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Lavender: A Pretty Scent and Good Medicine

Rosemarie Diane Rose, MD, is a member of Inova Steinmetz Integrative and Functional Medicine Center board certified in family medicine. She has a special interest in functional and integrative medicine, including acupuncture. Read Dr. Rose’s profile.

When people think of lavender, they usually think of its lovely smell, which is widely used in soaps, creams, and cosmetics. Extracts from this beautiful purple flower are even used as a flavoring for foods and beverages.

But it is lavender’s impact on mood and cognition that has garnered the most attention. There is mounting evidence that the essential oil does have positive psychological effects. When used in tea, it curbs restlessness, and has been used for centuries as a healing herb. Europeans have long used pillows stuffed with lavender as a sleep aid. In one study, elderly nursing home residents with insomnia slept as well as with sedative sleeping pills, when the room was scented with lavender. In Japan, psychological testing revealed lower stress levels in people exposed to lavender.

At Inova Steinmetz Integrative and Functional Medicine Center, we recommend two different forms of lavender. The first is Lavender essential oil, in a liquid form. Based on respected studies, researchers found that lavender has proven to have very soothing effects, both on mood and sleep. The participants exposed to lavender felt less depression, anxiety, and had significantly better moods than before the aromatherapy. Treating mild insomnia can be as simple putting a single drop on either your pillow or in the water of a vaporizer. In vaporized form, it has shown significant promise in calming certain types of aggressive dementia patients, such as Alzheimer’s.

Lavela is a new form of lavender, which we are now recommending, as well. It is a soft gel capsule that helps ease anxiety, when taken by mouth once a day. It appears that therapy with lavender extracts, such as Lavela, is comparable or superior to, many commonly prescribed anxiety-relieving medications, including Valium, Ativan, Paxil and Prozac, as well as the herb kava, based on available data. Lavela can be a safer choice, as some medications are known to be habit-forming; and kava may adversely affect the liver. With Lavela, no serious adverse events were reported. Lavela is all-natural, and is made with non-GMO canola oil.

The German government’s study on lavender found no contraindications, side effects, or drug interactions for this herb. However, it is important to be careful not to over-use lavender products. Instances of nausea and drowsiness with excessive internal use of lavender oil have been reported; but this may be dose-and/or quality related.

When used properly, you may find that a form of lavender can provide a pleasant and safe way to take the edge off of your day; as easily as putting a single drop of the oil on your pillow, or swallowing a small capsule.

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