The wonderfully aromatic lavender has uses far beyond its inclusion in perfume and bath products. Many people keep a small bottle of lavender oil in the kitchen for medicinal purposes, one of which is treating minor burns from splattering fat or getting too close to a toaster or oven. But like many herbal products, lavender oil would benefit from more research confirming its efficacy in humans.
Lavender is native to the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean but grows today throughout Europe and in Australia and the United States, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. It is a heavily branched short shrub that grows to a height of approximately 24 inches. A silvery down covers the gray-green narrow leaves growing from upright green shoots attached to its woody branches. Small, blue-violet flowers growing in spirals of six to 10 blossoms form spokes above the foliage.
The ancient Egyptians used lavender as a perfume, according to “The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook,” and the Romans scented their bath water with it. Its name comes from the Latin lavare, to wash, says “The Complete Book of Herbs and Herb Gardening.” Lavender became popular as a medicine in the late Middle Ages and arrived in the New World with the Pilgrims in 1620, reports “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.”
Lavender in Aromatherapy
Lavender is one of the most popular oils in aromatherapy, says “The A to Z of Essential Oils.” Two types of lavender are used in aromatherapy—French and English. The most highly prized is “wild crafted” French Alpine lavender, which is handpicked and distilled in small batches by local farmers. The oil is steam distilled from the flowers, and is clear and usually colorless. Lavender oil is sweeter and more expensive than spike lavender oil, which has a slightly eucalyptuslike scent and is sometimes mixed in with lavender by unscrupulous producers.
Lavender for Burns
“The A to Z of Essential Oils” calls lavender oil “a first-aid kit in a bottle,” noting that it should be kept in the kitchen to treat minor burns and taken on picnics in case of insect bites or stings. For minor burns from cooking or ironing, cover the burned area liberally with undiluted lavender oil, then reapply if the pain returns. The lavender oil removes the sting and heat from the burn and can help prevent the skin's blistering.
Why It Works
Active ingredients of lavender oil include 40% linalyl acetate and 31.5% linalool, which have local analgesic and anesthetic effects. Although present in just a small amount, the 5.16% beta-caryophyllene adds to the anti-inflammatory effect of the oil. Terpinen-4-ol, which accounts for 4%, is an antibacterial agent like linalool. The two contribute important anti-infectious properties, says “The A to Z of Essential Oils.”
Research into lavender oil has been ongoing for decades, according to “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” This essential oil has significant antiseptic and antibacterial properties along with a very low toxicity. Do not use lavender oil on open wounds and dilute it when using on children, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some people may develop an allergic reaction to lavender, and women who are pregnant or beast feeding should not use it.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lavender
- “The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook”; James A. Duke, Ph.D.; 2000
- “The Complete Book of Herbs and Herb Gardening”; Jessica Houdret; 2009
- “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants”; Andrew Chevallier; 1996
- “The A to Z of Essential Oils”; E. Joy Bowles; 2003