ALL ABOUT LAVENDER OIL
- With a calming, physically and emotionally balancing fragrance, it has commonly been used for its relaxing effects on the body.
- Lavender has cosmetic, odourous, and medicinal uses, demonstrating soothing, sedative activities in each form, which can include oils, gels, lotions, soaps, shampoos, sprays, and candle making.
- There are over 30 species of Lavender and hundreds of genotypes that are distinguished by their growth form and the chemical compositions of their essential oils.
- Lavender plant growing conditions such as the season, climate, moisture levels, cloud coverage, and soil quality contribute to the quality of the distilled essential oil.
- The highest quality essential oil is derived from steam distilling only the fresh Lavender flowers and no other part of the plant.
- It is best to avoid using Lavender essential oil when pregnant, while on medication that could induce drowsiness, or when undergoing anesthesia.
HISTORY OF LAVENDER OIL
Lavandula angustifolia, better known as Lavender, is a perennial evergreen plant that has produced the most used essential oil in the world for over 2500 years. Thriving in oceanic climates with dry, rocky, sandy terrain, Lavender can be found in the Mediterranean region, Europe, Africa, the Canary Islands, the Middle East, and India.
The name Lavender is believed to be derived from the Latin word “lavare,” meaning “to wash,” as it was often used in baths and laundry for its fragrant properties. With a calming, physically and emotionally balancing fragrance, it has commonly been used for its relaxing effects on the body. According to ancient texts, its purposes range from medicinal to religious, having been used to clean cuts and to soothe bruises and skin irritations, as well as to scent the air for spiritual practices. Other historical uses for this oil included mummification and perfumery for the Egyptians, while for the Romans it was used in baths and in cooking.
BENEFITS OF LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL
Used medicinally, Lavender essential oil has been found to eliminate harmful bacteria, relieve muscle spasms, relieve flatulence, disinfect and soothe inflamed skin especially when resulting from a venomous, itchy bug bite, promote speedy healing of irritated and scarred skin, and to relieve muscle tension when used in a massage.
When used in aromatherapy, this mild sedative is reputed to reduce stress by relaxing the brain waves, which is also said to reduce cortisol levels that contribute to the stress hormone. As cortisol leads to lower immunity, Lavender would accordingly support the immune system by helping relieve feelings of stress that can weaken health. Lavender is believed to help balance hormones, to reduce feelings of nervous tension, and based on empirical evidence, has worked to reduce feelings of depression for some individuals. Due to its calming and relaxing properties, it can work as a sleep aid for those suffering from insomnia.
As illustrated, Lavender essential oil is reputed to have many therapeutic properties. The following highlights its many benefits and the kinds of activity it is believed to show:
anti-septic, anti-inflammatory, deodorant, relieving, soothing, cytophylactic, cicatrisant.
anti-depressant, anti-rheumatic, anti-spasmodic, decongestant, deodorant, relaxing, sedative, soothing, nervine.
anti-septic, analgesic, anti-convulsant, anti-depressant, anti-rheumatic, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, bactericidal, decongestant, relieving, soothing, vulnerary, sudorific, rubefacient, hypotensive, emmenagogue, diuretic, cytophylactic, cicatrisant, carminative.
CULTIVATING AND HARVESTING QUALITY LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL
Lavender plant growing conditions contribute to the quality of the distilled essential oil. This means the season, climate, moisture levels, and even the amount of cloud coverage affects the quality of the finished product, as not all plants are hardy in all environments. Soil quality is a major factor in the quality as well – a high amount of nitrogen in the soil, for instance, can promote disease in Lavender plants, causing them to appear sickly and leading to a decrease in flower growth.
Delicate or “tender” varieties of Lavender need to be kept warm and will not survive outdoors in the winter, thus needing to be potted and kept inside during this season in sunny locations with good air circulation. Despite their ability to tolerate heavy rains while still outside, they must be allowed adequate drainage, as they thrive in dry, hot sunny areas. High humidity makes Lavender plants susceptible to fungus growth, and for this reason good air circulation is imperative to their growth.
Synthetic Lavender perfume oils created in a lab to mimic the scent of real Lavender will also have a lesser quality than naturally derived Lavender essential oils due to differences in the molecular structures between the synthetic and natural versions. This is because only the pure plant oil contains beneficial volatile compounds and general benefits.
Lavender blooms vary in shapes and sizes and they grow on long spikes or stems. Their essential oils can be found in microscopic glands on the outside ring of flower petals (the calyx), the inside ring of flower petals (the corolla), the leaves, and on the stalks and branches. There are various developmental stages for Lavender flowers, and the ideal time for harvesting Lavender essential oil is when the flowers are in full bloom, that is to say fully developed. At this stage, the flowers at the top of the stem will have already burst open, the lower half will begin to open up as well, and almost the entire flower head is open. Harvesting Lavender before it fully matures means the oil will not retain as high a quality as it could potentially have. Whereas, the more shriveled the flower petals on the stem, the more volatile molecules it loses and the weaker the fragrance becomes.
