My husband really digs lavender. Though I’m not quite as in-love with it as he is, I do have a great appreciation for the plant. I would have been content with a single specimen in our garden; my husband installed several clusters of two or three specimens right up against the house. This so he could dart out from the home office and be in lavender bliss within seconds. He’s funny. But maybe not as much as I thought. Did you know that lavender essential oil is known for having antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties? And, according to Wikipedia, the lavender plant is considered a weed in Spain. I didn’t know that. Poor Spain.
Not technically an “oil” by definition, I shall stick with the term essential oil because of it’s prevalence of use. My first exposure to essential oils was several years ago through my mother-in-law. I, like her, initially considered aromatherapy to be the science of air fresheners. Yet another example of showing my ignorance. For those who know, the use of essential oils goes way beyond air fresheners, with the highest-grade distillations yielding seriously impressive results. As I learn about plant essences and their uses, I do rely much on my mother-in-law; she’s easily the most educated member of the family on this topic. Back to the lavender.
The word lavender gets its name from the Latin term for washing, lavare. Lavender oil is used in many household cleaning preparations because, like most essential oils, it is high in antifungal and antibacterial properties. I had also heard that lavender essential oil could be used to fend off a headache; not the mighty malevolent migraine necessarily, see earlier post for that. But for an aggravating headache our household has found it to be an excellent remedy. The story of first success goes like this.
My in-laws were in the natural cosmetics section of a well-known grocery store chain. My father-in-law had been complaining of a persistent headache; for him to complain at all is rare. My mother-in-law serendipitously happened to be browsing the essential oils at that moment when, as if against some unseen cloud of resistance, the light went on. “Oh!”, she exclaimed, “I just read that lavender is supposed to help with headaches!” She opened a tester and stuck it under his nostrils. “Here, smell this.” It’s worth mentioning that my father-in-law has no sense of smell, so the sniff-and-be-happy marketing of perfumes is lost on him. I should also say that he is a research scientist of some renown, who readily admits to being “the doubting scientist who thinks it will have no effect whatsoever” whenever someone suggests something resembling a home remedy. In the best of humor, I’m sure, he smiled and sniffed. I suppose years of wisdom has taught him that a quick whiff was the quickest way out of the cosmetics section. Yet it wasn’t 20 minutes before my mother-in-law remembered to ask him about his headache. “Hmm. It’s all gone. Whaddaya know.” Amazingly, we continue to find reasons to trust Nature.
Not all essential oils are equal. It is important to recognize the difference between fragrance oils and high-grade therapeutic oils. Generally, a fragrance oil is synthetic and good for making your bathroom smell nicer then it might. A medicinal grade essential oil is a natural plant (actually quite a few plants in bulk) undergoing a steam distillation process, all to produce a concentrated essence of that plant’s particular chemical traits. Since these are natural products and cannot be patented, pharmaceutical companies have little to no interest in them; this is probably why the only information we seem to find is anecdotal over the generations.
Most topical essential oils should be used in combination with a carrier oil or other natural agent, so that they are not used undiluted. If you’re going to use lavender only as a household cleaning ingredient, you need not pay the therapeutic-grade price. However, because of quality and purity standards, it is worth paying the extra money if you intend to use it, or any other essential oil, on your body. The same applies for oils to be used for inhalation, the chemical ingredients of the vapors now traveling into your lungs and being taken up by the bloodstream. Before going ape crazy and splashing oils on yourself, be aware that some oils can be dangerous, affecting the skin or increasing the heart rate for example. Each oil is known for it’s specific chemical make up and, ergo, specific treatments…the details of which go beyond the scope of this post.
You can easily make a lovely lavender water, or hydrosol, by combining 2 cups distilled water, 2 ounces ethyl alcohol (or vodka), and 15 drops therapeutic-grade lavender essential oil. The ethanol is used here as a preservative. Use a sterile glass container and stir the concoction until evenly blended. This water is good as a skin toner or astringent, the acidic nature of flower waters is helpful against blemishes and the like. It can also be used as a perfume in the hair. I may do this tomorrow, see who notices. Wink.