Lavender is the most used and recognizable essential oil used today. It is often found in soaps, shampoos, conditioners, air mists, body lotions, household cleaners, perfumes, etc. The main reason for this is likely the pleasant soothing aroma of lavender. However, those who work with essential oils know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lavender is also the most researched essential oils. As well as having a delightful scent, lavender is calming, antibiotic, antiseptic, antidepressant, sedative, and a detoxifier. Lavender is great for burns and cuts; soothing the pain and speeding healing. It is also stimulates the immune system.
There are many species of lavender. The most common species grown commercially is Lavandula angustifolia.
L. angustifolia is grown in many countries. The two major producers are France and Bulgeria. Oil distilled at higher altitude is said to be of higher quality. This is due to the fact that oils distilled at higher altitudes are distilled at lower temperatures: 8-7 degrees lower. This small difference produces an oil with a higher ester content. Esters greatly affect the odor quality of essential oils, as well as contributing to the soothing, balancing effect. L. angustifolia is known as “female lavender”.
Linalool is a major constituent in lavender essential oil. It is a monoterpenol with antibacterial, antifungal, vasoconstrictive, and toning properties. It is also a known sedative. The EPA has approved linalool as a pesticide, and one study showed that linalool aided breast cancer drugs in killing breast cancer cells that had grown resistant to the drugs. Linalool and linalyl acetate have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Linalool is non-sensitizing and non-irritating. However, when the oil is exposed to air, oxidation can occur and it may become a skin irritant. It is best to store lavender oil in amber or blue bottles that are as small as possible for the quantity of oil.
True lavender has little to no camphor content.
Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) grows naturally at lower altitudes in northern Mediterranean countries, such as Spain France, and Italy. It is also grown in England, the US, Japan and Tasmania. Most spike lavender is distilled from wild plants. Spike lavender is referred to as the “male lavender”. Spike lavender has a more harsh camphoraceous scent. It has a higher camphor content (approximately 20%) and is therefore useful as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic for muscle aches and pains, and rheumatism. It also has a higher 1,8-cineole content which is recommended for respiratory ailments as an expectorant and mucolytic. Unlike true lavender, which is a sedative, spike lavender can be rather stimulating.
Lavandin is a hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender. It is a very hardy plant which is larger than true lavender. Its yield is twice as great as true lavender and is, therefore, often the oil used as fragrance in soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics, and detergents. It also has a high camphor content.
Lavandin is also used as an insecticide, herbicide, and fragrance. A study done with preoperative patients showed that lavandin reduced anxiety, showing that it could be a simple, cost-effective intervention to reduce patient anxiety and improve preoperative outcome.
Braden R, Reichow S, Halm MA (2009). The use of the essential oil lavandin to reduce preoperative anxiety in surgical patients. J Perianesth Nurs 24(6):348-55
ACHS Aroma 203 Aromatherapy I class notes
E. Joy Bowles The Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Oils. 3rd Ed, Allen & Unwin, Australia 2003
R. Tisserand and T. Balacs, Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Professionals, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1995S. Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 2nd Ed, The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy, 2003