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Close your eyes and take a whiff. In an instant, the mere scent of lavender can transport your mind to a fragrant field of purple blooms that can calm your spirit with every breath. Reputed by some to restore the soul, lavender’s heady scent has made it the most popular aromatherapeutic herb on the planet.
Lavender’s therapeutic benefits are more than just perception. Used to create essential oils, lotions, sprays, and infusions, lavender has been clinically shown to create physiological changes that induce relaxation. One trial, reported in the 2005 annual report of the Cyclotron and Radioisotope Center at Tohoku University in Japan, found that sniffing lavender created positive changes in heart rate and brain function among 10 healthy young women. Lavender has such a pronounced effect on stress and anxiety that other clinical trials suggest that its aroma can reduce the intensity of pain, ease pre-test jitters in graduate students, and even alleviate stress-related endothelial dysfunction (a leading contributor to atherosclerosis) among night-shift workers.
One recent 12-week Taiwanese study of 67 middle-aged women with insomnia found that those who received lavender therapy (inhaled lavender essential oil)for 20 minutes twice a week experienced significantly better sleep quality than those in a control group. Other studies have found that lavender can be used to treat post-operative pain, respiratory ailments, fever, headache, skin problems, and even muscle pain.
But sniffing the sweet scent isn’t your only option. Taking lavender orally has also been shown to reduce tension and stress. A 2012 review of seven clinical trials that appeared in the journal Phytotherapy concluded that oral supplementation with lavender reduced feelings of anxiety and stress. Another multi-center study published in the same journal found that supplementing with 80 mg of lavender extract for six weeks was just as effective as low-dose lorazepam (a prescription anti-anxiety drug) in people with generalized anxiety disorder.
The good news is that you needn’t be stressed out or suffer from an anxiety disorder to benefit from a daily dose of lavender. Incorporating the herb into your everyday routine is an easy way to maintain a calm countenance, no matter what life throws your way. Light a lavender-scented candle to help you unwind after work, or spritz some lavender essential oil on your pillow to help you drift off to dreamland. Soak in a tub with lavender bath salts. Treat yourself to a cup of lavender tea whenever you need a bit of inner nirvana, or try adding some of the aromatic petals to your favorite recipes for a pleasing and unusual bite.
Prepare lavender tea using 1 to 2 Tbs. of whole, dried flowers for each cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain before drinking.
Cooking with fresh or dried lavender
A member of the mint family, lavender has a sweet, floral flavor with citrus undertones that can replace rosemary in most recipes. The buds can be used either fresh or dried—but be aware that the flower’s potency increases when dried, so use about a third less. Here are some delicious ideas to get you started:
- Use the spikes or stems for making fruit kabobs. Simply thread your favorite fruit on the stems and grill.
- Garnish your favorite cake or cupcakes with a sprinkle of lavender buds.
- Fold the dried blossoms or lavender sugar (see recipe below) into the batter when making scones or biscuits for shortcake.
- Make everyday ice cream special with a scattering of lavender.
- Replace regular sugar with lavender sugar when baking.
To make lavender sugar:Add dried lavender, tied in a muslin bag, to a jar of sugar or sugar alternative such as xylitol (bury the bag in the sugar). Tightly cap lid. After about a month, remove the bag and you’ll have lavender-infused sugar. Add it to coffee, tea, or baked goods for a subtle hint of lavender flavor.
GOOD BUYS …
1. NATURE’S WAY CalmAid softgels with lavender essential oil have been clinically proven to reduce tension and stress.
2. RUNA Sage Lavender Guayusa Tea blends organic sage, lavender, and antioxidant-rich guayusa leaves for focused energy without jitters.
3. RISHI TEA Organic Earl Grey Lavender Tea combines the soft floral aroma of lavender with the full-bodied flavor of Earl Grey tea.