You can easily experience the beauty and healing properties of lavender by growing your own for use in food and body care. It will grow happily indoors in pots or outside in your garden.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LAVENDER
Lavender has been in use for at least 2,500 years. It was used for mummification and perfumery by the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Arabs. The Romans are also believed to have used lavender for cooking, bathing, and scenting the air.
There are many species of lavender, most ranging from one to two feet tall and forming mounds of silver-green foliage topped with purple flowers in summer. They are simple to grow, making them an ideal plant for the lazy or novice gardener. I live in a semiarid climate, and even if I forget to water lavender for weeks, it still grows. Shorter varieties make a stunning edging along walkways, while taller kinds make beautiful, scented hedges.
Lavender grows best in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Pay attention to the spacing recommendations when purchasing lavender plants, as some varieties can grow to a few feet in diameter. You can also grow lavender from seed. It needs regular watering to get started but only infrequent watering after the plant takes hold.
To harvest, wait until the plant blooms, and cut the stems about one-third of the way from the flower heads. Place the cut lavender in a vase or pitcher indoors to give the air a fresh, sweet smell. To dry lavender, tie one-inch bundles together with string or elastic bands, and hang upside down until dry. You may want to place a clean cloth or large bowl beneath them to catch the flowers that fall.
Anxiety- and Depression-Alleviating Tea
In a recent study comparing the effects of a medication for depression to drinking tea made from lavender flowers, scientists found that the lavender was slightly more effective than the antidepressant drugs. They concluded that lavender might be used as an adjunct to antidepressants or on its own to assist with symptoms of depression. Study participants drank two cups of a lavender infusion daily.
To make lavender tea, add two teaspoons of dried flowers to boiled water, and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain and drink. Of course, never discontinue any medications without consulting your physician.
Due to its relaxing and antianxiety compounds, lavender is an excellent insomnia remedy. British hospitals have reportedly used lavender essential oil in patients’ baths or sprinkled onto bedclothes to help them sleep. To use in a bath, sprinkle five to ten drops of lavender essential oil into the water as the tub fills. Alternatively, place a heaping tablespoon of dried lavender flowers in cheesecloth, tie into a bundle, and allow the herb to infuse in the bathwater while soaking.
Easy and Effective Insect Repellent
In a study comparing the effects of lavender essential oil to DEET-based tick repellents, the lavender showed results comparable to those of the DEET sprays. At a 5 percent concentration, the insect-repellent results of the lavender oil lasted for forty minutes; at a 10 percent or higher concentration, the results lasted for two hours. Add ten to twenty drops of lavender essential oil to your favorite unscented cream, and apply before heading outdoors. Better yet, make your own Skin-Soothing Lavender Body Lotion using the recipe included in this book.
A new study published in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine found that inhaling the scent of lavender for ten minutes had a significant effect on the nervous system of women suffering from premenstrual symptoms. It especially decreased feelings of depression and confusion. You can place a few drops of lavender essential oil on a handkerchief and inhale periodically, make a tea infusion of the dried flowers as above, or deeply inhale the scent of a plant growing indoors or outdoors to alleviate PMS-related mood symptoms.
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Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, author of Be Your Own Herbalist, is a certified herbalist and board-certified doctor of natural medicine. She holds advanced degrees in health, nutrition, orthomolecular nutrition, and acupuncture. She lives, and grows her own food and herbal medicines, near Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her websites are DrMichelleCook.com and HealthySurvivalist.com.
Excerpted from the book Be Your Own Herbalist
. Copyright © 2016 by Michelle Schoffro Cook.