The flower lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, also known as L. officinalis) doesn’t only lend its fragrance to the cosmetic industry. It has other benefits for the mind as well. Linalool in it reduces nerve activity by increasing a calming chemical called GABA. It also helps induce relaxing brain waves like alpha and theta waves – the same kind as when you are meditating, relaxed but alert. Lavender is known to induce slow-wave sleep, a phase of restorative sleep. Just sprinkle a few drops on your pillow.
You may not have seen undulating fields of lavender stretching out into the horizon, but you must have been moved by their fragrance, widely used as they are in the cosmetic industry.
Lavender is a flowering shrub native to certain parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. The most common species of lavender, the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, also known as L. officinalis) is the one used in cosmetics.
It contains: linalyl acetate (3, 7-dimethyl-1,6-octadien-3yl acetate), linalool (3,7-dimethylocta-1,6-dien-3-ol), lavandulol, lavandulyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, B-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, and camphor
Why It’s So Great
1. Calms the Anxious Mind
Given the many boxes you have to tick every day and the glut of information you have to process, anxiety can be your constant companion. Use lavender to keep off some of that anxiety. It has been traditionally used for the same purpose. This is how it works.
- Reduces nerve activity: Doesn’t your head feel crowded when you are anxious? That’s probably because in anxiety, your nerves become vigorously active, firing signals all over the place. What you need is to calm your nerves down. Linalool (along with linalyl acetate) in lavender helps by boosting the activity of a chemical called GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). GABA is like a pacifier for screaming nerves, especially when you are under emotional stress.
- Induces relaxing brain waves: If you have a favorite perfume, you know fragrances can do wonders for your mood. Tiny fragrant molecules in perfumes and other fragrances – linalool in the case of lavender – very quickly reach the emotion bureau (limbic system) in the brain via odor receptors and trigger happy emotions. The autonomic nervous system, which decides whether you should relax or stay alert, takes happy emotions as a cue for relaxation. So it lowers your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing. Now that your body is at rest, your brain also switches to the take-it-easy mode – that is, more alpha and theta waves and fewer beta waves.
If you have had a rough day, find yourself some time and a secluded corner in the house. Put a few drops of lavender essential oil in a diffuser. Sit here and do nothing. Let thoughts run their own course.
2. Could Help with Sleep
For centuries, lavender has been used as a soporific. You must have also been advised at some sleepless point in your life to sprinkle a few drops on your pillow and bed clothes. Here’s how the odor of lavender is thought to help.
- It increases slow-wave sleep. Ever felt unrested even after long hours of sleep? That’s probably because you didn’t get enough deep or slow-wave sleep. It’s that phase in your sleep cycle when you really truly zone out. Your heart rate slows down, your muscles relax, and your body starts repairing itself. Lavender can increase slow-wave sleep and reduce the number of times you wake up in the night.
- It increases slow sleep spindles. Sleep spindles indicate that your brain is trying to stop external stimuli from waking you up. In fact, sleepers who have more sleep spindles need a lot more noise to wake up than others. Scientists think that sleep spindles help transfer short-term memory to long-term memory. Also, if you’ve learned something new and you have more sleep spindles that night, there’s a higher chance of you remembering that well the next day.
If you are a student or have a student at home, you may want to use lavender to improve both sleep and memory. Though the sleep studies with lavender use the essential oil, you could get similar benefits from drinking lavender tea as well.
3. May Reduce Pain
While painkillers continue to be among the top over-the-counter drugs, more and more people are turning to natural medicine. Traditionally, lavender has been used to reduce pain, especially of the menstrual and digestive types. Here’s how.
- By relieving spasms: Period cramps are often caused by sudden, repeated contractions of the smooth muscles in the uterus. These sudden contractions are prompted by powerful nerve signals that pass through ion gates (sodium channels on the axon) on the nerve itself. Linalool in lavender blocks these ion gates so that the nerve signal cannot travel. As a result, the pain is dampened. Lavender works in a similar way for the abdominal smooth muscles too. It helps relieve bowel cramps due to indigestion.
You could try massaging your belly with lavender essential oil when on a period. While lavender has antispasmodic qualities, the massage could improve blood flow and reduce the stiffness.
The tea is made with the flowers. Pluck a tablespoon of fresh buds and steep them in a cup of boiling water for about 10 mins. Add a dash of lemon or drizzle some honey. Drink hot. You could also use dried buds or lavender tea bags.