in the final part of my article. Flowers can be cut from the early spring before they open and during the summer.

Although lavender is a perennial herb your hedge will start to get quite woody after a few years depending on growing conditions. I recommend that when the hedge begins to look a bit ragged you take lots of cuttings and replant it either at the end of the season or in the spring.

Putting Your lavender to Healthy Uses

Whilst growing lavender in your garden will bring endless pleasure, it also has many other uses:

Oil of lavender:
Make this by immersing your lavender flowers in neutral oil. The aromatic oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact it was used in hospitals during WWI to disinfect floors and walls. This oil can also be used as a fragrance for bath products.

Dried lavender flowers:
These are used to perfume linen. The dried flowers have a powerful, aromatic odor which repels moths, flies and mosquitoes

Culinary lavender:
Use fresh or dried flowers to flavor sugars jellies, ice-cream and cheeses. you can also crystallize flowers and use as decorations on cakes.

In conclusion I hope I have been able to show you that creating a lavender hedge isn't difficult. If you follow the instructions I have provided you will end up with a healthy, strong, attractive hedge. It might take a couple of years to really establish itself, but whilst this is happening you can harvest and preserve the flowers so you can enjoy the results of your hard work throughout the winter months.

This article by Adam Gilpin has been produced to encourage more people to create their own herb gardens and discover the 100's of different ways in which herbs such as lavender can be used in the garden and around the house.