Please refer to the image below for the flower parts mentioned above:
The yield and the quality of the oil depends on the age of the Lavender bushes as well as the weather. The months of harvest are between the end of July through August and may take between four and ten days, after which the quality could diminish. It is important to plan a harvest at a time when the weather is the perfect balance – that is, bright and clear but not hot, cold, or too windy. Some of these conditions would cause the oils to evaporate while others would inhibit the esters from developing in the plant, which would lead to harvest being delayed until the onset of warmer weather. The absence of esters in Lavender oil would mean that the oil would lose its fragrant and therapeutic properties such as its sedative and anti-spasmodic effects.
If harvested by hand, Lavender flower spikes can be cut using sickles or shears. If harvested commercially through a mechanized process, harvesters are driven through Lavender fields with blooming flowers and the stems are cut while the flowers are stored in a cart that will be taken to a distillery. Some harvesting machine models feed the flowers into cartridges that can fit directly into the distiller, which contributes to a faster pace for harvesting. After being picked, the Lavender is distilled.
HOW IS LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL EXTRACTED?
The distillation part of the production process determines the oil’s value, due to the fact that the pressure or temperatures applied to the flowers during the distillation process could potentially alter the structure of the fragrance molecules and thus change the oil’s chemical constituents. If the oil comes in contact with free water during the preheating stage of distillation, the oil quality and the efficiency of extraction may both be weakened.
The highest quality essential oil is derived from steam distilling only the fresh Lavender flowers and no other part of the plant. It is believed that the first distillation produces an oil that is clear and of the highest quality. The second distillation is believed to produce oil of a pale amber colour and a strong scent that is less pleasant than the first oil. When selecting a Lavender essential oil, it is more relevant to consider a company’s complete essential oil production process from field harvest to the bottling of the final product.
USES OF LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL
The uses for Lavender essential oil are abundant, ranging from medicinal and odorous to cosmetic. Its many forms include oils, gels, lotions, soaps, shampoos, sprays, and candle making.
Used in aromatherapy, the fragrance is inhaled and scent receptors in the brain’s emotional powerhouse process the smell as calming, allowing the brain and body to relax. Similarly, a few drops smoothed onto a pillow may promote faster onset of deeper sleep with a decreased number of sleep disturbances. Its ability to reduce emotional stress such as anxiety and its potency in alleviating headaches also extends to its ability to reduce feelings of motion sickness and to improve the mood. It is believed that Lavender can reduce symptoms of hay fever when inhaled deeply.
Diluted with a carrier oil and used topically, Lavender oil moisturizes chapped and aging skin. Its anti-septic and anti-fungal properties may help to reduce itching and swelling caused by insect bites. Known to have anti-microbial properties, it provides soothing relief to minor burns and cuts, decreasing pain and inhibiting bleeding while eliminating bacteria from the wound. Its potential to restore skin complexion is also demonstrated with use on aging and acne-prone skin on which it slows the look of aging with its powerful anti-oxidant action and improves the look and feel of skin that is subject to eczema and psoriasis. In hair care, Lavender is known to be an anti-septic that effectively eliminates lice, nits, and dandruff when rubbed into the scalp.
As a spray, Lavender acts as a natural perfume and a non-toxic air freshener that creates a relaxing atmosphere, especially for the bedroom. In the bathroom, it can be sprayed onto towels for a fresh and calming scent.
A GUIDE TO LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL VARIETIES & THEIR BENEFITS
There are over 30 species of Lavender and hundreds of genotypes that are distinguished by their growth form and the chemical compositions of their essential oils. There are 3 main species of Lavender that fall within the genus that produces essential oils. They belong to a group called “Lavendula” and they are: English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and Spike Lavender (Lavendula latifolia). The chemical composition of Lavender essential oil consists of over 100 constituents including: linalool, linalyl acetate, camphor, limonene, cineole, tannins, coumarins, flavonoids, triterpenes, and perillyl alcohol. The main ones are 1,8-cineole, limonene, linalool, camphor, linalyl acetate, lavendulyl acetate, terpinen-4-ol, a-pinene, cis-ocimene, 3-octanone, trans-ocimene, and caryophyllene. The following chart highlights the most popular varieties of Lavender oil and their botanical names, countries of origin, and their benefits:
|LAVENDER VARIETY & BOTANICAL NAME||COUNTRY OF ORIGIN||BENEFITS OF ESSENTIAL OIL|
(also called English Lavender)
(also called Fine Population)
(also called Butterfly Lavender)
|Lavender (Natural Blend) Essential Oil||Found in:
||New Directions Aromatics’ Lavender (Natural Blend):
40/42 indicates the specific ratio of the main chemical constituents, Linalool and Linalyl acetate.
||New Directions Aromatics’ 40/42 Essential Oil:
CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL
Lavender can potentially increase the effectiveness of medications such as those related to sleep disorders or those prescribed for depression and the same advice applies for any cough or flu medicine that induces sleep, as Lavender stimulates drowsiness. It is best to avoid Lavender oil when undergoing surgery or anesthesia.
There is not enough research to prove that this oil is safe to use at any stage of pregnancy, as it can act as a muscle relaxant and can affect hormone levels; therefore, pregnant and nursing women are advised not to use Lavender oil, especially pregnant women in their third trimester, unless a medical practitioner is consulted first. Despite being considered generally safe for children to use, the effects of Lavender oil on hormones means it could potentially be harmful to pre-pubescent boys. Parents are advised to exercise caution when using it on children in this age range.
New Directions Aromatics Inc.
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