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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
There are a number of different lavender oils used in aromatherapy; these include true lavender, lavender stoechas, spike lavender and lavandin.
Historic Use of Lavender
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is thought to be one of the most versatile essential oils used in aromatherapy. The ancient Greeks used lavender to treat throat infections and to ease constipation; European herbalists used lavender water to treat head lice. Lavender was used in Medieval herb gardens and was known to be an ancient folk remedy. Lavender was said to 'comfort the stomach and the soul.'
Lavender stoechas (Lavandula stoechas) was named after the island of Hyeres which was actually called Stoechades by the Romans. The ancient Romans were the probable users of this type of Lavender, using as a perfume for their baths. Until the middle of the 18th Century, Lavender stoechas was used medicinally in England; in France and Spain, it was used to dress wounds by country folk.
Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) was traditionally used for headaches, rheumatic pain, colic and dyspepsia, as indicated in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Nicholas Culpeper, an English herbalist, recommended spike lavender for fainting, malady and cramps too. Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) does not have a long history of use as it is basically a hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender; it first appeared in the early 1900s.
The Difference Between Lavender Flowers
True lavender only grows at altitude of above 2,000 ft. Native to the Mediterranean region, it has small purplish-blue flowers and is the most fragrant of the lavender scents. Lavandin, on the other hand, is a hybrid and is generally found growing at the lower altitudes. It has blue or gray-blue flowers and is a favorite in the perfumery industry due to its plentiful supply and low pricing.
Lavender stoechas is quite different to the true lavender flower in that it is short, spiky and less spectacular than the true plant. It is a hardy herb which is found on sand and crystalline rocks on the European coastline, particularly in France. It has purple-blue flowers in spring and summer.
Spike lavender grows at lower altitudes than true lavender and has a very high yield which means that it is a relatively cheap oil to produce. Spike lavender is mainly grown in France and Spain for aromatherapy use. It has gray-blue flowers and is evergreen. It has broader and rougher leaves than true lavender.
Lavender Oil Uses in Aromatherapy
True lavender essential oil is mainly composed of the chemical component of esters and is therefore a gentle, balancing oil. True lavender essential oil is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-septic and a good skin rejuventor. It is useful to ease muscle pain, headaches, insomnia, burns and women's problems. It can also be used as a deodorant and an insecticide.
Spike lavender essential oil is used in aromatherapy in a similar way as true Lavender. It is a more forceful lavender oil than true lavender oil as it has a high percentage of the chemical component of oxides; oxides are known to be stimulating in their action and it is for this reason perhaps that Nicholas Culpeper recommended careful use of it, indicating that a few drops were sufficient.
Lavandin essential oil mimics the healing benefits of true lavender. It is anti-viral, anti-infectious and warming; Lavandin is useful for coughs and colds, as a muscle relaxant and to ease anxiety and insomnia. Lavender stoechas essential oil contains 70% of the chemical component of ketones, considered to be hazardous. Therefore it is preferable to use one of the other lavender oils in preference to lavender stoechas.
Caddy, Rosemary 1997 Essential Oils in Color Amberwood Publishing Ltd: Kent, UK
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils London:Element
Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook Thorsons:London, UK
This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as The Lavender Essential Oils
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