Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia (also known as Lavandula officinalis and Lavandula vera) belongs to the Labiatae family. It is hardy shrub and grows to about 1 metre in height. It has narrow leaves and gray-blue flowers. There are many sub-species and varieties of Lavender each producing a different essential oil and they should not be confused with true Lavender as they will have different chemical profiles. Even the chemical composition of the same Lavandula angustifolia plant grown at sea level and at high altitude will be different. Examples of other Lavenders producing essential oils are Lavandula latifolia (Spike Lavender),Lavandula x intermedia (Lavandin) and Lavandula stochas (Maritime Lavender). Although native to the Mediterranean Lavender is now grown all over the world with the major essential oil production being in France, Tasmania, Bulgaria and England. The name lavender is thought to either be derived from the Latin word ‘lavare‘ meaning to wash or the Latin word “lividula” meaning bluish in colour.
A colourless – pale yellow essential oils is steam distilled from the flowering tops. The yield of oil is often affected by the weather. Plant material cut on dry, sunny days has a better yield than plant material cut on wet, overcast days. The timing of the harvest is also critical because as the flowers approach full bloom, the percentage of the various different essential oil components changes particularly the amount of linalyl acetate. On average it appears to take about 45 minutes – 1 hour to distill lavender with an essential oil yield of 0.7 – 0.9%. Although this can vary depending on where the Lavender is grown and distilled.
Psychologically lavender is well known for it relaxing, sedating properties. It has traditionally been used for a variety of nervous or psychological ailments including anger, depression, insomnia, hysteria, migraines, mood swings, nervous tension and shock.
On the physiological level it has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, balancing and calming properties and its use could be considered for burns, colds, coughs, headaches, insect bites, muscle aches and pains and skin irritations (dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis).
Contraindications: Non-toxic and non-irritating on the skin it can be safely used with babies and children. It is suggested that it be avoided in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Vol. III, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida 1974
John Kerr, Essential Oil Profile Lavenders, Aromatherapy Today, Vol 8, December 1998
Beverley Hawkins Aromatherapy 101 Course 2000