Lavender is an important and relaxing herb, but it is better known for its sweet-scented aroma than for its medicinal properties. It became popular as a medicine during the late Middle Ages and in 1620 it was one of the medicinal herbs taken to the New World by the Pilgrims. It was described by the herbalist John Parkinson (1640) as being of "especially good use for all griefes and paines of the head and brain".
Lavender is native to France and the Mediterranean, but today is cultivated worldwide for its volatile oil. It is propagated from seed or cuttings, requiring a sunny position. The flowers are picked in the morning in high summer and are dried, or distilled to produce its precious essential oil.
A 2014 clinical trial found that lavender oil taken internally to be more effective than both a placebo and a conventional tranquilizer in relieving generalised anxiety. It also showed antidepressant activity. other studies have found similar benefits and tended to confirm relaxant, antidepressant and gently sedative activity.
Lavender flowers and oil have similar properties, making the buds a perfect addition to a herbal tea blend. Although little research has been conducted, it is likely the flowers have significantly greater carminative and neuroprotective activity. Applied externally, flower extracts are insecticidal and rubefacient (irritant and stimulating to the local circulation).
Lavender oil is also antiseptic and helps to heal wounds, including acne scars. Rubbed directly onto the skin it can relieve muscle tension, tones the nervous system and encourage sleep.